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Table of contents :
Cover
Half Title
Title
Copyright
Contents
Introduction
Not Born Digital: Poetics, Print Literacy, New Media
1 Medium as Messenger: Hannah Weiner Anchors the Social Poetics of 1986 in Weeks
2 A Blizzard of Snowflakes: Kenneth Goldsmith as Conceptualist at the Cusp of a Digital Age in Soliloquy
I. Warhol Redux? The work of the artist in the age of webs
II. Doing the unthinkable: Actually reading Soliloquy
III. Un-theorizing Soliloquy and Goldsmith’s passion for craft
3 (In)decisive Moments and Bad Conceptual Art: On Kenneth Goldsmith’s Seven American Deaths and Disasters
I. The (in)decisive moment
II. Bad conceptual art (is the new good)
III. Wake up and smile
IV. The meat the butcher brings home
V. Is there some way to close these doors?
VI. Conclusion: Let us return to the tonight show
4 “The wound track shows deeper hemorrhage”: Kenneth Goldsmith’s “The Body of Michael Brown” as The Eighth American Disaster
5 Gaps in the Machine: Andrei Codrescu’s Unarchival Poetics
I. Bibliodeath: What is an archive in a digital era?
6 “Needing to Summon the Others”: Archival Research as Séance in Susan Howe’s Spontaneous Particulars
7 Bad Company, Meet Sonic Youth: On Noah Eli Gordon’s inbox: Social Media, Post Language Conceptual Poetics, and the Ethics of
I. Notes on punk subcultural community building: Bob Mould’s See a Little Light
II. Punk subculture in inbox
CODA: inbox and the Patriot Act
8 A Tonalism, Synaesthesia, Translation, and Post-.Ableism in The Route
9 What Makes Poetry Happen: The Erotics of Literary Activism in an Age of Internet Virus
Bibliography
Index
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Not Born Digital

Not Born Digital Poetics, Print Literacy, New Media Daniel Morris

Bloomsbury Academic An imprint of Bloomsbury Publishing Inc

Bloomsbury Academic An imprint of Bloomsbury Publishing Inc

1385 Broadway New York NY 10018 USA

50 Bedford Square London WC1B 3DP UK

www.bloomsbury.com BLOOMSBURY and the Diana logo are trademarks of Bloomsbury Publishing Plc First published 2016 © Daniel Morris, 2016 All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or any information storage or retrieval system, without prior permission in writing from the publishers. No responsibility for loss caused to any individual or organization acting on or refraining from action as a result of the material in this publication can be accepted by Bloomsbury or the author. Library of Congress Cataloging-​in-​Publication Data Names: Morris, Daniel, 1962- author. Title: Not born digital : poetics, print literacy, new media / Daniel Morris. Description: New York : Bloomsbury Academic, 2016. | Includes bibliographical references and index. Identifiers: LCCN 2015045518 (print) | LCCN 2016006395 (ebook) | ISBN 9781501316708 (hardback) | ISBN 9781501316715 (ePub) | ISBN 9781501316722 (ePDF) Subjects: LCSH: American poetry–21st century–History and criticism– Theory, etc. | Experimental poetry, American–History and criticism. | Poetics–History–21st century. | Avant-garde (Aesthetics)–United States–History– 21st century. | Art and literature–United States. | BISAC: LITERARY CRITICISM / General. | LITERARY CRITICISM / American / General. | LITERARY CRITICISM / Poetry. Classification: LCC PS326 .M67 2016 (print) | LCC PS326 (ebook) | DDC 811/.609–dc23 LC record available at http://lccn.loc.gov/2015045518 ISBN: HB: 978-​1-​5 013-​1670-​8 ePub: 978-​1-​5 013-​1671-​5 ePDF: 978-​1-​5 013-​1672-​2 Cover design: Jason Anscomb /​rawshock.com Typeset by Newgen Knowledge Works (P) Ltd., Chennai, India

Contents Introduction: Not Born Digital: Poetics, Print Literacy, New Media 1 Medium as Messenger: Hannah Weiner Anchors the Social Poetics of 1986 in Weeks 2 A Blizzard of Snowflakes: Kenneth Goldsmith as Conceptualist at the Cusp of a Digital Age in Soliloquy 3 (In)decisive Moments and Bad Conceptual Art: On Kenneth Goldsmith’s Seven American Deaths and Disasters 4 “The wound track shows deeper hemorrhage”: Kenneth Goldsmith’s “The Body of Michael Brown” as The Eighth American Disaster 5 Gaps in the Machine: Andrei Codrescu’s Unarchival Poetics 6 “Needing to Summon the Others”: Archival Research as Séance in Susan Howe’s Spontaneous Particulars 7 Bad Company, Meet Sonic Youth: On Noah Eli Gordon’s inbox: Social Media, Post Language Conceptual Poetics, and the Ethics of Online Appropriation 8 A Tonalism, Synaesthesia, Translation, and Post-​Ableism in The Route 9 What Makes Poetry Happen: The Erotics of Literary Activism in an Age of Internet Virus Bibliography Index

1

21 45 71

103 113 145

165 197 219 239 251

Introduction Not Born Digital:  Poetics, Print Literacy, New Media

The first half of my book’s title—​the unapologetically “Not Born Digital” part—​riffs on N.  Katherine Hayles’s My Mother Was a Computer:  Digital Subjects and Literary Texts (2005).1 More specifically, “Not Born Digital” is indebted to a phrase in “Kenneth Goldsmith and the Poetics of Information,” a notable essay about one of my study’s principal authors. Appearing in PMLA when I  was revising my manuscript in the summer of 2015, Scott Pound’s article represents a significant attempt in an academic print journal to take Goldsmith, who himself describes his work as “boring,” as not “nutritional,” and as little more than “word processing,” as engaged in what Pound calls a “serious and important investigation of the stakes of media change for poetics” (316). Situating Goldsmith on the cusp between print and digital, and between information culture and literary culture in a period that comparative media theorist Henry Jenkins has defined as indicative of a “convergence culture,” Pound gets beyond the poet’s gimmicky, Warholian persona to consider the 1  Hayles’s title on one level refers to the fact that “in the 1930s and 1940s, people who were employed to do calculations—​a nd it was predominantly women who performed this clerical labor—​were called ‘computers’ ” (11). Hayles appropriated the phrase from a study on Technologies of the Gendered Body by Anne Balsemo, whose “mother actually did work as a computer” (11). Hayles states that the phrase also marks a shift, after World War II, when “the intelligence required for calculations was primarily associated with humans to the increasing delegation of these labors to computational machines” (11). “My Mother was a computer” can also be understood as “alluding to the displacement of Mother Nature by the Universal Computer. Just as Mother Nature was seen in past centuries as the source of both human behavior and physical reality, so now the Universal Computer is envisioned as the Motherboard of us all” (13). Further, Hayles notes that “the mother’s voice that haunted reading has been supplanted by another set of stimuli:  the visual, audio, kinesthetic, and haptic cues emanating from the computer” (14). She continues: “If the mother’s voice was the link connecting subjectivity with writing, humans with natural environments, then the computer’s beeps, clicks, and tones are the links connecting contemporary subjectivities to electronic environments, humans to the Computational Universe” (14). I should add that in Digital Youth:  Emerging Literacies on the World Wide Web, Jonathan Alexander notes Wired magazine labeled “the latest generation of youth ‘born digital’ ” (4). See “ ‘Born Digital’:  A  Wired Special Report.” Wired 10.09 September 2002.

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mysteriously compelling quality of procedural works that exist in between oral and literal cultures.2 In the course of amending impressions of Goldsmith as a shameless provocateur, Pound writes: Goldsmith’s understanding of mediality deserves careful consideration. His work is not an attempt to champion digital media as a newer and better cultural platform. His orientation toward digital media is neither progressive nor instrumental. He does not make electronic literature. His work is not born digital, nor is it meant to be read solely on the screen. It does not take the form of hypertext, and, although he tried without success to program the task of counting syllables for No. 111 and a Java applet was developed to animate the text of Fidget, the composition of his work does not involve programming. (318, italics mine)

The phrase “not born digital” speaks to Goldsmith’s ambivalent, even uncanny, confrontation with new media. Born in Freeport, Long Island in 1961, Goldsmith in Soliloquy (2001), for example, turns membership in the last generation that didn’t grow up with computers into a creative advantage. In Act Six of a monumental work approaching 500 pages, at a birthday party lunch for his grandmother in Port Washington, Goldsmith’s persona (the book is based on transcripts of the author’s audio-​taped recordings of only his side of a week’s worth of conversations, asides, and mutterings to himself that occurred in April 1996), noting that his career involves, “Doing computer. We’re doing Internet,” reflects on his threshold relation to the technology: “You know I was probably the last generation that did not grow up with computers. I mean I bet our education, the one I had and the one you had in public school was essentially the same. After me, it changed. Kids two years younger than me had computers and a different type of education. I’ve had to do a lot of catching up” (356). Because performing what are today considered to be common tasks such as designing web sites are, for Goldsmith circa 1996, a learned behavior, not a cyborg version of a mother tongue as would be the case for a later generation of technologically  In Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide (2008), Jenkins defines “convergence culture” as a situation in which “old and new media collide, where grassroots and corporate media intersect, where the power of the media producer and the power of the media consumer interact in unpredictable ways” (2), but often with the effect, as in the new media sourced poetry of Goldsmith, of encouraging consumers “to seek out new information and make connections among dispersed media content” in a manner that suggests active participation in cultural reconstruction, rather than passivity (3).

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inclined art enthusiasts, he perceives computers as strange in ways I  will argue compel him to make their informational content seem strange to readers who receive his remediated web-​based materials in book form as conceptual poems. In the essay “Anticipating Instability,” Goldsmith meditates on “how slippery and complex the play between materiality and concept, word and image, proposition and realization, thinking and seeing” in part by noticing how “fluid states, from the very conceptual to the very material” influence our reception of a New  York Times article from 2003 about the 77-​year-​old actor Tony Curtis (Uncreative Writing, 71). Exhibiting the active participation in cultural revisioning that Henry Jenkins considers to be indicative of a “convergence culture” in which “consumers are learning how to use these different media technologies to bring the flow of media more fully under their control and to interact with other consumers” in a grassroots manner (Jenkins, 18), Goldsmith focuses on “slippages [that] take place across all forms of media and can be best described by a phenomenon I call nude media” (Goldsmith, 72). He continues: Once a digital file is downloaded from the context of a site, it’s free or naked, stripped bare of the normative external signifiers that tend to give as much meaning to an artwork as the contents of the artwork itself. [. . .] Thrown into open peer-​to-​peer distribution systems, nude media files often lose even their historic significance and blur into free-​ f loating works, traveling in circles they would normally not reach if clad in their conventional clothing. (72)

Goldsmith illustrates his analysis of “nude media” by incorporating versions of an article about Tony Curtis as it appeared in the print edition of The Times, as a screen shot from the online version of The Times, as an “article e-​mailed to myself,” as a “summary of article,” and as a “Pornolizer” version that “turned all Web pages into smutty, potty-​mouthed documents while retaining their authoritative clothing, sporting the architecture of the New  York Times site” (77). Bringing into a new media sphere issues of how language is framed within a larger or different “contexture” that Neil Fraistat explored in a purely old media context in Poems in Their Place: The Intertextuality and Order of Poetic Collections (1986), Goldsmith cites different versions of The Times piece on Curtis to point out how new media sites, machines, and platforms can destabilize meanings and challenge the

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authority of major cultural institutions such as The Times without altering language, but only media context.3 My purpose in noting Goldsmith’s essay at this juncture in my introduction to Not Born Digital is to call attention to his liminal, or transitional, relation to media platforms at a collision point between Gutenberg and Google galaxies. I would argue that an experimental author, a Flarfist, for example, who came of age a generation after Goldsmith, one who grew up consulting the online Huffington Post, say, for celebrity news, rather than familiar with the tradition of going out on Sunday morning to the corner store for bagels, a tub of whipped cream cheese, coffee, and a thick edition of The Sunday Times, would be less likely to perform Goldsmith’s experiment in “nude media.”4 One may compare Goldsmith’s—​a nd, as this book demonstrates, other contemporary US poets whose books I discuss in Not Born Digital—​handling of computers as a media technology available to innovation and aesthetic play to how earlier generations of twentieth-​century avant-​garde movements such as Russian Suprematism abstracted letters, costumes, set designs, shapes, colors, and sound around 1915. Thinking about computer encryption as a literary technique, Goldsmith, in the following passage from Soliloquy, self-​consciously harks back to work by Fluxus, media artists who worked thirty years earlier to, in Michael Corris’s terms, “erode the cultural status of art and to help to eliminate the artist’s ego”: There was a Fluxus piece that was done where a gesture was substituted for an alphabet so that a theatrical piece was composed, you know, by way of letters and sentences. And it seems like with a simple program today an entire meaning can be shifted either randomly or very specifically, you know, with just one keystroke. (175) 3  In what seems today, in the context of the questions of poetry and intermediacy that I  am exploring in this book, like a quaint interest in the relationship of the individual poem to the book as a whole that animated Fraistat’s then ground-​breaking edited collection, he does put forward issues that remain relevant to my study. Fraistat’s comments that, for example, “the book is constantly conditioning the reader’s responses, activating various sets of what semioticians call ‘interpretive codes’,” dovetails with my reception of how Goldsmith’s repositioning of web-​sourced materials in Seven American Deaths and Disasters and re-​presenting them as if they were prose poems in a printed book, signals to the reader a need to switch “interpretive codes” from information to literary cultural readings of the text (3). 4   Flarf writers and e-​poets such as C. T. Funkhouser and Jim Andrews and installation artist-​poets such as Mary Flanagan generate decentered texts by, for example, linking URLs, thus creating hypertexts as “readers” may proceed through webpages by linking on to whichever webpage the “readers” decide to click upon—​thus creating a thematically dizzying number of possible versions of the “original” version of text the Flarfist “programmed” into being. Not Born Digital is concerned with the collision of old and new media, but the project fits The Electronic Literature

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Goldsmith’s relation to computers calls to mind Fluxus experimentation, but also I would compare his relationships to computers to how Ernie Kovacs and Naim June Paik made television strange in the 1950s and 1960s.5 I devote three chapters to Goldsmith, including commentary on his most controversial work, “The Body of Michael Brown” (2015), and begin my introduction with considerable attention to his ambivalent relation to new media, but “not born digital” is meaningful to my study as a whole. The phrase dovetails with the mixed response toward the collision of print literacy and new media evident in writings by other innovative US poets who began their careers long before the digital revolution of the mid-​1990s—​Hannah Weiner (b. 1927), Susan Howe (b. 1937), and Andrei Codrescu (b. 1946) among them. “Not Born Digital” also applies to poets born in the 1960s (Juliana Spahr; b. 1966; David Buuck; b. 1969) and 1970s (Jen Hofer, b. 1971; Patrick Durgin, b. 1971; Noah Eli Gordon, b. 1975) to whom I  turn attention in the last third of my book. G2 (or second generation) Language-​oriented author Noah Eli Gordon’s inbox [a reverse memoir] (2006), for example, is a conceptual project involving “pages of uninterrupted prose that constitutes a kind of temporal autobiography” that he has reframed out of “merely whatever emails happened to be in my inbox on 9/​11/​0 4” (Gordon, 4–​5). The Route (2008) by fellow G2 poets Jen Hofer and Patrick Durgin illustrates Jenkins’s idea in Convergence Culture that the “circulation of media content” “depends heavily on consumers’ active participation” (2), but unlike Goldsmith, their writings also emphasize another attribute of convergence culture, which is what Pierre Levy in Collective Intelligence:  Mankind’s Emerging World in Cyberspace (1997) calls “collective intelligence.” “No one knows everything, everyone knows something, all knowledge resides in humanity,” writes Levy on the communitarian impulse of what he considers to be a fundamental strength

Organization’s definition of the field: “work with an important literary aspect that takes advantage of the capabilities and contexts provided by the stand-​a lone or networked computer” and including “both work performed in digital media and work created on a computer but published in print.” See N. Katherine Hayles’s Electronic Literature: New Horizons for the Literary (3). 5   Of Kovacs, a Hungarian-​A merican, born in Trenton, New Jersey in 1919, and trained in theater arts, television critic William Henry III has written:  “Kovacs was more than another wide-​e yed, self-​ingratiating clown. He was television’s first significant video artist. He was its first surrealist . . . its most daring and imaginative writer. He was . . . television’s first and possibly only auteur.”

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of new knowledge cultures (20). Like Goldsmith’s Seven American Deaths and Disasters, Gordon’s inbox [a reverse memoir] (2006) and Durgin and Hofer’s The Route (2008) concern how avant-​ garde contemporary US poets have reframed new media-​sourced language into independent press volumes as a procedural form of conceptual appropriation under the sign of poetry. Especially in the cases of Gordon, Durgin, and Hofer, we must take quite literally the term social media. A  strategic element of their projects involves the potential for these poets to organize a network of online interactive communities and to create collaborative opportunities with other progressive cultural workers whose mobility, iconoclastic bent, and outsider status might otherwise preclude affiliation in any other kind of mediated or immediate experiment in social organization. Imagining the authorial self as a spectral conception whose (dis)appearance emerges as a site around which other emerging poets gravitate and correspond, Gordon establishes a subcultural movement—​a nd corporate sense of (non) identity—​by electronic means. If Frank O’Hara was, in David Lehman’s estimation in The Last Avant-​Garde (1998), the “poet at the vital center of the New York York School” through his “tremendous personal magnetism” and “curatorial position at the Museum of Modern Art,” Gordon in inbox represents the trace of O’Hara as an invisible, primarily silent, and yet indelible figure around which his interlocutors congregate (9).6 Poetry is a, perhaps the, conservative art. Traditionally, it is a technology concerned with externalizing memory, and with preserving traces of the human image across time in a relatively durable format, as my dissertation advisor, the late great Allen Grossman, used to tell his charges at Brandeis and later at Johns Hopkins. “Poetry is a principle of power invoked by all of us against our vanishing,” wrote Grossman in The Sighted Singer (1992). “Poetry is one means by which human beings engage, as they can, in the maintenance of a human world in which they can meet one another, affirm one another, remember, see, and foresee one another” (ix). I  am surprised to find myself recalling Grossman’s extravagant claims for poetry’s central role in the survival of the human image, given Not Born Digital focuses on poets who experiment with writing indebted to emails, blogs, digital archives, and web-​sourced transcripts of news reports that seem, in Paul Stephens’s terms, “both infinitely   Lehman writes: “The group did not gel, [John] Ashbery observed, until O’Hara arrived in New York in 1951 ‘to kind of cobble everything together and tell us what we and they were doing.’ ” (7). 6

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retrievable as well as radically intangible—​in the sense that it carries with it little or no ‘aura’ in Benjamin’s terms” (33).7 And yet I come back to Grossman’s fascination with Yeats, how my late mentor quoted to us the comment that the Irish modernist made in the introduction to the Collected Poems (1937): Because I need a passionate syntax for passionate subject-​matter I compel myself to accept those traditional metres that have developed with the language. Ezra Pound, Turner, Lawrence wrote admirable free verse, I could not. I would lose myself, become joyless like those mad old women. The translators of the Bible, Sir Thomas Browne, certain translators from the Greek when translators still bothered about rhythm, created a form midway between prose and verse that seems natural to impersonal meditation; but all that is personal soon rots; it must be packed in ice or salt.

Grossman emphasized what he called the “eidetic” (or image bearing) function of poetry. He attended to the commemorative function of poetry exhibited in “Easter, 1916,” when Yeats states his task is, “To murmur name upon name,/​ As a mother names her child//​ . . . I write it out in a verse—​MacDonagh and MacBride//​And Connolly and Pearse” to memorialize Irish Republicans who were executed by the British during the Easter Uprising on behalf of Home Rule. However unlikely, Grossman’s grandiose claims for poetry’s conservational function joins together with the concern expressed by digital-​oriented poets as diverse in style and sensibility as Goldsmith, Howe, Weiner, and Codrescu with the archival function of a literary art as it undergoes a shift in media platforms that Peter Shillingsburg in From Gutenberg to Google: Electronic Representations of Literary Texts (2006), argues, while just beginning, represents “a textual revolution comparable to the one initiated by the invention of printing from moveable type in the fifteenth century, and our revolution is developing at a far more rapid pace” (4). The term “archive” will be a key one throughout Not Being Digital. As Mark B. Hansen has written in “New Media,” at least as far back as Plato’s Phaedrus, which concerns the issue of “writing’s status as a pharmakon, at once a poison and its antidote, a threat to memory and its extension,” media ranging from codex books to digital technologies have served “the 7   Stephens describes a contemporary era in which “there are fewer and fewer physical traces of the writing process (in the form not just of letters, but also of drafts, notebooks, etc.) At the same time, nearly every action one undertakes with a word processor or a web browser leaves behind a considerable trail of metadata (time saved, time accessed, etc.) How much value are we to place on minutely recorded data that has hitherto not been considered worth preserving?” (33).

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role of knowledge storage” for the human community (173; 175). The word “archive” originated in the late sixteenth century, combining a Greek word for “public office” with the suffix for “place.” The word’s origin signifies its association with historical documentation that magistrates have deemed significant to the preservation of the official story—​the public memory—​ of the state. The word’s suffix implies that such documentation can be contained within a tangible location where information can be stored, compressed, and preserved with a sense of permanence for future reference. In Archive Fever:  A  Freudian Impression (1996), Jacques Derrida, however, notes the split root of the word “archive.” He points out that the term refers to a process of commencement, implying sequence, and a judicial meaning, implying commandment, law, order, authority, and place. The judicial meaning, Derrida continues, accrues what he calls “archontic power” through “the functions of unification, of identification, of classification, [which] must be paired with what we will call the power of consignation” (3). By “consignation,” Derrida refers to the coordination of disparate materials into a “unity of an ideal configuration” (3). “In an archive, there should not be any absolute dissociation, any heterogeneity or secret which could separate (secernere), or partition, in an absolute manner.” Like Derrida in Archive Fever, Susan Howe and Andrei Codrescu chafe against the judicial or “consignation” version of the archive. One way I  think about how my authors reframe materials “already stained with cultural significance,” is by noticing their self-​conscious imagining of their projects as peculiar creative archives. Goldsmith, for example, has, in the “Afterword” to Seven American Deaths and Disasters, described his “rendering the mundane in language” (169) in works such as Day by “simply transcribing what lay before me” (171) as stemming from what he calls his “archival impulse” (169). 8 In Bibliodeath (2012), Codrescu regards poetry and memoir as what he calls an “Unarchive.” Skeptical about the traditional definition of historical memory as locatable in an official depository (or, more recently, in hyperspace), Codrescu considers

8   In an email interview with Mark Allen, Goldsmith reflected on his archival impulse:  “For the past twenty years, I’ve been fascinated with rendering the mundane in language. In hindsight, my archival impulse arose concurrent with the internet, which also seemed intent on creating a vast warehouse of our most commonplace experiences—​at least in the early days—​in words. It immediately became clear to me the digital condition was going to be one of abundance, storing more words than I’d ever be able to consume. As a response, I made big books which, even in paper, reflected this new relationship to language.”

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his writings an “Archives of Amnesia” (Bibliodeath, 23). The phrase refers to the “history of the vanquished, written out of the Official Archives,” that exists only in its erasure. Should the awful history be told, Codrescu prophesizes, the narrative might do more harm than good for survivors because of the “inevitable anger, horror, and helplessness that follows the restoration” (21). My chapter on Spontaneous Particulars:  The Telepathy of Archives (2014) demonstrates that, like Codrescu, Howe is concerned with what she calls the “acquisitive violence, the rapacious ‘fetching’ involved in collecting” materials to remember the past via archival research (43). Like Codrescu, Howe worries about the transformation of archives from brick and mortar sites to online digital formats. She acknowledges that online “technologies offer new and often thrilling possibilities for artists and scholars,” but her latest book is a “collaged swan song to the old ways” of onsite archival research as an act of bereavement in which corpse and corpus are twinned (9). Like Codrescu in Bibliodeath, Howe in Spontaneous Particulars critiques what Bill Brown in “Materiality” calls the “dematerializing effects of digitization,” and she, like Codrescu, laments the loss of “the need to see and touch objects and documents” as part of a synaesthetic experience that foregrounds the embodiment of history in its textual remains (Brown, “Materiality,” 58; Howe, “Spontaneous Particulars,” 9). In Brown’s terms, Codrescu and Howe register the desire to exhibit “the physical interaction that occurs between humans and technology” while “disclosing the multilayered histories that lie within any technology of communication” (Brown, 56). In “Thing Theory,” Brown notices how an individual’s “perception of things” enables objects to become “inhabited” and “animated” (9). For Brown, the “question is less about ‘what things are for a given society than about what claims on your attention and on your action are made on behalf of things.’ ” (9). Elsewhere in his essay, Brown describes “methodological fetishism” in which “new thoughts about inanimate objects constitute human subjects, how they move them, how they threaten them, how they facilitate or threaten their relation to other subjects” (7). Brown’s “Thing Theory” fits into my discussion of how Howe and Codrescu argue for onsite archival research rather than digital versions of the same act because of the material significance of the “things” (the blood-​stained Richard Brautigan manuscript Codrescu comments upon; the cloth fragments Sarah Edwards wove as her only remains in the vast Jonathan Edwards archives at Yale as discussed by Howe). Following Brown’s thesis, Codrescu and Howe explore material objects in library archives in

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ways that produce subjectivity through their idiosyncratic relation to things. For Codrescu and Howe, archival inscription is a site of what N. Katherine Hayles calls a materiality of embodiment, but the archive is itself imagined as a catastrophic site. As my comments on Howe imply, Codrescu is not alone among the authors I  discuss in Not Born Digital in understanding poetry as an “unarchive” that embodies, rather than merely reflects, history as a site of disaster. Like Codrescu and Howe, David Buuck and Juliana Spahr’s “The Side Effect,” from An Army of Lovers (2013), the final text I  discuss in Not Born Digital, narrates the story of a female new media poet whose online experimental writings embody, rather than merely represent, trauma. A  poetry of disaster, poet Nicole Cooley argues in an essay on the topic, relies on fragments, invokes the collective alongside the individual, often in tension with each other, asks ethical questions about voice, and challenges our thinking about poetry as a genre. Hannah Weiner’s Weeks (1990), I contend, enacts disaster, rather than merely commenting on terrible (and celebratory) events from 1986 including the Space Shuttle Challenger Disaster. Weeks speaks (or, better, linguistically visualizes) disaster in a manner comparable to how French theorist Maurice Blanchot in The Writing of the Disaster urges witnesses to announce trauma: “It is not you who will speak: let the disaster speak in you” (4). Blanchot’s observation summarizes the “social” dimension of Weeks in that the author disturbs the border between self and other, private and public, inside and outside, innocent bystander and tragic victim, viewer and correspondent to upsetting news. As with Weiner and Codrescu, what I  call the “indecisive moments” Goldsmith addresses in Seven American Deaths and Disasters are compelling because they encourage readers to downplay attention to aesthetic merits or philosophical questions of authorial originality while encouraging readers to uncannily repeat exposure to the raw terror facing the broadcaster of events ranging from the Kennedy Assassinations to the Spaceship Challenger explosion to the attacks on the World Trade Centers to the deaths of John Lennon and Michael Jackson. Writing on Laura Riding’s 1925 “A Prophecy or a Plea,” which describes the “shock of impact” of modern existence, Barrett Watten notes that Riding’s poetic manifesto leads to a poetry that, as a darkened interiority or an “evocation of the shadows,” foregrounds our insufficiency rather than regulates it. Later in Riding’s work, the demands of the unrepresentable intensify to the point at which poetry

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can only imitate the traumatic shock of existence in its immediacy. “What is a poem? A poem is nothing . . . It cannot be looked at, heard, touched, or read because it is a vacuum . . . If it were possible to reproduce it in an audience the result would be the destruction of the audience.” (340)

Like Watten’s version of Riding as a poet of linguistic “insufficiency” when confronted with the “unrepresentable,” Goldsmith calls attention to rhetorical disability as registered through stammering phrases—“It looks . . . now . . . uh . . . eh . . . is that?”—​as well as expressions of a crisis of visibility. Just as significantly as it applies to many poets I discuss in this book, Scott Pound’s “not born digital” phrase most certainly resonates with my condition as a middle-​aged scholar, born in 1962, trained in the modernist tradition with Grossman in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and who remains oriented toward an approach to reading print texts as part of a literary culture that precedes the newest way of making it new via new media.9 I must add here that the term “literary culture” is, of course, a complex one with a varied history of meanings that includes a suggestion, associated with High Modernism and New Formalism, of a special set of elevated, canonical works that should be received as if they existed in splendid isolation from the realms of commerce, technology, and mass culture. Clearly, the books I  am describing in Not Born Digital are not works of literary culture in this sense of the term. In this book, I am borrowing William Paulson’s definition of the term from his Literary Culture in a World Transformed: A Future for the Humanities (2001) in which he argues that literary culture is of course “associated with books and printed writing,” but it retains its value, if no longer its preeminence, in an era dominated by “new technologies and media” because it remains necessary for “the rhetorical, tale-​telling, and poetic way of knowing and communicating—​because we live  In Digital Modernism:  Making It New In New Media (2014), Jessica Pressman offers a valuable genealogical study of literary history. She argues that electronic literature is a remixing of literary modernism. Pressman is specifically concerned with online electronic texts that adapt, “seminal texts from the modernist canon (e.g., Pound’s Cantos, Joyce’s Ulysses), remediate specific formal techniques (e.g., stream of consciousness, super-​positions), and engage with cornerstone cultural issues (e.g., the relationship between poetics, translation, and global politics). They employ a strategy of renovation that purchases cultural capital from the literary canon in order to validate their newness and demand critical attention in the form of close reading” (2). I share Pressman’s interest in “close reading” new media works, as well as her interest in poetics and politics, and the backward glance at modernism. Our studies differ in that my book concerns the ambivalent ways page poets (rather than the electronica based poets Pressman discusses) have grappled with “screen memory” (that is, electronic and new media sources) through the repurposing of “found” materials.

9

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Not Born Digital

in a human world that is social, open, competitive, conflictual, and playful, that is inherently concerned with far more than getting at the truth about the objective condition of things” (8). Helpfully, Paulson goes on to suggest other qualities of literary culture that he believes are and will continue to be relevant in a Post Gutenberg era, including literary culture’s indebtedness to orality and its emphasis on language: Although written, printed discourse is in some ways distanced from readers, and lacks the reciprocity of oral communication, works made of written language retain a direct connection, in their very stuff, with the words we use to think and talk to ourselves and to talk to one another. And this connection is stronger in literature than in many others forms of writing. The language of poems, novels, and plays, though it is by no means identical to spoken language, usually has a stronger connection to oral culture—​to storytelling, gossip, dialogue, proverbs, and word play, for example—​t han do administrative reports, laws and rulings, user’s manuals, or many other forms of written discourse. (151)

Given that works by authors I discuss such as Goldsmith and Weiner are based on the transcription of spoken language, which, as Paulson says of literary culture, emphasizes orality, storytelling, play, and performance, one can understand why I  consider books such as Soliloquy, Seven American Deaths and Disasters, and Weeks as worthy of consideration in the context of literary culture. Indebted to Scott Pound for my title, it is on the issue of how to read (and even on the issue of if it is possible or worthwhile to bother to read) conceptually driven, procedural experiments by a hybridist author such as Goldsmith, whose life and work is situated on the media cusp between print literacy and a digitalized culture of information, that I  differ, not only from Pound, but from other commentators on how to evaluate new media-​sourced print poetry. In The Poetics of Information Overload:  From Gertrude Stein to Conceptual Writing (2015), for example, Paul Stephens quotes Goldsmith’s observation that much “of Stein’s writing was never meant to be read closely at all, rather she was deploying visual means of reading. What appeared to be densely unreadable and repetitive was, in fact, designed to be skimmed, and to delight the eye (in a visual sense) while holding the book. Stein, as usual, was prescient in predicting our reading habits” (3). Focused in his study on how “avant-​garde poetry has been centrally concerned with technologies of communication, data

Introduction

13

storage, and bureaucratic control—​not simply rejecting those technologies, but also adopting and commenting on them” (1), Stephens accedes to Goldsmith’s reading of Stein as a modernist precursor of “overloaded” or “overflowing” works that are spatial, volumetric, and sculptural in their material presence and visual appeal (4). Like Pound, Stephens does not perceive Goldsmith’s writings as designed to promote close reading of specific words, details, and images that are worthy of reader attention toward examining small amounts of text as well as to read works in their entirety to trace the arc of narratives in search of psychological, archetypal, and interpersonal values. Stephens writes: Goldsmith (himself trained as a sculptor) shifts the literary value of Stein’s saturated writing from narrative or semantic levels to visual and aural levels. Whereas visual pleasure in reading is often associated with minimalist works, or with concrete or visual poetry, Goldsmith suggests that there can be an equivalent pleasure in skimming large quantities of text. (3)

For Scott Pound, as was the case for Stephens, Goldsmith’s project is primarily a theoretical one. Goldsmith is of interest to those who think critically about notions of authorship in a postliterary age in which, as Goldsmith himself has stated, the author may be more likened to a word processor than to an emotionally driven person who desires to share his innermost thoughts and feelings by finding the best words and putting them in the best order. Like Stephens, Pound’s Goldsmith gives a wide birth to the kind of close reading, concentrated attention to language for its sonic as well as mimetic and figural properties, and sensitivity to narrative features that make up the warp and woof of my literary analyses in the following pages of Not Born Digital: “a new view of the literary and new take on authorship, and the methods of text production that result from these discoveries travesty literary culture as we know it” (317). In “Hyper and Deep Attention:  The Generational Divide,” Hayles argues that “present-​day college students” appear to display a “shift in cognitive styles [that] can be seen in the contrast between deep attention and hyper attention” (187). Hayles is less interested in judging the comparative intellectual and educational value of the two cognitive styles—​she believes each has its strengths and weaknesses—​t han in noting that a “generational shift from deep to hyper attention” is taking place, in large part because of the heightened exposure to electronic media that tends to encourage “a preference for high levels of stimulation” that has been associated with increases in the diagnosis of attention deficit disorders (189), and that the shift toward “multitasking,” while beneficial

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to, for example, “the air traffic controller who is watching many screens at once and must be able to change tasks quickly without losing track of any of them” (194), may represent a challenge to the brain of the Hyper Attentive student who has “a low threshold for boredom” and lacks a “preference for concentrating on a single object to the exclusion of external stimuli” (194): Deep attention, the cognitive style traditionally associated with the humanities, is characterized by concentrating on a single object for long periods (say, a novel by Dickens), ignoring outside stimuli while so engaged, preferring a single information stream, and having a high tolerance for long focus times. Hyper attention is characterized by switching focus rapidly among different tasks, preferring multiple information streams, seeking a high level of stimulation, and having a low tolerance for boredom.

I quote Hayles at some length here on the distinction between the two disparate cognitive approaches because while I have so far been discussing the liminal dimension of Not Born Digital authors, it is evident that my reception of new media-​sourced writings corresponds to the contradictory situation of the authors I discuss. Throughout Not Born Digital, I will bring what Hayles calls “Deep Attention” to texts that are characterized by Hyper Attentiveness. Where Pound, like Stephens, asks theoretical questions about “what extent do the language-​handling capabilities of networked digital media require us to rethink what it means to write” (316) and claims that Goldsmith’s “language does not invite explication” or “even invite readerly attention,” I found myself, like Hayles with her Dickens, reading works such as Soliloquy as an extended (500 page!) picaresque prose poem that traces the life of Goldsmith in a Joycean portrait of a not-​so-​young artist and as a not-​so-​young man confronting mortality. As much as I am offering something of a revisionary take on appropriative, remediational, and procedural oriented writings by treating new media-​sourced texts with an attention to hermeneutic practices associated with literary texts and print culture, I join other commentators on new media poetics by paying attention to how the transformation of media frames from digital to print is a crucial aspect of the projects of authors such as Goldsmith and Noah Eli Gordon. In an often anthologized essay from the Journal of Philosophy in 1964, Arthur C.  Danto, writing in the wake of two Andy Warhol exhibits at the Stable Gallery in 1962 and 1964, stated: “What in the end makes the difference between a Brillo Box and a work of art consisting of a Brillo Box is a certain

Introduction

15

theory of art. It is the theory that takes it up into the world of art, and keeps it from collapsing into the real object which it is (in a sense of is other than that of artistic identification).” According to Danto, Warhol departs from modernism because he did not fetishize the hand-​painted artifact as authenticated by the signatory gestures of the artist. A  commercial Brillo box is already an aestheticized object, but Danto claims that Warhol deconstructs the boundary between fine art and ordinary material culture. In his 1974 study Art and the Aesthetic, George Dickie built on Danto’s disavowal of imitation and expression theories of art in order to focus on a framework theory. Less focused on art history, and more on an institutional theory of art than was the case in Danto, who had used the term “art world” to refer to something like what T. S. Eliot in “Tradition and the Individual Talent” (1917) meant when he discussed an author’s “historical sense” and of how the “really new” work at once coheres to and alters that history, Dickie studied the complex process in which an object has “conferred upon it the status of candidate for appreciation by some person or person acting on behalf of a certain social institution (the artworld).”10 I find the Danto/​Dickie framework models to be powerful tools for approaching the new media-​influenced poets of the page that are the subject of this book. Like Danto’s Warhol, Not Born Digital focuses on poets who “transfigure the commonplace” through the formal work of establishing differences between objects of little or no value—​soap pad cartons and soup cans in Warhol’s case—​and versions of the same that are nonetheless conceptually significant containers of meaning belonging to the art world. In Not Born Digital, I evoke framework models of art theory to approach innovative US poetry with special emphasis on twenty-​first-​century examples of conceptual poets whose “found” material first appeared in new media contexts. My study accounts for provocative twenty-​first-​century conceptual and procedural writing projects informed by new media technology in Goldsmith, Durgin, Hofer, Spahr, Buuck, and Gordon, as well as an example of what I regard as a new media experiment in page poetry by Hannah Weiner from 1990 that, as I will explain in Chapter 1, may be viewed as ahead of its time in its reliance on television news as a source text, but that has also been 10   Eliot writes:  “the historical sense compels a man to write not merely with his own generation in his bones, but with a feeling that the whole of the literature of Europe from Homer and within it the whole of the literature of his own country has a simultaneous existence and composes a simultaneous order.”

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archived and put forward to a wide audience via the Electronic Poetry Center (EPC) and thus can be understood to have become a beneficiary of the digital environment her writings anticipate. One century after Duchamp’s “Fountain” (1917) and a half-​century after Danto on Warhol, the contemporary authors I address in Not Born Digital underscore in a global, multimedia context how postmodern digital networks, social media, and art world representational frames continue to alter the “use” of history and archival memory in poetry of the page. The premise of Not Born Digital is that the contemporary US poets I study in this book engage, as did Duchamp in “Fountain” in the modern period, obscure and discarded, materials to unsettle what Charles Bernstein, himself involved with new media through his development with Loss Pequeño Glazier of the EPC and the Poetics web site at the University of Buffalo, refers to as “frame lock” and “tone jam.”11 I argue that in the process Not Born Digital  Another innovative poet who was Not Born Digital, but who has understood the need to interrogate the implications of New Media for poetry and poetics, Bernstein, born in 1950, most certainly must be acknowledged as an author who understood as early as 1994 that the “new interactive spaces of the Internet suggest possibilities for community that are particularly suggestive for poetry as a social practice” (Bernstein, “Community and the Individual Talent” Diacritics 26.3–​4 (1996) 176–​195.) In “Community and the Individual Talent,” however, Bernstein expresses reservations about the role the internet might play in the encouragement of new poetry and the fostering of its authors and readers. Whitmanian in his willingness to contradict himself, and Groucho Marxian in his uncertainty about wanting to hold membership in any community that would have him as a member, Bernstein, with typical humor and word play, at once facilitates online institutions through his work on the Poetics mail discussion group at SUNY Buffalo and his support of the EPC, and challenges the desirability to affiliate. I do not devote a full chapter to Bernstein’s forays into New Media collaboration, but he has experimented with the form that animates Gordon’s inbox and Hofer and Durgin’s The Route in A Conversation with David Antin (2002) and in “Letters from Belgrade,” an assemblage of email letters sent to Bernstein “by Dubravka Djuric during the NATO war against Yugoslavia” from March until May 1999 and posted on EPC by Bernstein with a brief introduction in August 1999. In both cases, Bernstein reframes emails with or by another contemporary culture worker in a context that poses questions about the nature of audience, orality, literacy, community, place, and, in the project with Djuric, the way the internet, and electronic mail, can foster a global community of caring in the face of life-​t hreatening military conflicts and extraordinary social isolation and cultural upheaval: “I fight to be in touch with some of you, reading, writing and translating your texts and poetry, trying to ‘save my mind’ ” writes Djuric in her letter of March 24, 1999 (1). In contrast to US conceptualists who understand their project as a reframing and remediation of a glut of information in a media saturated environment, Djuric’s emails to Bernstein, who had visited Djuric and her husband in Belgrade in 1991, included her work in an issue he’d edited of boundary 2 in 1999 and contributed to hosting her and her husband Misko Suvakovic as Poetics Program Fellows at SUNY Buffalo in 1994, illustrate how electronic mail in a time of extreme crisis and media deprivations may become a life line for a resident of a war-​torn environment. Bernstein experiments with electronic media in the two collaborations cited above, but he does not, formally speaking, work with new media as a space to reimagine identity, subjectivity, speaker, voice, or community in ways that Gordon, Hofer,

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Introduction

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authors engage in “screen memory.” A  term Freud coined in 1923, “screen memory” typically refers, as Renee Grinnel writes, to a “false recollection constructed as a compromise between complete repression and full awareness of an unacceptable wish. Generally, the psychological significance of an important event is maintained, but displaced onto another, more mundane memory.” In thinking about how contemporary poets who work with prior media accounts of upsetting events that appeared on screens (computer, television), I play with the Freudian term “screen memory” to suggest how poets repurpose digital and telemediated (that is, prescreened) materials associated with personal and cultural memory. They do so, I  contend, to desublimate embedded traumatic memories that have been masked (or screened) in prior often corporate or state-​ sponsored mediations. The authors thus repurpose (re-​screen to un-​screen) “found” materials to—​in Freud’s terms—​ simultaneously “act out” and “work through” trauma by coming to terms with archives, historical forgetting, and new media through what Goldsmith calls “uncreative writing”: “While traditional notions of writing are primarily focused on ‘originality’ and ‘creativity,’ the digital environment fosters new skill sets that include ‘manipulation’ and ‘management’ of the heaps of already existent and ever-​increasing language” (Uncreative Writing, 15). Goldsmith’s “uncreative” practice, which relies on “manipulation” and “management” of “already existent” linguistic remnants, is itself an archival repurposing of Duchamp’s aesthetic comprehension of mass produced urinals, bottle racks, and bicycle parts in “readymades” during modernism’s heyday around 1915, as well as a rehearsal of a more recent history of destabilizing cultural interventions by poets in the late 1950s and 1960s such as John Ashbery in The Tennis Court Oath (1962) and Jackson Mac Low in works such as his “5 biblical poems” (published in the 1960s, but composed in the late 1950s) who were inspired by John Cage musical compositions generated from “durational structures.” As Liz Kotz has argued, such “procedures are machines for turning any text into a kind of poetry” (128). In spite of genre crossings, media shifts, and transnational leanings, I explore how US and Durgin do in inbox and The Route. As much as the thematic topic of Bernstein’s discussion with Antin focuses on, among much else, the relationships between Antin’s “talking” poems, and questions of audience, reception, and poetry and prose writings, and how the reframing of “talk” in Antin is a conceptualist/​proceduralist/​serialist activity, readers of the exchange know where Bernstein’s persona begins and where it leaves off, and the same is true of Antin. By contrast, as we will see, Gordon, Durgin, and Hofer foreground the indeterminacy of authorship in ways that are facilitated by the internet format.

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contemporary poets, transfigure their worlds by emphasizing the relations of “use” and “meaning” with special attention to what I call “the art of the in-​ between.” By “art of the in-​between” I refer to how authors in my study situate retrieved materials in an ambiguous cultural space—​call it the “now,” or the “during”—​t hat is a lyrical expression of an idiosyncratic response to personal traumas and political upsets and a documentary treatment of a wider social text composed primarily or exclusively from resources not designed by the author’s own hands. Not Born Digital correlates the roles of history, memory, forgetting, archives, and media, for example, in New York City’s Fox Channel Eleven TV news broadcasts from 1986 in Weiner’s Weeks, and hypertext and web archives in Spahr, Codrescu, Gordon, and Goldsmith. I anoint Duchamp as mentor to the authors I study, but one must distinguish the contemporary authors’ socially driven version of conceptualism from Duchamp’s provocative aestheticism. The authors I  study combine conceptualism with the contextual indeterminacy, as does Barrett Watten, whose major critical study, The Constructivist Moment (2003), addresses “the gap between constructivist aesthetics and a larger cultural poetics” (XV). For the authors in Not Born Digital, residual associations of their subject matter’s real world/​functional use value peeks through the literary frame, creating tension with traditional, historical, religious, autobiographical, civic, domestic, art world, and archival meanings. As much as Gordon in inbox, for example, argues that his reframing of hundreds of emails amounts to a defamiliarizing conceptualist project illustrative of what N. Katherine Hayles means when she describes electronically oriented poems as reconceptualizing materiality as “the interplay between a text’s physical characteristics and its signifying strategies” (Hayles, 2004, 67), I argue that Gordon, like Hofer and Durgin in The Route, turns to new media to imagine an avant-​garde digital community that, in The Route, amounts to a nonexclusive platform through which various innovative culture workers join together to create poems and share them in “Open Letters” in an interactive environment. As we will see, The Route’s communitarian poetics is indebted to Bay Area poet and archivist at the Poetry Center at San Francisco State University Laura Moriarity’s conception of “A Tonalism” as a quality of interlocution and correspondence that “does not seek to disclude but values contradiction and compromise” and that fosters an “anti-​lyric poetry written in a way that questions the very fact of its being poetry and attempts to break down the self while attempting also to assist the threatened person” (Moriarity, 125–​126). Alongside the issue of how digitalization has and will

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continue to influence the relationship between poetry and archival memory, which I treat in depth in my chapters on Codrescu and Howe, the issue of how digitalization has and will continue to influence how poets, and especially poets who self-​identify as loosely affiliated members of what Charles Bernstein sees as in opposition to “official verse culture,” imagine community and institutional associations, and the conception of what it means to hold a membership in a community. I think of my authors as, if you will, dirty conceptualists. (Duchamp stated he “obliterated” functionalism by taking the bicycle wheel “out of the earth and onto the planet of aesthetics”). Their liminal representations appear in and through old and new media technologies (old media such as books, television news broadcasts, photographs, and the museum installation; new media such as blogs and emails) as they imagine an indeterminate space in between passing and not-​yet emergent worlds. The subjects I  discuss in Not Born Digital repurpose for what Danto called an art world context objects already stained with cultural significance. In a general sense, Bill Brown’s “Thing Theory” connects to my idea of “dirty conceptualism.” According to Brown, things occupy an ambivalent position in our imaginations; things “hover over the threshold between the nameable and unnamable, the figurable and unfigurable, the identifiable and unidentifiable” (5). “Things,” Brown adds, “lie beyond the grid of intelligibility the way mere things lie outside the grid of museal exhibition, outside the order of objects” (5). “Thing Theory” dovetails with my argument that an element of lived material reality exceeds aesthetic containment in conceptualists such as Goldsmith and Weiner. An utterly contemporary and postmodern media condition for poetry, as witnessed by studies of poetry in the digital age by Adelaide Morris, Loss Pequeño Glazier, Marjorie Perloff, Brian Reed, Jessica Pressman, Paul Stephens, and C. T. Funkhouser, Not Born Digital concerns an esoteric form of creativity through the processes of dissemination, textuality, and plurivocality that characterize web-​ based communications.12 It is important, however, to distinguish the mixed response to poetry in a new media era as found   See Brian M. Reed, Nobody’s business: Twenty-​First Century Avant-​Garde Poetics (Ithaca: Cornell UP, 2013); C.  T. Funkhouser, Prehistoric Digital Poetry:  An Archaeology of Forms, 1959–​1995 (Tuscaloosa:  University of Alabama Press, 2007); Adelaide Morris and Thomas Swiss, eds. New Media Poetics: Contexts, Technotexts, and Theories (Cambridge: The MIT press, 2006); Loss Pequeño Glazier, Digital Poetics: The Making of E-​Poetries (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2002); Jessica Pressman, Digital Modernism: Making It New in New Media (New York: Oxford UP, 2014); Marjorie Perloff, Unoriginal Genius: Poetry by Other Means in the New Century (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010). 12

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in the page-​oriented authors I  discuss in Not Born Digital to that of leading theoretical proponents of e-​poetry such as Hayles, Reed, and Funkhouser. My subject concerns cusp figures. Their focus on interiority, anxiety, word play, allusiveness, verbal opacity, and an assemblage/​ collage aesthetic suggests ambivalent confrontations with a consuming postmodern realm of electronic reproduction.

1

Medium as Messenger: Hannah Weiner Anchors the Social Poetics of 1986 in Weeks

There is a delicious irony in selecting Hannah Weiner’s Weeks (1990) as subject for the first chapter in my study of how contemporary US poets have, however ambivalently, appropriated new media, often via procedural methods,  and for what I  call “dirty” conceptual projects, to envision cultural memory, collaborations, archives, and autobiography, reframed under the sign of poetry, in small press formats. Here’s the irony. As is the case with Weeks, published in West Lima, Wisconsin by Xexoxial Editions, the dozen or so other hybrid genre books Weiner published in her lifetime from the mid-​1960s to the late 1990s appeared in eccentric, limited editions. Put out by independent presses, the books were often quite lovingly typeset, designed, and printed on quality paper in runs of 300 or 400 copies by Weiner devotees in far afield places such as Providence, Vermont, Australia, and Wisconsin. However attractive to behold and pleasant to the touch, these original volumes were hard to come by—​or even become aware of—​when published decades ago. Today Weiner volumes remain, if paradoxically less difficult to find, thanks to online shopping sites such as Amazon that link bibliophiles to used and antiquarian bookstores all over the world, valuable because rare commodities, thus prohibitively expensive for all but dedicated Weiner aficionados, some of whom benefiting from a university S&E account to purchase such strange and beautiful things. In front of me as I write these words I have in my possession, for example, WRITTEN IN/​ THE ZERO ONE, printed by Pete Spence’s Post New Publications in Victoria Australia in an edition of 350 in 1985, which I snagged, via an Amazon connection, from a Bay Area antiquarian bookseller, Moe’s, for around $40. Another volume I own, Sixteen, a pamphlet really, of about fifteen unpaginated sheets, handset and printed in Windsor Vermont in May 1983 in an edition of 375 by Awede publisher Brita Berland, went for around $30. Silent Teachers/​

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Remembered Sequel (Tender Buttons Press, Providence), a slender volume of 70 pages, typeset in Dennisport, Massachusetts and printed in a comparatively robust run of 650 copies in 1993–​1994, similarly fetched around $30. I  am grateful to own these books, to pick them up from time to time, to feel the quality of the paper of the cover page between my fingers, and to leaf through the pages, but the reality is that without the web revolution, which began to pick up steam in the years around Weiner’s death in 1997 (Amazon.com and SUNY Buffalo’s Electronic Poetry Center, for example, both went online in 1995), most Weiner publications would be unavailable to most readers. Left unpublished in manuscript form at the time of her death, her many other writings would be out of reach to almost everyone without the digital access EPC provides to archival research undertaken by a young generation of scholars such as Patrick Durgin and Marta Warner, encouraged by their teacher at SUNY Buffalo and Penn, Charles Bernstein, to examine the Weiner archives housed at UC San Diego. EPC features a robust multimedia (synaesthetic) webpage devoted to Weiner, curated by Durgin and Bernstein. Her EPC page includes links to a treasure trove of audio/​v isual/​textual materials—​v ideos, telegrams, taped interviews, manuscripts, critical essays, and reviews, even Weiner’s 1974 Radcliffe Alumni questionnaire, her 1960 Radcliffe yearbook photo, and films she made with Barbara Rosenthal:  Rock-​Bye-​Rock-​Lobster and Colors and Auras. My point is that, ironically, web sites such as EPC may well be the consummate environment to simultaneously archive, broadcast, and enact the synaesthetic and multidimensional qualities of Weiner’s cultural materials. Liminal texts that blur the boundaries between audio, visual, and verbal compositions, her page poetry, after all, was always synaesthetic—​an iconic photograph by Tom Ahern from 1978 shows Hannah Weiner smiling with the words “I see words” written on her forehead. Her prosody attempts to transform words on a page into a dynamic space that represents multiple voices interacting through her play with vertical aspects of the line. By “vertical aspects of the line,” I mean Weiner—​ who suffered from schizophrenia and understood herself to be clairvoyant and telepathic—​graphically represents the immediacy of words she saw and heard by placing some voices as superscripts above the line, some as subscripts below the line, and also by working with typographical features such as italics and capitalization to represent distinct but related voices as, quite literally, typographical characters. In a review of Hannah Weiner’s Open House (2007), Durgin’s decisive effort to edit and publish a representative sample of Weiner’s work—​so influential to Language and post Language poetries, as well



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as to contemporaneous New  York School, conceptualist, disableist, feminist, post-​ableist, and ethnopoetic writings—​, Joyelle McSweeney notes: [Weiner’s] own prose, occupied as it is by the voices of hallucinated “silent teachers,” continually tests and knocks against the visual boundaries of text as it attempts to create an audial-​v isionary experience no conventional prose could hold. The Internet, with its capacity for assemblage, co-​authorship, and multiple media may be the best mode for hosting Weiner, who made the hosting of corporeal and non-​corporeal collaborators the mainstay of her art. “We have unknown collaborators,” she wrote in an early piece.1

At once proto and post Language poet, we notice how Weiner, once more upsetting chronological literary historiography, appears most vividly to us in 2015 as a precursor to new media oriented poets such as Katie Degentesh, Tan Lin, Kenneth Goldsmith, and K.  Silam Muhammed, but also as remediated and, in telepathic fashion, recalled from the dead as an electronically induced spectral figure by post-​Language authors such as Durgin and Werner, who have reimagined archival knowledge as a digital endeavor and act of community-​ building, friendship, and inheritance. In what follows I will address Weeks as what Durgin, whose collaborative text with Hofer, The Route (2008), I  treat in Chapter  8 as influenced by Weiner’s post-​ableist poetics of interdependency, refers to as displaying a “radical modernist poetics” that construes witnessing as “a participatory engagement with the present triggered by the mutual witnessing of a textual event” (Post Ableist Poetics, 1). In Weeks, Weiner anchors her fifty-​week diary based on her experience of sitting in front of the TV set in her Manhattan apartment in 1986 while transcribing a cacophony of pithy, if disturbing, tidbits gleaned from local and national news programs. That said, one can’t imagine “Hannah Weiner” as an entity distinct from the ambient buzz of broadcast’s talking heads. An inchoate zone of consciousness, Weiner shapes (and is, reciprocally, shaped by) a mesmerizing onslaught of transmissions announcing what news anchors and reporters have framed as notable happenings going on outside the poet’s apartment.2 As Thom Donovan 1   McSweeney continues: “Weiner’s ceaseless effort to find a format adequate to her experiences as a psychic medium resulted in the ever-​changing forms and surfaces of her work. As a result, her friends’ and advocates’ efforts to build her a legacy make for a series of exhaustive, self-​sacrificing labors that, while failing to fix a monument, create something better: a living zone in which Weiner emerges from between and among the Web sites, essays, and books assembled in her honor.” 2  Paul Stephens writes:  “In Clairvoyant Journal, voices take on a mediated and overlapping interdependence. The most famous deleted words of modernist poetry are Eliot’s ‘HE DO THE

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contends in his essay on Weiner’s “intense autobiography,” an authorial persona develops in her work, but “writing is not a transparent, narrative means of making self or person appear retroactively” (2). Instead, Donovan posits writing as the “very means through which the person/​self comes into being in relation to a social milieu. Through intense autobiography the ‘body’—​that container demarcating human personhood and rights—​ becomes a site of experience and experimentation where the limits of the self are related, if not often contested, in relation to a public, community, and/​or social discourse” (2). Her repurposed news broadcasts—​Kenneth Goldsmith would regard them in Uncreative Writing as “naked” material suitable for reframing as conceptual poetry—​may be read as a displaced self-​portrait of media’s varying affect and disorienting ambience as filtered through Weiner’s idiosyncratic rendering in diary form. In Weeks, Weiner implicitly registers her mercurial persona—​screwball, ironic, sensitive to human and animal suffering, urbane, hopeful, despairing, culture-​v ulturish, elegiac, pop, apocalyptic, commemorative, sentimental, paranoid, vulnerable, and self-​ conscious about her elliptical creative endeavor—​ t hrough an unpredictable display of telemediated headlines that resemble, après le lettre, the World Wide Web. “Weiner is the original Facebook comment stream,” writes Donovan. “She is social media before such a thing could come into existence” (2). Following Donovan, I read Weeks as a televisual precursor, not only to The Route as a new media example of a text that is what Bay Area poet and curator Laura Moriarity would refer to as “A Tonal” in its contradictory and liminal relations to self, body, style, other, language, tone, meaning, and world, but also to procedurally driven Flarf texts such as Mohammed’s Deer Head Nation (2003) and Degentesh’s The Anger Scale (2006), as well as to web-​sourced conceptual works such as Goldsmith’s Seven American Deaths and Disasters (2013). Reflecting on the intersection of cultural memory and personal identity by examining language in its materiality in a way that cultural theorist Bill Brown would refer to as an example of “thing theory,” Weeks anticipates archival-​sourced

POLICE IN DIFFERENT VOICES’ from the typescript of The Waste Land, crossed out by Pound and returned through the mail. Weiner’s voice is continually interrupted by difference voices, but just as often she interrupts the voices she hears, ignoring the demand that she ‘SHUT UP.’ Weiner’s writing is both polyphonic and abrasively dissonant. Weiner—​again in common with Cage, Porter, and Mayer—​describes the experience of being inundated with information in all its forms. This is a source of great concern—​it is also a source of an ambitious poetics that attempts to envision new forms of communication and information sharing” (132).



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texts by poets I  will discuss in Chapters  5 and 6:  Andrei Codrescu and Susan Howe. Like The Route, the correspondence between Hofer and Durgin, Weeks is, in an obvious sense, collaborative. It combines Weiner’s taking up in diary form nearly a year’s worth of TV news with grainy photographs of broadcasts by her friend, the artist Barbara Rosenthal. In a less obvious sense, I consider Weeks to be a collaborative text for two other reasons. First, Weeks blurs distinctions between author as maker and her task of cultural translator. Like a telepathic medium, Weiner receives messages from public media and then reframes them in peculiar ways under the sign of poetry. Second, Weiner’s text is an example of reciprocity in that she is a conceptualist working with “found” information broadcasts in ways that foreshadow Goldsmith’s poems based on American disasters sourced from online resources. As with Marta Werner’s reading of Weiner’s The Book of Revelations, Weeks is collaborative in its interactivity between poet as proceduralist and her immersion in an ambient informational atmosphere. The border between the white noise of television news indelibly blurs into Weiner’s floating zone of awareness: Hannah Weiner knew that thoughts are not our own. She knew this, but she still tried—​harder than any other poet of her brief day save, perhaps, Jack Spicer—​to enter into those thoughts that came to her from outside for as long as she could. In this condition, we might imagine Weiner alone and vigilant at her desk, open to the relentless flow of the manifold data of the world and recording words as they appeared on bodies before her and in the air thickened by them.3

Weiner’s imagining of the authorial self in Weeks combines proceduralism, autobiography, and historiography in ways that are communitarian in spirit and global in scope. Recalling the genesis of Weeks in a piece from HOW(ever) [1987], Weiner states it was “taken at the beginning from written matter and TV news and later almost entirely from TV news” circa 1986, after, the poet reports, she no longer saw words on walls, typewriters, and faces.4 In his “Introduction” 3   Marta Werner adds: “In the case of The Book Of Revelations, however, Weiner has left us not a singly-​authored work, but a collaboration with the outside that continually foregrounds the tension between its documentation and its disappearance. What is most fugitive of all is the self. In the end, ‘Hannah Weiner’ vanishes into what she unveils: ‘a future destined to be blue’ ” (39). 4  In HOW(ever) [Vol.3 No.4, January 1987], Weiner also remembers:

My friend, the writer Barbara Rosenthal, gave me a page-a-day diary last Christmas to encourage me to write. Not seeing words anymore, I looked for another source. I found it in the TV news, which accounts for the bulk of the material. I typed it up week by week, which accounts for the title. http:// www.scc.rutgers.edu/ however/ print_archive/ hwnotes.html

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to Weeks, Weiner’s close friend and literary executor, Charles Bernstein recalls that the text was “written in a small notebook, one page per day for fifty weeks. Each page of the book is the equivalent of a single week, with each day taking its toll in about five lines.”5 Noting how Weiner reworked TV news in a homespun manner, at first by hand in a diary gifted to her by Rosenthal, then by transcribing handwritten transcripts into manuscript form with a typewriter, and finally by shaping a synaesthetic collage with Rosenthal’s photographs four years after the initial remediation took place, I  am less interested in placing Weeks in relation to prior clairvoyant works in which she mediates “found” language as telepathist, and more concerned with exploring her creation of what poet Carolyn Forché in “Twentieth Century Poetry of Witness” (1993) defined as a “social” poetics:  “Poetry of witness presents the reader with an interesting interpretive problem. We are accustomed to rather easy categories: we distinguish between ‘personal’ and ‘political’ poems . . . We need a third term, one that can describe the space between the state and the supposedly safe havens of the personal. Let us call this space ‘the social’ ” (17). Following Forché’s definition of the term, Weiner offers a “social” poetics, synaesthetically, and in real time—​rather than merely recollects from a detached aesthetic posture—​ local mayhem and global disaster by upsetting the binary distinction between “public” and “private” space. (The fact that Weeks stemmed from the gift prompt of a notebook by Rosenthal, the friend and colleague whose photographs accompany the text, by itself speaks to the social nature of the project.) Commenting on Forché’s identification of the “social” as a third term that hovers equivocally between the categories of “personal” and “political” poetry, Nicole Cooley states, “Here, at this juncture, I would situate the poetry of disaster, in the ‘social,’ the space of community where we might find new understandings of what poetry can do in the world” (Cooley, Poetry.org).6 A native of New Orleans who teaches creative writing in Queens, New York, 5   In an email to the author, Barbara Rosenthal adds the following information about the genesis of Weeks: “Most of the text just came with Hannah transcribing audio from the TV news as she caught it on the fly. (Of course what one hears, or attends, is related to one’s own psyche.) I was doing work with audio of news, too, at the time. She just asked me to come over and take photos off the TV while she caught the words (or maybe I offered to because she’d never used pix in her books before—​I don’t remember who suggested I do that.)” (Rosenthal email: January 6, 2013). 6   I consider Forché’s project in line with Weiner’s because both poets trouble the idea of witness as a subject position neatly distinguished from the disaster. By contrast, Durgin challenges the “logic of witness” in Forché by contrasting it with Weeks: “The poetics of witness is described as



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Cooley is reacting to her own confusion as poet, person, and instructor about how to cope with the emergencies of Hurricane Katrina (2005) and the terror attacks on the Twin Towers in 2001 that affected her poetics in ways that challenge the assumption of difference between subject matter and lyric response and a distance between witness and victim:  “These two disasters altered the way I think about poetry and its relation to disaster. Does disaster render language inadequate? What is its relation to the language of poetry in particular? What was the answer to the ‘official’ truth of 9/​11 as it was told to us in those early days after the attacks? And in the weeks after, when the United States began to bomb Afghanistan?” Bernstein has questioned the communicative—​and, by extension, the social—​function of Weeks. “In its extremity,” he writes, Weeks “represents the institutionalization of collage into a form of evenly hovering emptiness that actively resists analysis or puncturing. In Weeks, the virus of news is shown up as a pattern of reiteration and displacement, tale without teller.” His formulation of Weeks as a “tale without teller” does not adequately measure the reciprocal and paradoxically original quality of a text that relinquishes authorial control, but simultaneously offers what Durgin, in his essay “New Life Writing,” called “the interdependence of proprioceptive elan and conceptual austerity, lived experience and proceduralism” (10). Rather than erase subjectivity, Weeks troubles conceptions of personhood. She mashes up, without erasing, inner and outer realms in a text that is paradoxically lyrical and post-​humanist. Intensely, even obsessively, intimate, Weeks nonetheless reflects and absorbs global political crises including the fate of Refusniks in the Soviet Union and revolutionary change in Guatemala and El Salvador. She digests national tragedies such as the Space Shuttle Challenger explosion, revelations of the Iran-​Contra scandal, and the onset of Crack cocaine—​“Crack had its genesis in the Bronx in 1984” (45)—​, and AIDS as epidemics, environmental calamity, and stresses characteristically faced by vulnerable New Yorkers such as housing shortages, police malfeasance, unsanitary water, food, and air, and ‘interpersonal,’ ‘public,’ exploiting religious, fabulous, and ironic figures—​t hat rely on communal beliefs to activate knowledge—​shapeshifting figures, really—​employed to interrogate ‘the problem of relativism’ as it arises in ‘the everyday’; it is a poetics of ‘difficult equivocation, ‘fragmentation,’ ‘self-​alienation’ (36–​7, 40–​1, 42, 44). Nonetheless, Forché’s paradigm reinscribes conventional humanist subjectivity where radical modernists like Gertrude Stein and [William Carlos] Williams, and later George Oppen, Allen Ginsberg and John Cage harnessed the very effects she describes as formal plays. To quote Oppen, such poets observed the ‘shipwreck of the singular,’ autonomous, Cartesian subject and conceived of a generative relativism [Collected Poems, 151].” (Durgin, “Post Language Poetries” 2).

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transportation problems. Weiner’s poetics are “social” in the unconventional sense described by Cooley and Forché and in the “A Tonal” manner defined by Moriarity. Recalling the indeterminate relation between personae and cityscape as objective projection of authority in William Carlos Williams’s Paterson and Charles Olson’s Maximus, New  York City in Weeks is a self-​reflexive geography of suspicion, risk, and terror. Weiner’s insecurities in part stem from news of unsolved crimes against vulnerable citizens—​“The murder of an elderly woman in the Bronx has some people frightened” (50)—​, shoddy police work exacerbated by limited funding—​“The East Side rapist might have been behind bars much sooner if NY police had the latest fingerprint technology” (46)—​, bomb threats, economic decline—​“Another New  York institution is pulling out of town and taking its jobs with it” (50)—​, traffic jams, substandard housing, pollution, unsanitary food and water, and crises in public transportation—​“A lot of people on Manhattan’s East Side think their busdrivers have gone mad” (44). Published in 1990, but based on news from 1986, Weeks reflects a specific time and place, but the theme of peril for poor and aged urban dwellers could as easily be connected to Weegee’s Naked City (1944) or to representations of city folk in the London of Blake or Dickens or the Paris of Balzac and Zola. Not a Debbie Downer 24/​7, Weeks exhibits Weiner’s unpredictable persona. She leavens global crises with humor, charm, hope, birthday notices, and sports headlines. The lighter side of quotidian cosmopolitanism is outweighed, however, by Weiner’s concern for human rights catastrophes and humanitarian dilemma stemming from environmental disasters such as floods and earthquakes in Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Greece, Haiti, the Soviet Union, Israel, Lebanon, and South Africa. A social poet in a world out of joint, it is a mistake to summarize Weeks as one big bum trip. Even if Weiner represents a society entering the end times, Weeks revels in carnivalesque juxtapositions of hope and despair characteristic of urban postmodern existence. She registers advances in cancer and AIDS research, as well as kooky pseudo-​scientific breakthrough factoids such as these are found in the National Enquirer, without arbitrating the significance of any of the news through the distancing effect of satire, as in the Daily Show with Jon Stewart. As the following tasty bits from Weeks 35 demonstrate, Weiner  includes, with no condescending tones of mockery, material resembling “feel good” and “human interest” stories that conclude TV news



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broadcasts.7 “A run around the world for peace,” “No more hot flashes—​a new treatment for menopause,” “The ringmaster on weekends is a judge during the middle of the week,” “You get to name your cow, yet get adoption papers,” “It has everything in the world for cats and dogs” (55). Such lines indicate how Weiner leavens disaster and bona fide scientific breakthroughs with flat out weird factoids expressed in pithy phrasings that must have appealed to Weiner’s lyrical ear as well as her eye. Irreverent information also fleshes out Weeks as a portrait of a culture in need of escape from what Wallace Stevens referred to in The Necessary Angel:  Essays on Reality and the Imagination (1965) as the “pressure of reality.”8 Stevens, the belated Romanticist, believed that the introspective poet could resist an ideologically driven “reality,” which he describes as “spiritually violent,” and thus achieve “precise equilibrium” between “consciousness” and “events” through the “power of contemplation” (9;20). By contrast to Stevens’s faith in private meditation, Weiner troubles notions of authorial “imagination.” She favors a communitarian poetics sensitive to how mass media promotes sporting events and popular culture to foster a sense of belonging in the midst of urban isolation.9 Weiner, however, challenges the distinction between ideologically driven mediation and the production of human awareness by reflecting mass culture back to itself in a conceptually driven public/​private diary that relies on hand-​ written transcriptions, conveying a sense of authorial order, if not, as in high modernists such as Eliot, Pound, and Yeats, an assertion of the desire for social

7   Anchorman 2 parodies such “shaggy dog” type stories as they became Ron Burgundy’s royal road to cable renown. After being fired by a local New York news station, he catapults the 2 a.m. “graveyard shifts” broadcast at the new GNN (Global News Network) to ratings glory when, in an epiphany, he chucks the dry, hard news format—​what Burgundy calls the news people “need”—​a nd replaces it with car chases in Milwaukee, a puppy running in a field of mini American flags, baseball home run highlights, and a list of the world’s fifty greatest vaginas—​what Burgundy calls the news people “want.” 8   Stevens states in The Necessary Angel:  “In speaking of the pressure of reality, I  am thinking of life in a state of violence, not physically violent, as yet, for us in America, but physically violent for millions of our friends and for still more millions of our enemies and spiritually violent, it may be said, for everyone alive . . . A possible poet must be a poet capable of resisting or evading the pressure of the reality of this last degree, with the knowledge that the degree of today may become a deadlier degree tomorrow” (27). 9  Weiner’s post-​ableist being multiplies and reforms itself in relation to other mutable selves. “Until recently, theories of subjectivity harnessed and propagated within disability studies have given priority to figures of physical embodiment and independence. Dependency theory, however, envisions a more complex notion of the modern subject’s identity with its innate freedom, autonomy, and reason,” writes Durgin in “Psychosocial Disability and Post-​Ableist Poetics:  The ‘Case’ of Hannah Weiner’s Clairvoyant Journals” (5).

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control. Reading Weeks it is useful to distinguish between control and order, with network news emphasizing the former and Weiner offering an order that maintains a degree of prosodic patterning—​fi fty weeks, approximately five lines per day—​while imagining control of events (or even a secure regulation of relation of private self to social world) as a comforting, if absurd, fiction. Implicitly, Weiner’s poetics call attention to how typical news broadcasts compromise our ethical obligation to empathize with other persons, whose emergencies Weiner refuses to distinguish from her own distress. Instead of “contemplation,” Weiner asserts that an already mediated reality’s “pressures” may be temporarily put aside through pop culture via the questionable vehicle of corporate celebration when victory by a privately owned sports franchise affiliated with the city—​t he New York Mets beat the Boston Red Sox for the 1986 World Series title—​becomes a chance for those who wait and watch on TV to feel close to celebrities such as star athletes: “They came to see the world champion Mets and that’s what they got, up close and personal” (Weeks 41, 63). Dime-​story mysticism, similarly, serves to create affinities between fan and professional athlete in language that hovers indeterminately between cynical audience manipulation and expressions of the authentic yearning for common people to relate to their heroes: “A lot of the [New York Football] Giants players are Sagittarians” (Weeks 49, 75). Weiner registers how pop music and its guitar heroes function to shape history as a narrative of nostalgic sentimentality and gritty survival, but that also celebrates the accomplishments of an African-​ American performer who had been vilified in the press and served twenty months in prison for various charges including violating the Mann Act in 1959:  “Chuck Berry is still rockin and rollin with the best of them” (Weeks 40, 62). She combines her interest with drug, queer, camp, and trans cultures with mindfulness that media continues to feed on rumors of the kind of celebrity mishaps that befell Chuck Berry in the 1950s: “It looks like more drug trouble for Boy George” (75). Weiner displays an eye for the quirky, surreal amusement of life in The Big Apple in the midst of its disturbing messiness: “One of the fun events of this day was the great blimp race” (Weeks 27, 43). She has an ear for the charming turn of phrase, the “found” poetry of local news: “To add a little whipped cream on it, he’s an Italian-​American” (39). Weiner can strike hopeful tones that fall just short of palliation because the news only appears to be positive because life could be much worse, and usually is:  “Heart attacks are down 25–​30%” (61), “My gosh, it doesn’t hurt” (58), “This bill is fair” (57), “Wednesday at the Hall of Science is a Freebie” (49), and “A harvest so big, there won’t be



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room to store it all” (49) are examples. In a memoir addressing his relationship to her, Bernstein links Weiner to other New York-​based poets of her generation such as John Ashbery who embraced dailiness. By making the connection between Weiner and the New York School, he touches on the playful side of Weeks illustrated above: “One of Hannah’s most enduring achievements as a writer was her unflinching, indeed often hilarious, inclusion of what, from a literary point of view, is often denigrated as trivial, awkward, embarrassing, silly, and, indeed, too minutely personal, even for the advocates of the personal in writing” (Bernstein, Jacket2, 1997). The gushing, somewhat mollifying, passages I  quoted above from Weeks 35 are, however, contrary to expectations, juxtaposed with a grim Barbara Rosenthal photograph of a grainy “Fox 5” TV news image.10 Framing one media image within another, Rosenthal’s “More Violence, Riot Police” (Figure  1.1) represents in the foreground clusters of dark-​helmeted riot control police squads with their faces shrouded in what appear to be gas masks as they raise a phalanx of rifles, presumably to shoot gas canisters to suppress an unruly crowd of protesters. In the background, another group of riot police wear white helmets. The picture is accompanied by the capitalized phrase “MORE VIOLENCE” in a rectangular box frame at the bottom of the screen, but there is nothing else in the Rosenthal photograph or in any phrase from Weeks 35 that could help a reader/​v iewer identify where the street conflict is occurring, what the struggle is about, or to what prior experience of “violence” this photograph of “more violence” refers.11 Weeks 35 references a banking crisis, an earthquake in Greece with mounting death toll, a gunman who shot four employees, and a classroom shortage, but no mention is made of street protesters and armed riot control officers. (One might recall the Rosenthal photograph of a bomb scene in Belfast from Weeks 3 to attach a potential historical incident to her photograph from Weeks 35). Weiner’s version of “social” poetics—​t he disconcerting realm 10   In an email to the author, Rosenthal describes how her collaboration with Weiner was unusual because although she shot pictures of the TV news while Weiner was watching it, her images were combined with Weiner’s text by the book’s publisher at a later point in the composition process. “I didn’t work from the text, though. Hannah’s TV was at the foot of her bed, and we were watching it together as I shot two rolls of Kodak FX 5060, which I took back to my darkroom to process the film and make the prints. Miekal And, the publisher at Xexoxial Endarchy, decided which ones he wanted to use, and how” (email to author, August 10, 2015). 11  Other Rosenthal’s photographic stills from Fox 5 news broadcasts include images captioned with words such as “Street Fighting,” “IMMIGRATION” (beneath symbols of the Star of David and Hammer and Sickle), “BLACKMAIL OF CLIENTS CONTINUES COCAINE USE ASSAULT OF TWO GIRL FRIENDS,” and of a riot in Perth Amboy.

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Figure 1.1  More Violence, Riot Police. Image courtesy of artist Barbara Rosenthal and studio eMediaLoft.org.

Forché regards as “the space between the state and the supposedly safe havens of the personal”—​I contend, is related to her registration of poetry as a tonally multifaceted discourse appropriate to encounter disaster, or what Maria Damon, in an essay on the poet, calls traumatic writing. Weeks chronicles Weiner’s radically unstable association between authorial “voice,” Rosenthal’s photographs of talking heads ranging from obscure local newscasters to pundits and recognizable politicians such as Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson, Ed Koch, Rudolph Giuliani, and “Soviet Foreign Minister” Eduard Schevardnadzerdve, and the world outside (and, weirdly, inside) the multi-​mediated reflection the “speaker” repurposes in weekly diary form. Weiner disturbs the border between self and other, private and public, inside and outside, bystander and victim, viewer and correspondent to upsetting news. Discussing Weiner’s poetics in the Clairvoyant Journal (1978), Judith Goldman describes the influential New  York avant-​ garde author as one who “anchored [these] phenomena in her cognitive experience” (123). As is typical of Weiner scholarship, Goldman focuses on journals in which she



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dictated “[p]‌rinted words of all sizes” that “bombarded” her psyche starting in August, 1972 (121).12 Given that I wrote a draft of this essay in December 2013, and thus while enduring the media blitz for Will Farrell’s comedy about the birth of cable news, Anchorman 2:  The Legend Continues, I  found myself drawn to the TV news context for the phrase “anchor” as I approached Weeks with Goldman’s comment about anchorage in the back of my mind. Weiner’s ontological radicalism comes into focus when one compares Weeks to news satires such as the Anchorman movies, The Daily Show, and The Colbert Report. In typical news satires, the faux anchorman/​comedian—​Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert, for example—​forges a bond of understanding with his audience by affirming a shared sense of irony and of why the news deserves mockery. Even if a Stewart or Colbert chastises the status quo, and thus could be regarded as a social progressive, a viewer, invited into the circle of irony, never is confused about where Stewart or Colbert stands in relation to how news is broadcast in mainstream venues. Further, one never doubts the coherence of the performative self when Stewart or Colbert anchors their broadcast. This is so even if, as is the case with Colbert, his conservative style, modeled after right-​wing Fox commentator Bill O’Reilly, and his ultra-​patriotic views, run counter to those held by the comedian, a Democrat, when he leaves the set. It remains uncertain to me how readers are meant to interpret the news bytes that Weiner anchors. Her news is not straightforward satire ala Colbert and Stewart or buffoonish vacuity ala Farrell, even as her text is often funny, nor is her role to provide a space to recognize voices and assert perspectives on disaster that had been erased in mainstream media accounts, even as her writings reveal a deep concern with the safety of vulnerable persons and the environment, as was the project for Left Wing Modernists whose appropriative and conceptually driven long poems are associated with witness to catastrophe such as Testimony by Charles Reznikoff and “The Book of the Dead” by Muriel Rukeyser.13 Linda Wagner, for example, describes Testimony as a work in which 12   Like Goldman, Thom Donovan emphasizes what the poet came to call her “clair-​style”: “After seeing auras for some time, Weiner started to see words on her self and within her environment, as textual hallucinations” (2). Famous for her clairvoyant writings, Weiner writes of her telepathy when on LSD: “Telepathically we receive from each other the spoken sentence. In a house where everyone took a lot of LSD twice I heard people’s thoughts as if they had been spoken out loud” (Durgin, 128). 13  Poets.org., for example, describes “The Book of The Dead” as a “host [of] a polyphony of voices: doctors, contractors, close family members of miners, and, most prominently, the victims themselves who were little more than exploited, and certainly nearly invisible, during the aftermath

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Reznikoff controls our emotional responses to the found material, even as his “objectivist” aesthetic forbids him from including his subjective response. Weiner’s zone of consciousness, produced as media reflection, relinquishes such control.14 Her anchor is, in Deleuze’s terms, a virtual self that manifests problems, not a coherent entity that results from a resolution of dilemmas that can be assuaged by pointing fingers at weak leaders.15 News disturbs Weiner’s (and, by extension, her reader’s) confidence that suffering, death, unrest, disease, homelessness, transportation accidents, and political oppression are circumstances bracketed off from correspondents who occupy a safe distance from crisis points in a bright, well-​appointed network studio. For Weiner, TV is not merely ambient noise overheard as she goes about her business at home in detached isolation from a world of suffering related to economic crises and personal insecurity (“And now it is the city that has nowhere to go for these people” [64]), viral disease (“Drug abusers can pass the disease along to their children” [64]), corruption (“He has no direct personal knowledge that the CIA ran the operation” [64]), crime (“Police were tipped off by the superintendent of the building” [64]), and environmental crisis (“The layer of ozone is thinning” [64]). Weiner’s anchor is not one who “holds something in place” (a typical definition of an anchor). Instead, expressing alterity, she reports on what happens when identity is imagined as an ontological enactment of problems, and when unsettling world news is taken extremely personally. of the exposure. In doing so, the text provides a powerful exploration of who is empowered by speech, and whose speech acts have been mediated for various reasons. “The Book of the Dead,” in making the dead visible, also exposes and implicates the classist, racist and capitalist structures that allowed such a tragedy to occur.” 14   In “Charles Reznikoff: Master of the Miniature,” Wagner states, “Reznikoff manages our responses so that we know exactly what he wants us to know, when he allows us to know it. Because we are led so simply, given traditional scenes that our past experiences mark as positive or negative, the full effect of his contrived ironies—​for they mark nearly every one of the testimony poems—​is usually devastating.” She adds: “[B]‌ut it seems to me that what is equally important in this masterful series of poems, the testimony volumes I and II, is Reznikoff’s craft, his ability to shape our responses so that his recounting is dramatic, for all its subdued and objective tone. We read Testimony because we are caught in its plots and characters, because we are moved by each accounting, because Reznikoff doesn’t let us forget the implication he so carefully never states.” 15   “It is possible that the world does in fact overflow any categories we use to capture it, and that it may overflow any categories whose goal is its capture,” writes Deleuze scholar Todd May. Discussing Deleuze’s views on science, thought, and language, May continues by noting how contemporary biology tends to study “systems of differences in dynamic relation” (87). The Deleuzean sense of ecological systems as consisting of nonindividuated differences interacting in dynamic relationship conveys my sense of Weiner’s “trembling” (97) or “palpating” (96) compositional strategy in Weeks.



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In Weeks, media language overflows the interpretive categories of “personal” and “political” poetry, but that is not to say readers cannot pivot in and out of various communities of interpretation (a form of social networking) to decipher the messages Weiner mediates. This is so in part because of the ambiguous ways Weiner represents pronouns without clearly defined antecedents in her conception of TV news coverage as an open field visual/​verbal collage: “They do have courage,” “I despise these cowardly acts,” “He just couldn’t adjust to his new state,” “Now we have independent committees around the country and there is a lot of activism of all types,” “If you don’t feel right about somebody just say no and walk away from them,” “It’s like a direct attack on our religion,” “What kind of financial problems have you been facing,” “They are looking at high tech waves to find out explosives.” (22)

Shorn of their antecedents, the above lines from Weeks 14 are deterritorialized phrases, becoming unstable, multilayered, what Bernstein in his book-​length verse essay “The Artifice of Absorption” would refer to as expressing an “anti-​ absorptive” or Brechtian poetics. Lines hover in a space between metafictional commentary on compositional strategy, analysis of the author’s state of mind, and commentary on the political, social, environmental, scientific, and international realms that prompt her attention. By “metafictional commentary,” I  mean to say many lines from Weeks seem to register their reception, including comments on how befuddled or just plain bored readers might likely be as they react to her project: “Why are there places where some thing is not happening” (Weeks 11, 19); “What is the extent of your participation” (Weeks 13, 21); “Everybody makes mistakes,” “I am so tired of talking, aren’t you,” (Weeks 15, 25); “He likes a good quality tone,” “The destruction was spread over a wide area,” “There is no regulation, it’s free enterprise” (Weeks 16, 26); “I hope that you will read the enclosed booklet and study the background information and statements of the candidates,” “I don’t believe you’re improving the quality of the information supplied,” “It’s a chance to prove that with planning you can do most anything” (Weeks 17, 27); “You cannot see the laser beam but you can see the results” (Weeks 19, 31), “We have to continually offer something new” and “I will review whatever options exist” (Weeks 20, 32); “I think I’m very down to earth,” “Each order must

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Once more relying on weak antecedents to create semantic indeterminacy, Weiner establishes a fragile relationship with readers—​as well as another layer of dialogue that hovers between inner and outer realms—​by explaining her process (“Each order must earn its own keep”) and by imagining a critical response to it (“I don’t believe you’re improving the quality of the information supplied”). Such glosses compare to Weiner’s practice in Clairvoyant Journal and late works such as Pages that signify heard “voices” via typographical characteristics (italics, capitalized) and in different visual relation to the line (above, beneath). In Wittgenstein’s Ladder:  Poetic Language and the Strangeness of the Ordinary (1996), Marjorie Perloff remarks that the Viennese philosopher questioned the distinction between ordinary and literary language. In his interrogation of the word “pain,” for example, Wittgenstein emphasizes “the use to which we put language [which] varies so much that words and sentences become, as it were, unfamiliar when they reappear in a new context” (20). As in Perloff’s reading of Wittgenstein’s understanding of language as context-​ dependent, and, therefore, of subjecthood as protean and alterior because language-​dependent, we notice the relation between contextual meaning and the emergence of Weiner’s chimeric appearance in Weeks. Weiner’s identity, however metamorphic, is produced in and through the media barrage that happens simultaneously from outside the self via news broadcasts and inside the self via the poet’s history of seeing words “relating to the news [that] will appear in the air MORE DETAILS follow on a news program: things to watch out for,” as Weiner stated in “The Words in CAPITALS and underlines are words I  see” (Durgin, Hannah Weiner’s Open House, 63). As with Perloff’s analysis of Wittgenstein, we should distinguish Weiner’s ethical action in Weeks from abstract ethical principles. For Weiner, ethics in Weeks amounts to acknowledging her dependence on a language not her own, but which she can use once cast in her diary, where she can attend to the synaesthetic qualities of language itself as well as the dehumanizing or emotionally shallow uses others—​mainstream news media, politicians—​have put the same language. A  grainy Barbara Rosenthal photograph that accompanies the text of Weeks 3, “Bomb” (Figure  1.2), illustrates the vulgar nature of mainstream news. The image is of a heavily made-​up, young blond female



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Figure 1.2  Bomb. Image courtesy of artist Barbara Rosenthal and studio eMediaLoft.org.

anchor for Fox news with Melanie Griffith-​circa-​Working Girl era perm, fine cheekbones, even features, wide, vacant eyes, a sensual, heavily lipsticked mouth, and sexy, slightly buck-​toothed grin.16 She sits at a news desk, mini microphone clipped to her lapel, in front of a screen image with the word BOMB (perhaps on one level connoting “bombshell”) enclosed between two horizontal bars. Above that frame, however, “BOMB” takes on a different meaning because there one finds the words “Belfast” and “Northern Ireland” in white letters, and, inside of that border, a framed image of a person with back turned to the camera amidst a street scene of smoke clouds. Combined with Rosenthal’s photograph, Weiner’s text exhibits the ethical decision to transfer the (paradoxically) fictitiously rendered, aestheticized, eroticized, and anaesthetizing representations of human suffering as found in TV news broadcasts into the realm of Weeks as a site of emergent disaster. The line between trauma and discourse is suspended.   In an email to the author, Barbara Rosenthal has identified the news anchor as Cora-​A nn Mihalik (August 10, 2015 email).

16

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In Weeks, Weiner injects an ethical dimension into language that had been contextualized for a different “game.” At times, Weiner self-​consciously switches the language game she plays within a single phrase. “It’s the first tornado to touch down in Providence in 12  years” from Weeks 32 (50) is illustrative. The statement is a pretty typical one in Weeks for several reasons. I  hear the inappropriately celebratory cadences of the TV broadcaster who sounds at once authoritative in the knowledge of weather history and oddly excited at the record-​setting event (weather as sport). Weiner, again axiomatically, dislodges the factual statement from real-​world context through ambiguous pronoun usage. But we know that the biographical Hannah Weiner was born in Providence, Rhode Island, in 1928. The broadcaster’s statement, which sounds like a summary comment after prior information has been given (but which Weiner has erased from her account), thus seems especially callous in its indifference to damage the tornado may have caused residents on the ground in Rhode Island. Only the sensationalistic rhetoric of a record-​setting event seems to matter. Weiner is code-​switching the “use” level of the language game. Simultaneously, she registers a moment of personal concern—​t he author’s home town has been struck with a tornado; have any relatives or friends been hurt?—​and an ethical challenge to news coverage that seems more intent to announce sensationalistic terror and keep records than to account for the human suffering that a freak tornado may have caused. Further, we sense more than one connotation for the proper noun Providence. In Weeks, Providence refers to Rhode Island’s capital, but it is also a noun associated with divine guidance and care. From this language game context, a tornado in Providence refers not only to severe weather in a New England city in 1986, but rather the noun takes on a mythic, quasi-​Biblical resonance of apocalyptic significance. On another language game level, the Providence tornado matches up with other parts of Weeks that describe devastating weather events. We may read a tornado in providence as illustrating Weiner’s anxiety about environmental hazards that have come to be associated with global warming. Lines such as: “They’re already calling it the flood of 86” (58), “Nearly a million dead fish washed up on the shore” (51), “Heavy rains caused a portion of the street to cave in” (49), “A toxic spill is killing wildlife in New Jersey” (46), and “There are about 5,000 drums of contaminated dirt waiting to be dumped in Vernon” (46) are other examples of environmental crisis rendered as apocalyptic evidence.



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The Space Station Challenger Disaster of January 28, 1986 (which, as I observe in Chapter 3 on Seven American Deaths and Disasters, is also a topic of fascination for Kenneth Goldsmith) is a prominent example of an event that recurs as a traumatic leitmotif in Weiner’s broken vessel of a time capsule. In Weeks, it is as if shards of upsetting information about the Challenger have crashed down from the Florida sky and reassembled into the diary, littering the textual matrix, reminding us of our shared vulnerability to the failures of science and technology to predict outcomes and to ensure human survival. The event touches down in Weeks 4: “Challenger explodes,” “The tragedy defies any easy explanation,” “There were no signs of abnormalities on the screen,” “The twin solid boosters had not shown any trouble at all,” “The huge ball of fire shortly after 11:30 this morning,” “A minute and ten seconds into the flight—​a fireball,” “Never a disaster like this in the history of the space program.” (Weeks 4, 8)

Weeks 4 represents the initial registration of the disaster, but Weiner reveals her obsession with information about the Challenger to the point where the event, like the Providence tornado, becomes symptomatic of a widespread emergency. Weeks 5 begins where Weeks 4 left off with approximately half of the lines devoted to the Challenger explosion’s aftermath: “America’s space program went up in flames yesterday as the world watched in horror,” “Yesterday a nation in shock today mourning and a search for answers,” “What blew up that ship,” “They are gathering paltry pieces of debris from the ocean,” “They consider one piece 12 inches long a find,” “The computers did not detect anything wrong at all,” “The officials here are not speculating at all,” “People watched it happen from their balconies and backyards,” “Some of the debris is washing up on shore,” “The teacher turned astronaut,” “I was very upset and felt bad for the family,” “They were married for 18  years,” “Every piece we pick out of the water hurts a little.”

These comments from Weeks 5 suggest Weiner’s engagement with the event on multiple levels. In some of the comments, as in the first line about how a nation has collectively shifted from shock, to mourning, to a search for answers, she mimics TV news psychobabble about the stages of grief. One senses Weiner’s critique of such analysis that supposes trauma could be overcome within such a precise emotional plot line. Weeks demonstrates that problems, not answers, characterize the author’s sense of life. Shock and mourning are co-​terminus,

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ongoing, and without resolution. One also senses Weiner’s empathetic imagination with the family of Christie McAuliffe, the first school teacher to serve as an astronaut. We notice how Weeks can ventriloquize the evacuated first person pronoun in the comment that “I was very upset and felt bad for the family,” suggesting a porous relation between Weiner and other viewers similarly disturbed by the news. At the same time, the Challenger disaster represents another vehicle through which Weiner can offer metafictional commentary on her creative procedures. The text itself embodies an exploded narrative flight that, like the remnants of the spaceship, remain as spectral linguistic fragments. Weeks 6 offers a respite from space disaster by emphasizing non-​Western spirituality, but statements, indefinite but resonant with the event, recur in Weeks 7 and Weeks 8: “Human error appears to have been the cause” and “The engineering decisions were over-​ridden” are two comments from Weeks 7 that resonate with criticisms made, as Gustavo Duarte reports in “Richard Feynman, the Challenger Disaster, and Software Engineering,” of the Challenger launch by the Reagan-​appointed Rogers Commission almost three years after the explosion. As with claims of “human error” and “over-​ ridden” decisions in Weeks 7, the Rogers Commission also noted that warnings regarding the ship’s improperly engineered O-​rings went unheeded. A third comment from Weeks 7—​“There was too much pressure to keep the launch on schedule” (14)—​ was also found by the Rogers Commission to have contributed to the deaths of seven astronauts. Weeks 9 suggests how the Challenger event continues to echo in Weiner’s text, but in displaced ways. For example, resonant phrases such as “shuttle,” “explosion,” and “crash” recur in Weeks 9, but the contextual meanings of these terms have morphed into mundane areas of life including airplane travel, parties, and a home appliance malfunction: “Travel back from Boston on the 2 o’clock shuttle,” “An explosion in the whirlpool bath,” and “Sorry I crashed the party” imply Weiner’s desire to work through the Challenger calamity by manipulating the language game in which the event was first reported and then reimagining it in contexts relevant to ordinary domesticity. Weiner switched codes in Weeks 9 to take the hard edge off words such as “shuttle,” “explosion,” and “crashed,” but she continues to chronicle the impact of the Challenger failure in direct ways that speak to her empathetic engagement with the explosion from the perspective of the seven people who perished: “No one told the astronauts about trouble with the rocker [sic] booster seals” (15). We



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may read other lines in Weeks 9, referencing the emerging Iran-​Contra scandal and release of a file “on the assassination of John F. Kennedy” (15) as related to the Challenger story. One imagines that, for Weiner, Challenger, Contra, and JFK represent concealed scandalous government behaviors. News about the Challenger becomes more sporadic after Weeks 9, but the event continues to echo in Weeks 10:  “Subsequent dives provided positive identification of Challenger crew compartment debris and the existence of crew remains” (16), Weeks 15: “NASA hopes that this will provide the crucial clue about the rocket booster’s leak” (25), Weeks 17: “Parts of the Challenger were still being recovered from the Atlantic” (27), and Weeks 30:  “The Challenger crew may not have been killed instantly when the space craft blew up” (46). One does not experience a sense of psychic closure even as remarks about the Challenger eventually trail off in the second half of the book. As is the case in other twentieth century conceptually driven texts based in procedural and appropriative techniques that challenge Romanticist notions of creative genius, lyric expressivity, and the publicizing of interiority, Weeks is without doubt an experimental project. It pushes the boundary between poetry and prose, poetry as the Poundian “news that stays news” and a prosaic rendering of ephemeral noise of passing (or already passed) trivia, as well as a challenge to notions (as in Barthes and Foucault as well as in procedural web-​ based writings by Degentesh, Muhammed, and others associated with the Flarf movement) of what is an author’s function: to create? to imagine? to reframe? to remember? to point? But we also notice how Weiner, especially through her persistent quotations of birthdate and death notices, touches on the traditional ceremonial function of poetry to celebrate notable persons and to elegize their deaths. As one might expect of Weeks, however, the work’s function as memorial is quirky, another element of the displaced and idiosyncratic self-​ portrait. Memorialization helps Weiner organize information according to the author’s sense of what is fascinating, revealing of her peculiar subject position. She notes the Jewish calendar date of 5747 (which translates into the Roman calendar as 1986–​1987). In Weeks 39, Weiner mentions “22 years ago Martin Luther King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize” (61) [King was awarded the prize in 1964, again placing the diary entry in 1986]. In Weeks 10 we learn that “Georgia O’ Keefe died at 98” (16) [O’Keefe died in Santa Fe on March 6, 1986], and in Weeks 15 we learn that “Simone de Beauvoir died today at 78” (25) [de Beauvoir died in Paris on April 14, 1986]. She adds: “On this day in 1899 Ernest Papa Hemingway born in a suburb in Chicago” (Weeks 29, 45) [Hemingway

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was born on July 21 in Oak Park]. Why O’Keefe, de Beauvoir, and Hemingway, but not Christopher Isherwood, Bernard Malamud, Jean Genet, and Jorge Luis Borges, other significant authors who died in 1986, and whose passing one might assume that Weiner would have noticed? Recording the deaths of feminist heroes O’Keefe and de Beauvoir might be expected, perhaps the observing of Hemingway’s birthdate a bit less so given his well-​k nown misogynistic persona. But Hemingway’s connections with journalism—​he was as a young man a reporter for The Kansas City Star—​as a resource for creative writing, as well as his internationalism, connection with the European modernist avant-​ garde, alcoholism, mental illness, traumatic experience of war wounding as an ambulance driver in World War I and victim of a near fatal plane crash in Africa, and eventual suicide all resonate with issues, themes, and concerns Weiner explores in Weeks. What about the fact that Weiner ignores the loss of cultural figures such as Sonny Terry, James Cagney, and Jacob Javitz, but records the deaths of Desi Arnaz and Cary Grant, entertainers memorialized in Weeks 46, and the fact that “Lucille Ball was born 75 years ago today” “Ball was born on August 6, 1911” (Weeks 32, 50)? One can imagine Weiner’s attraction to Ball’s slapstick humor. We learn Arnaz “died of cancer at the age of 69” and Grant “at 82 of a stroke” (70)? Are details about diseases and physical afflictions that each celebrity faced—​Arnaz at a relatively young age—​what captured Weiner’s attention, as well as the awareness that Ball’s husband of twenty years (from 1940 to 1960) would have meant something to the aged comedienne? We can only speculate. Born in 1928, Weiner would have been 58  years old in 1986; she died in 1997 and, as Bernstein reports, the last years were not among her easiest ones. The fact that Weiner’s mother was dying during the composition of Weeks must also be taken into account when one notes the elegiac quality of the text. One can speculate that the relationship between Ball and Arnaz may also have captured Weiner’s attention because the couple blurred the line between television fiction—​Lucy was married to Ricky Ricardo, a Cuban-​ American band leader at the Copacabana modeled on Arnaz’s professional persona—​and real life. As with her selections of cultural figures ranging from O’Keefe to Arnaz, we may infer how Weiner discloses her personal sensibility via her selections of commemorative information regarding anniversaries of places and events that extend beyond memorials to individuals. “This is holocaust remembrance day” (Weeks 18, 28), “May 30th, 1431, Joan of Arc was



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burned at the stake” (Weeks 22, 34), “The Peace Corps is 25 years old this year” (Weeks 30, 46)  “In 1965 Lyndon Johnson signed the Medicaid bill into law” (Weeks 31, 49) and news about the birthdate of the New York public library, the centennial of the Statue of Liberty, and the thirty-​year anniversary of the closing of Harlem’s Savoy Ballroom (63), as well as information about “the thirteenth anniversary of Wounded Knee” (14), taken together, offer readers contours into Weiner’s subject position as a Jewish-​American, a New  York City culture worker, a peace activist with extraordinary concern for Native Americans, feminist, and vulnerable aging American with a diagnosed mental disability who expresses concerns about health coverage. As much as it is true that Weiner’s project is to suppress the ego (the poet was influenced by Buddhist practice)—​Bernstein describes Weeks as based on a teller without a tale and Linda Russo, discussing Weiner from a feminist perspective, notes that her “clairvoyant writing reveals the female subject to be a surface available for the project of (often conflicting) aural and visual texts” (Russo quoted in Stephens, 127)—​so that the author function becomes a telepathic medium (in the sense of a channel and a person who is supposed to communicate with the dead), it is also notable that Weeks is not an unfiltered flood of data, but rather a formally ordered (if not controlled) representation. Following Wittgenstein’s description of St. Augustine’s confessions as an example of what Perloff calls a “ ‘criss-​cross’ (cross-​country) trip through the network of fragments that is the Investigations, a trip that will gradually make it impossible for us to trust, ever again, the full authority of a given word or group of words to name a particular thing” (Wittgenstein’s Ladder, 68), I would describe Weeks as an assemblage of a criss-​cross pattern. Motifs such as the Aids crisis, the crack epidemic, the Iran Contra affair, the “100th birthday” of the Statue of Liberty, and the Challenger disaster serve as touch points. Critics note the depersonalized, textual, and fractured sense of self as media formation in Weiner’s writings. Thom Donovan, for example, describes the syntax of Clairvoyant Journal as “a hyper-​cubistic jumble of impressions, facts, utterances, declarations, feelings, hunches, observations, perceptions, addresses, and commentary about the fact that writing is occurring” (2). Paradoxically, I’d argue that Weeks reflects a zone of consciousness—​call it, for lack of a better term, “Hannah Weiner”—​responding to TV news as if the borders had been removed from television’s framed coverage of local unrest and global disaster. It is as if self-​conception, happening, telemediation, viewer

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reception, and verbal and photographic representation in Weeks occur in what Deleuze scholar Todd May refers to as “dynamic relation” (87). The book thus serves as an iconoclastic archival time capsule remembering internationally prominent as well as obscure local events that took place in a fifty-​week period circa 1986.

2

A Blizzard of Snowflakes: Kenneth Goldsmith as Conceptualist at the Cusp of a Digital Age in Soliloquy

“If every word spoken in New York City daily were somehow to materialize as a snowflake, each day there would be a blizzard.” Kenneth Goldsmith; Postscript to Soliloquy

I. Warhol Redux? The work of the artist in the age of webs If, as readers interested in the relationship between poetics and new media, we can associate 1994 with Charles Bernstein’s implementation of SUNY Buffalo’s listserv to start “a private e-​mail discussion group, Poetics,” and 1995 with the invention of JavaScript, former US poet Laureate Robert Pinsky’s contribution, “The Muse in the Machine:  Or the Poetics of Zork” in the New York Times Book Review, and Michael Joyce’s Of Two Minds: Hypertext Pedagogy and Poetics (1995), we may assume Kenneth Goldsmith, master publicist he is, would hope we’d recall 1996 as the year he declared, riffing on Andy Warhol’s comment, the “reason I’m painting this way is that I want to be a machine, and I feel that whatever I do and do machine-​like is what I want to do”: “I’m internet” (Soliloquy, 39).1 It was also during the audio taping of 1   While Goldsmith was boasting to Perloff about his New Media process and Bernstein, born in 1950, was working with Loss Pequeño Glazier to found the EPC (Electronic Poetry Center), Charles Hartman, born in 1949, was engaged with an even earlier generation of authors such as Hugh Kenner and Jackson Mac Low on computer programs such as Prose and Travesty to “introduce calculated bits of mechanized anarchy into the language, put the results back into the contingent worlds where language lives, and see how the dust settles” (Hartman, 109). According to N. Katherine Hayles in Electronic Literature: New Horizons For The Literary, 1995 was indeed a pivotal year in the shift in

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his side of one week’s worth of talking in April 1996—​t he transcript of which he’d publish in book form as Soliloquy in 2001—​he told Marjorie Perloff: “I build web sites. Geography is not important. I would love to build a web site for you” (39). Not born digital on Long Island in 1961, Goldsmith’s public declarations in 1996 mark his regeneration into a conceptual poet entering mid-​life whose print books, such as Seven American Deaths and Disasters (2013), the subject of my next chapter, would be characterized by a collision of new media information culture and print literacy. In Soliloquy, Goldsmith engages in a cultural project that N.  Katherine Hayles would define as “intermediation,” or a book that manifests “complex transactions between bodies and texts as well as between different forms of media” (My Mother Was a Computer, 17). A  hybrid figure engaged in what I  referred to in the introduction as “dirty conceptualism,” Goldsmith is conversant with digital media, but also with a history of modernist conceptualist and archivist projects dating back at least to Duchamp’s “Fountain” (1917), Benjamin’s Arcades Project (1927–​1940), and on to Cage’s experiments with treated and toy pianos, Warholian film, and Fluxus interventions in the 1960s. “I love things. The twenty-​fi rst century is invisible. It’s wireless. We thought we’d be living in The Jetsons, but no, all the changes are invisible. Se we need to live with our books and our old furniture,” he told Radhika Jones in a 2008 profile in Book Forum (2). Radhika Jones reports that Goldsmith’s vinyl collection includes “thousands of records,” but Soliloquy reveals that by the mid-​1990s he was receptive to digital media, a platform others of his generation (and here I would certainly include myself among them) considered forbiddingly alien, and aesthetically displeasing. An heir to Warhol in his embrace of the business of art and the cultivation of celebrity, as well as his desire to imagine the artist as a post-​human system, Goldsmith, playing up the stereotypical loud and pushy New  York Jewish persona, eschews Warhol’s laconic cool tones in interviews, a book of which Goldsmith edited as I’ll Be Your Mirror in 2005. At the same time, what Goldsmith, in his “foreward” to I’ll Be Your Mirror, says of Warhol can most certainly be applied to himself, and especially to how his works become a Rorschach that projects a reader’s obsessions, fascinations, and theoretical computer-​generated narrative projects. “The major factor in precipitating the shift, of course, was the huge expansion of the World Wide Web after the introduction of the Netscape and other robust and user-​f riendly browsers” (188).



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predilections: “Although Warhol was known for his surfaces, what we are left with is an unusually strong sense of interiority. In the end, Warhol’s mirror reflects on us; as such this book is really about us and we are as filtered through the apparition of Andy Warhol” (Preface, xxxv). Representing himself in Soliloquy roaming New  York’s art world scenes, literally day and night, to secure professional connections, Goldsmith’s situationist-​inspired performance art is even less of a product distinct from the author’s manic (and Whitmanic) self-​celebration than was the case for Warhol, Goldsmith’s most obvious precursor. Now there is no Factory, no lithographs to print, just the daily grind of building communities through whatever media is at hand: DJ radio, indie press books, loft parties, lunch counters, newspapers and magazine reviews, academic journals, web sites. Goldsmith highly values efficiency, as well as multitasking, in his version of an art world work ethic. Computers and a web-​based conceptualist aesthetic, outlined in Uncreative Writing as a situation in which “writing has met its photography” with the author cast as manager of “heaps of already existent and ever-​increasing language,” helps Goldsmith, as the following passage from Soliloquy attests, to streamline the taxing compositional process (Uncreative Writing, 24; 15): “You know as a writer and a collector and sounds I don’t need the time I used to need when I was a visual artist, you know, kind of sanding or cutting or or coloring, um, I can you know I’m working right now just by talking and and listening. It actually frees me up so I do I do I work for publishers and I build web sites as well” (221). Warholian in his unabashed embrace of a seamless nexus between the art world, machinelike productivity, and a pop sensibility, Goldsmith focuses on tabloid traumas of 1970s TV childhood stars whose behaviors have taken unsavory turns by the mid-​1990s, only to become repurposed into train wreck spectacles for reality cable programming. Soliloquy begins with a Goldsmith rant concerning the breakdowns and breakups of Danny “Partridge” Bonaduce and Gary Coleman, and, over breakfast, his upset over lack of appreciation from an art gallery staff because a 600-​page book of sounds he collected over a three-​year period is being “dismissed as if it was a 1971 Joseph Kosuth piece. So they’re reading it interpreting it visually” (14). In terms of the unfiltered style of his conceptual projects, Goldsmith is deeply indebted to Warhol film projects such as the eight hour, five minute long documentary Empire (1964)—​ “A single shot of the Empire State Building from early evening until nearly 3 am the next day” (IMDb website)—​and his films of people sleeping at the Factory. An author who has advocated plagiarism as a creative device, Soliloquy

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closely resembles Warhol’s a: A Novel (1968).2 In Soliloquy, Goldsmith stretches credulity by declaring his unawareness of Warhol’s a: A Novel, only learning of its existence while taping his side of conversations for one week in 1996 when a PhD student at Columbia—​Liz Kotz—​informed him of its existence while he rode the subway back with her from a lecture on Wittgenstein and Beckett by Marjorie Perloff, visiting New York City from Stanford. Warhol’s a: A Novel is “almost exactly what I’m doing this week,” he tells his wife, the performance artist Cheryl Donegan. “He just had endless conversations and had somebody transcribe them” (189). Kotz would go on to author Words to be Looked At: Language in 1960s Art (2007), which concludes with a chapter on Warhol’s a: A Novel, describing it in that study as “talk and talk and talk, animated by the presence of the tape recorder and, for many, copious amphetamines” (5). As Kotz points out in her study, Warhol recorded the voices of “various friends and hangers-​on—​Billy Name, Gerard Malanga, Lou Reed, Edie Sedgwick, and dozens more” (5). By contrast to Warhol, Goldsmith audiotapes only himself, but he is right to tell Cheryl that Soliloquy is repeating aspects of a: Novel. Both works, in Kotz’s terms, bear “undeniable affinities with Cagean operations of indifference and nonselectivity” and both are “endurance-​based durational performance projects” (6).3 In a 2012 London Review of Book Review titled “Must Poets Write?,” Stephen Burt comments on Goldsmith in relation to Warhol: Goldsmith’s books seem to seek that sort of celebrity:  they aren’t just representations but demonstrations of the way Goldsmith authorises, or

2   As the IMDb website reports:  “Warhol’s ‘a:  A  Novel,’ published in 1968, is based on 24 hours of tape recordings (24 one-​hour tapes) of Ondine speaking. His tape-​recorded musings were transcribed and typed up and serve as the basis of the novel, which was disingenuously presented as one day in the life of Ondine. The book is one of the premier artifacts of the Pop art movement/​ Pop culture. Warhol followed Ondine around New York City with a tape recorder, recording their conversations. Ondine was addicted to amphetamines and was prone to wild verbal flights that covered many subjects. To type up the tapes, Warhol hired teenage girls, some of whom were barely literate and made many errors.” 3   The IMDb website continues: “Like James Joyce when confronted with transcription errors made by the French printers/​compositors of the first edition of ‘Ulysses’ (1922), Warhol loved the mistakes and decided to keep them in. He thought the mistakes improved the book as it made it worse, more of a Pop manifesto, and insisted that all the errata be left in the final draft, which he fancied as a Pop ‘Finnegans Wake.’ In his later book/​memoir ‘Popism,’ Warhol explained, ‘I wanted to do a ‘bad book’ just the way I’d done ‘bad movies’ and ‘bad art,’ because when you do something exactly wrong, you always turn up something.’ Warhol, the author, refused to filter out the ‘background noise’ or ‘static,’ thus preventing the reader from following a coherent narrative thread. The book intentionally is boring, as are many of Warhol’s films. Of his films Warhol said that talking about



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publicises, his work. Goldsmith—​who also curates the vast and wonderful online archive of text, sound and film at ubuweb.com and the Penn Sound project at writing.upenn.edu/​ pennsound—​ anthologises himself in Against Expression with “Day,” a retyping of one issue of the New  York Times, and “Soliloquy,” which claims to present “every word Kenneth Goldsmith spoke during a week in April 1996,” including: “It’s her, Marjorie Perloff and, uh, I’m meeting her actually at the MoMA Members Dining Room for lunch today. And she’s deeply powerful and I’m going to get her, I hope, to write a blurb for the back of my book and promote it.” Elimination of ego, my foot.

In his discussion of Soliloquy, Burt is responding to Against Expression:  An Anthology of Conceptual Writings, edited by Goldsmith and Craig Dworkin, which, understandably, only includes a fraction of the published book’s nearly 500 pages.4 If, like Burt in the passage from his review above, I  only read Act One, I  would come away from my experience with a comparable frustration at how Goldsmith speaks out of two sides of his mouth. By that snarky comment I  mean Goldsmith theorizes Soliloquy, and subsequent digital media appropriations such as Seven American Deaths and Disasters, as simultaneously unreadable sonic experiments that deny lyric expressivity (Burt’s: “Elimination of ego, my foot”) and yet also as examples of how “the suppression of self-​expression is impossible” (Uncreative Writing, 9). I would especially chafe against the unabashed self-​promotional tenor of Goldsmith’s courting of Perloff, not only for his own work, but also for his wife, the video

them was more interesting than actually viewing them, and this likely was his intent with ‘a: A Novel’—​to create an artifact that made people talk about it—​a nd think.” 4   Goldsmith has described the project for the Electronic Literature Center’s website: “Soliloquy is an unedited document of every word I spoke during the week of April 15–​21, 1996, from the moment I woke up Monday morning to the moment I went to sleep on Sunday night. To accomplish this, I wore a hidden voice-​activated tape recorder. I transcribed Soliloquy during the summer of 1996 at the Chateau Bionnay in Lacenas, France, during a residency there. It took 8 weeks, working 8 hours a day. Soliloquy was first realized as a gallery exhibition at Bravin Post Lee in Soho during April of 1997. Subsequently, the gallery published the text in a limited edition of 50. In the fall of 2001, Granary Books published a trade edition of the text. The web version of Soliloquy contains the exact text from the 281-​page original book version, but due to the architecture of the web, each chapter is sub-​d ivided into 10 parts. And, of course, the textual treatment of the web version is indeed web-​specific and perhaps more truly references the ephemerality of language as reflected by the book’s epigraph: ‘If every word spoken in New York City daily /​were somehow to materialize as a snowflake, /​each day there would be a blizzard.’ In order to achieve this effect, the web version is available only to users of Microsoft Internet Explorer and Netscape 6+. Unfortunately, none of the prior versions of Netscape support the CSS tag used here: ‘{a text-​decoration: none}’; to view the piece in web form without this function enabled would be to ruin the intended experience of this work.” (Electronic Literature Collection Volume One Web Site. Accessed June 4, 2014.)

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and performance artist Cheryl Donegan: “[M]‌y wife who is is a very well known video artist, whose work you’d really adore . . . she got a show right now in SoHo. Maybe if you’re around . . . year, maybe I’ll meet you over there and show you her show. I think you I think you’ll like Cheryl’s work. She’s very well known” (34). Such comments—​reminiscent of Willy Loman’s pathetic emphasis on being “well liked” (here the refrain is “well known”) in Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman (1949)—​are cringe worthy, at least from a literary culture standpoint, in their association of aesthetic quality with general renown. But it is for me the dogged struggle to read—​yes, read!—​to make sense of—​yes, make sense of!—​ the transcript on mimetic, narrative, figural, autobiographical, psychological, and interpersonal levels that I  associate with responses to print literature, rather than with information culture and the conceptual realm’s emphasis on the found and the given, that lent Soliloquy a compelling emotional arc. In the end, I came to regard Soliloquy as a moving (in the dual senses of dynamic and demonstrative) illustration of what William Paulson, in his book on the subject that I  cited in my introductory chapter, would consider to be an example of literary culture on the cusp of a digital media environment.5 I admit, however, there is something perversely retro about my approach to Soliloquy as if it were a picaresque prose poem. Goldsmith himself claims reading his work is so difficult for him that he falls asleep before completing the task. Even many of his champions, including Scott Pound in his PMLA essay, considers Goldsmith’s projects to be a “travesty of literary culture as we know it” and an expression of his “indifference to literary culture” to the point where “there is little to interpret in the text, and language does not invite explication. It does not even invite readerly attention” (317; 318). By contrast, Daniel R. Schwarz, in a recent study of the European novel, has argued, “What a story means is why most readers read, and it is naïve and iconoclastic to think otherwise” (4).  Schwarz argues that we “make patterns of narratives of events as ways of giving meaning to our lives and cultures (57). In the end, I didn’t follow Soliloquy to its conclusion because I regarded it primarily as a thought-​provoking conceptual experiment, as Goldsmith, the Wittgensteinian “Context is the  new Content” theorist, would have it.   Doug Nufer’s review of Soliloquy in Rain Taxi is typical in its dismissal of the kind of conventional narrative features that I will be focusing on in my essay: “Kenneth Goldsmith has a novel approach to poetry:  He records chunks of experience and releases the transcriptions as books. The books resemble fiction, as his observations take prose form, but his focus on the bits and pieces of language (to the exclusion of fiction’s standard preoccupation with plot, character, and theme) gets his work consigned to a peculiar dustbin of poetry.” 5



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Rather, following Schwarz’s observations about the relation of narrative to the creation of meaning in a reader reception context, I read Soliloquy against the grain and in spite of Goldsmith’s interpretation of the book as “humiliating and humbling, seeing how little of ‘value’ I  actually speak over the cover of a typical week. How unprofound my life and my mind is; how petty, greedy, and nasty I am in normal speech. It’s absolutely horrifying” (Goldsmith quoted in Pound, 321).6 Soliloquy portrays the Goldsmith character as metamorphic. At turns an ambivalent, insecure, funny, digressive scoundrel in Act One, by Act Six and Act Seven he displays a winning reduction of spitefulness, passion for craft, and an attractive degree of contentment as Goldsmith’s persona confronts middle age. It crossed my mind that the unpleasant mask Goldsmith created for himself in the early acts served as the author’s defense mechanism. Like the “No Trespassing” sign hung on the chain link fence surrounding the darkened shadow of Xanadu in the first shot of Citizen Kane (1941), Goldsmith’s obnoxious persona in Act One impedes reader access to representations of the vulnerable persona that is in Act Six and Act Seven imagined as susceptible to expressions of nostalgia, sentimentality, and loss. Soliloquy, however, as Burt notices, does at first appear to be a self-​exploitative recording of an egomaniacal careerist with an inferiority complex who crassly disregards family obligations. In Act Two, for example, he lashes out with deadpan human at his father’s desire to visit his father’s gravesite: “What’s the point? He’s dead!” (126). Over time, Soliloquy transitions to a varied meditation on the passage of time, including an unsettling ode to inscrutable nature that resonates with the book’s themes of mutability and challenges to human sustainability (“God, the trees are coming so late this year. Isn’t it usually the beginning of April you get the cherry blossoms?” [106]). Proponent of new media, even as Goldsmith taped Soliloquy via a comparatively old-​fashioned recording device that the poet taped to his body, he frequently expresses frustration at the reality that he is not exactly

 Michael Workman’s review of Soliloquy in New Art Examiner is typical of responses to Goldsmith’s work that emphasize Wittgenstein’s exploration of the relation between language and life:  “In Proposition 1.  19 of his Philosophical Investigations (a text that [David] Antin has theorized is heavily influenced by the philosopher’s commitment to improvisational techniques), Ludwig Wittgenstein stated, ‘To imagine a language means to imagine a form of life.’ By equating meaning with word usage in specific contexts, Wittgenstein offered implications as to how sentences often seem to be endlessly and variably creative. In Soliloquy, Goldsmith appears to speculate as to the transmutative potential of language by recording and offering a full week of such creative fabrications. Much like Antin’s, Goldsmith’s speculations ultimately incorporate a process-​based social realism in his approach to devising meaning.” 6

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“Internet,” especially when his computer goes on the blink and ends up in the shop. The self-​proclaimed “Mr. Fucking Web” spends much of Act Five, for example, dealing with aggravations common to even novice Mac users of the 1990s such as I was when Ha Jin, a middle-​aged émigré from China who had survived the Cultural Revolution, showed me how to insert the flimsy plastic diskettes into the slot of the boxy first-​generation Macs at the Brandeis library “computer lab” when he and I were completing our PhD degrees in modernist poetry with Allen Grossman: “I had the Power Mac 8500 and it it won’t start at all” “it is like like dead” (316)[. . .] “I can’t get the Java to go on at all so it’s really frustrating. This is a typical cyber day where where you scramble and scramble and at the end of the day you’ve got, like, nothing to show for it. Nothing has been accomplished here, just a lot of frustration and anxiety” (322). My purpose in citing contradictory tonal moments in Soliloquy is that it is inaccurate to cast Goldsmith’s persona as merely possessing the chutzpah (or self-​hatred? or addiction to exhibitionism?) to put himself forward as an art world version of what social theorist Herbert Marcuse, in 1964, termed a one-​dimensional man. A glance at Soliloquy does indeed reveal a buffoonish self-​promoter whose rant in Act One about how childhood celebrity Danny “Partridge” Bonaduce has in middle age amounted to little more than reality TV train wreck spectacle fodder may be read as a moment of displaced self-​reflection. Part Diaghilev, part Barnum, part Warhol, part Hemingway as channeled by the Dos Equis beer ad’s “most interesting man in the world” persona in his confident taste in music, food, art, clothing, and (of course!) beer, part Joyce, part Benjaminian flaneur in the Arcades Project, part Nixon of the secret Oval Office tapings, part Frank O’Hara of the Lunch Poems, part Lenny Bruce, part straight cyborg Oscar Wilde dandy with a fetish for Kenneth Cole shoes, part heir to David Antin in Talking, Goldsmith goads us into finding him, at least in Act One, an art world schlemiel.7 Exposing himself (figuratively) in public in ways the 7   Of Antin, Perloff notes: “In both ‘in place of a lecture: three musics for two voices’ and ‘the london march,’ he experiments with controlled improvisation, recorded directly on tape, using both his own voice and that of his wife Elly (the conceptual artist Eleanor Antin).” In David Antin, TALKING (Dalkey Archives, 2001). http://​epc.buffalo.edu/​authors/​perloff/​articles/​antin.htm. Introduction by Marjorie Perloff. Goldsmith also resembles Antin in their mutual situation at the cusp between oral and literal cultures. Each expresses concern about the relationships between anxiety and memory, and the role audio taping may play in commemorating the human voice. Antin contemplates the value of audio taping in his email correspondence with Bernstein: “Memorizing isn’t remembering, and recording isn’t remembering. But I don’t want to be pious about the oral. The literal recording has distinct advantages. The tape recorder that recovers my talk pieces distinctly belongs to ‘literal’ culture. I couldn’t be having this e-​mail dialogue with you and I certainly couldn’t go back and reread



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rest of us would conceal to others (and probably to ourselves) outside the semi-​ privacy of a therapist’s chair, he is alternatively repulsive, sad, petty, clownish, inebriated, or at best slightly hung over. He expresses cynicism about the process of aesthetic evaluation. Accruing art world fame amounts to little more than making a Machiavellian calculation about whom to take to bed and which party to attend. “Maybe that’s the thing that I was saying about being in New York is that you know you know people before you know their work. You don’t know the work before you know people” (42). Approaching his mid-​thirties in the mid-​1990s, Goldsmith contends becoming a professional culture maker is not unlike an entrepreneurial consultant’s job that takes place in diners, Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) lunchrooms, Chinatown restaurants, music clubs, galleries, lecture halls, and loft parties as the institutional arena, Manhattan Art World INC. Returning to Cheryl after lunching with Perloff in Act One, he encourages her to attend a party because it “is gonna be good for you” (53). Recalling his meal with the influential critic open to new media poetics, he continues: “we were talking about gossip. I went back to my gossip theory how important gossip is. I said the canon is created by who’s sleeping with who” (53). Like the long-​running sitcom The Office, virtually no productive “work” takes place in producing, packaging, and selling traditional objects of consumer value (the product in The Office is, ironically, paper in a proto-​paperless era), but the job is the interoffice and intraoffice plotting, resentments, vendettas, romances, self-​promotions, demotions, and jockeying for position and face time that constitutes the “work.” Like The Office and Parks and Recreation, Soliloquy is a self-​referential mockumentary. Contradicting Warhol’s fey affect with a tough-​ guy hetero persona, Goldsmith views the advanced art scene in Manhattan as a shell game. He can scam his way inside if he has the gonads to avoid coming off as “soft” (his word) in front of open-​minded academic pundits such as Perloff. Discussing Liz Kotz, however, the Columbia PhD student whom Goldsmith had prejudged as an angry lesbian, Goldsmith suggests that we as readers of the character of other persons must peel away the onion’s outer layers to get past surface appearances. To his surprise, he tells Cheryl, he enjoyed a conversation he had with Kotz Frances Yates or ‘the sociology of art’ without it. The ancient Greek ‘oral poets’ all had this anxiety about the deficiencies of their memories and always began poems by praying to the muse to help them remember. The invocation of the muses may have been a purely formal element by the time we encounter it, but it very likely reflected a real sense of the anxiety that the memory of forgetting could induce in a sensitive artist of an ‘oral society.’ ” (A Conversation with David Antin, 52).

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on the subway back from a Perloff lecture: “We have so much in common, it’s insane. She’s doing her dissertation. It’s funny, when you scratch the surface of people, man, everybody’s got something to say. I  think everybody’s nice. You got to get past the surface. I mean whoever would have thought Liz Kotz was anything, you know, other than what she appears to be? Hardcore manhater. She’s so nice. [//] [S]he’s studying Fluxus [.//] I knew all these people she wanted to meet” (263–264). However ironic his comments about Kotz, given Goldsmith’s indebtedness to Warhol’s fetish of the superficial, I  read Goldsmith’s reconsideration of Kotz, after he listens to her on the subway, as a metacritical key to interpreting Soliloquy. We may take his willingness to revise his stereotypical impression of Kotz, to, in his terms, “get past the surface,” as an only partly insincere message inside the text, should we have the endurance (and enough caffeine) to “get past” the first few acts of his epic transcription of all that noisy jabbering and bravado. He is instructing readers to work through the irritating bluster to notice other, if not deeper, at least more ambivalent and self-​revisionary, aspects of Goldsmith’s persona in Soliloquy than his role as cynical striver for art world fame. Soliloquy is a paradoxically superficial and yet intimate, if objective and procedurally driven, representation of Goldsmith as he envisions the cultural, aesthetic, and commercial impact the internet will play on how art and literature will be designed, reviewed, and promoted in the twenty-​first century. “The ongoing implosion of public and private spheres, characteristic of postmodernity, opens private life to ever-​expanding exposure. Almost nothing appears private any longer. Social media vastly facilitates exposure,” writes theorist Vincent B.  Leitch (105). Goldsmith’s Soliloquy illustrates Leitch’s observation. Bent on establishing himself as a relevant player in an evolving art world environment in which conceptualism is already a decades’ old movement and even its language-​oriented wing is unwilling to digest the hefty weight and literal volume of Goldsmith projects that often run to over 500 pages, he regards the advent of cyberspace and new media to be exciting avenues for a new art and/​or literary movement to come forward.8 As Goldsmith, a   “The installation at Bravin Post Lee Gallery, entitled Soliloquy (No. 116 4.15.96–​4.21.96), was pared down as much as possible to nothing but the text. Using a laser printer, Goldsmith displayed his week of talk on 341 sheets of ordinary white paper that exactly filled the entire wall-​space of the gallery. It wasn’t quite possible to read the text from beginning to end (even if one had the stamina), since it began just out of eyeshot near the ceiling in the upper left corner of a wall before snaking across and down like any other piece of English prose,” reports Gordon Tapper (1). 8



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Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) graduate and former sculptor who specialized in book art, that is, sculpted representations of books as physical objects, acknowledges, the “work” of the artist in New  York on the cusp of a new media age is not about spending endless hours in a studio cutting, drilling, pasting, shaving, and painting.9 What a waste of potential face time! Implicitly mocking the idealism of other poets whom I will discuss later in Not Born Digital—​Patrick Durgin, Noah Eli Gordon, Jen Hofer, David Buuck, Lyn Hejinian, and Carla Harryman—​who have engaged in collaborative literary projects made possible through digital encounters to imagine communities in opposition to those groupings built on marketing, competition, individualism, and consumption, for Goldsmith becoming an artist with visibility in relation to other cultural workers is about building a social network composed of other art world entrepreneurs on the make. His “work” spaces, therefore, include a Cybersuds event, and his board meetings take place during meals and coffees with allies, such as Goldsmith’s close associate, the poet-​t heorist and former L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E magazine co-​editor Bruce Andrews, and the owner of the SoHo gallery that is showing Cheryl Donegan’s work, Stefano Bassilico. One could argue that in Soliloquy, Goldsmith most forcefully displays his aesthetic skill (and, as we will see, fumbling) through his composition of a web of alliances with gallery owners, academicians such as Perloff and Bernstein who are open to new media oriented writings, and major New  York City institutions such as Whitney, MOMA, and The Jewish Museum. Not to come off as a stuffy poet of interest only to High Cult aficionados warehoused in the academy and the museum, he accrues street cred by attending alternative music shows at places such as the Knitting Factory. An investment of cultural capital, as well as taxi fare, such visits are also related to his fascination with the nonmimetic, sonic properties of words; he connects his work, for example, to John Cage through their mutual collaborations with vocal interpreter Joan La Barbara. Goldsmith quite literally broadcasts his eccentric tastes as a “graveyard shift” DJ who plays self-​mockingly unpopular music once a week on WFMU from East Orange New Jersey. Hilariously iconoclastic, he includes  Trained in sculpture at RISD in the early 1980s—​before his shift to conceptual writing that Geoffrey Young writes has “a sculptor’s feel for the materiality of words” (Young, 1), Goldsmith designed sculptures of books by poets such as e.e. cummings and activists such as Abbie Hoffman that emphasized the physical volume of language, in some cases to literalize a satirical point of view; the sheer weight of his casting of Steal This Book, for example, literalized the idea that “the revolution never got off the ground” (Goldsmith quoted in John Strausbaugh, 2). 9

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selections by Charles Ives, Yoko Ono, Tiny Tim, Alban Berg (as a part of a celebration for Hitler’s birthday he plays the music of anti-​Semitic composers), Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth, Bing Crosby, The Fugs, and The Beach Boys. Goldsmith’s belated conceptual insight, his, dare I  say, vision, involves not so much composing any art work or of regarding language as itself a visual object, but in noticing, before most other members of the New York art scene and avant-​garde poets did so, the potential for computers to electronically reproduce with extraordinary speed and international reach Goldsmith’s fascination with the creation and maintenance of networks—​webs—​of allies in a struggle for recognition, attention, visibility that could extend well beyond the small world of Manhattan’s art scene.

II. Doing the unthinkable: Actually reading Soliloquy In an essay from Unoriginal Genius (2010) on Goldsmith’s Traffic (2007), which “records a twenty-​four hour period of WINS’s ‘Panasonic Jam Cam [Camera]’ New York traffic reports at ten-​minute intervals on the first day of a holiday weekend” (Perloff, 147), Perloff asks readers to put aside Goldsmith’s interpretation of his projects as more interesting as concepts that require “thinkerships” than as readable, referential texts. “Nothing but an actual reading of the text can clarify the questions of choice and chance that arise here and elsewhere,” writes Perloff (151). Noticing erasures of information in the traffic reports that leave her confused about basic facts such as which holiday weekend and which season the Jam Cam is reporting upon, Perloff questions the veracity of Goldsmith’s claim that he merely transcribed the reports and reframed them as conceptual poetry. Comparing Traffic to Jean Luc Godard’s Weekend (1967), she states: “There is, in other words, something surreal about this seemingly ordinary sequence of traffic reports” (152). Discussing temporal confusions relating to an “open parking situation” that would have alleviated some of the holiday traffic jams, Perloff notes: Time’s linear progress, in other words, is illusory:  it cannot encompass the events supposed to occur at particular moments on the scale; indeed time collapses into space. If the final section (12:00), defined as being “over the hump and into the official holiday weekend,” is terminated by the resumption



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of normal traffic rules “tomorrow,” then the weekend has all but never happened.//​Goldsmith’s “transcription” is thus hardly recycling. (160–​161)

Perloff notices what appear to be various traffic reports, “spliced to produce a new construct,” thus destabilizing relations between time, space, and mimesis (164). She also claims that in Traffic Goldsmith has put forward a communal narrative. The plot line traces an emotional arc that pivots from the anxiety and frustrations of accidents and log jams on a holiday weekend in which urban dwellers seek respite from daily pressures toward a desire for “momentary visions of the open road—​‘one big green light’ pointing us into the future” (161) that Perloff compares in its unattainable romanticism to the final passages of The Great Gatsby. (Given that Goldsmith is, like Jay Gatz, a secular Jew on the make in Long Island, who has become synonymous with self-​invention and an extraordinary drive to succeed, one wonders if Perloff’s intertextuality may also be a veiled portrait of Goldsmith). I follow Perloff’s lead in her essay on Traffic by immersing myself in a literary reading of another one of Goldsmith’s self-​described “unreadable” texts. Regarding Soliloquy as a week-​long version of Joyce’s Bloomsday (June 16, 1904), but with Perloff now a character in the narrative representing Bloom and Goldsmith as Daedalus in late twentieth-​ century New York City (April 15–​21, 1996), instead of early twentieth-​century Dublin, I  will thus be interpreting Soliloquy as a narrative representing the complexity of Goldsmith’s persona as it develops from solipsistic careerism to an acknowledgment of time’s limits, an embrace of his place in an extended family, a willingness to reduce his resentments over failed business partnerships, a confirmation of his love for wife Cheryl, and an expression of a desire to start a family with her. It is April, 1996—​Goldsmith is almost thirty-​five years old. He has been together with his partner, Cheryl, a performance artist who often paints in the nude while being videotaped, for about twelve years. They live together with a boxer dog in a tiny two-​room apartment on the upper West Side. Goldsmith also maintains an even smaller office at the Cable Building downtown where he earns money designing websites and poetry books for a range of clients including an NYU Law Professor and small presses including Sun and Moon and Hard Press. Especially in Act One—​Goldsmith divides the seven days of taping into “Acts,” suggesting the ironic (and funny) quality of a dramatic soliloquy that in this case is recorded in situations in which the character

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is very rarely, as in a traditional soliloquy, alone with his thoughts—​the author’s “voice” is, as Burt’s review suggests, unpleasant to hear. He is, at turns, crude, vulgar, loud, jokey, snobby, judgmental, mumbling. Like a petty school kid who is pissed off because he is losing a student council election, Goldsmith expresses jealousy because an acquaintance named Viv has 85 email messages on her account in comparison to his mere 35 (97). A  postidentity politics version of an equal opportunity offender in the mode of Don Rickles—​one show “represents everything, um, I really hate about multi multiculturalism. You know black artists showing in a black show” (11) and “I think the goddamned Jewish museum should buy this thing after all the hype” (18) are examples—​he is an unabashed careerist who simultaneously shoots himself in the foot by, for example, failing to attend the opening of the “Too Jewish” show at the Jewish Museum which is featuring his work. Much of Act One centers on his meeting with Perloff in MOMA’s Members Dining Room as well as how that booze fueled, gossip-​ laden lunch reverberates throughout the next six days of taping. Goldsmith dissects his performance, broadcasts it to friends, and worries if he was overly brash and judgmental. He is incorrigible when he meets Perloff for a lunch consisting primarily of “battling for airtime” (58) and serious dirt dishing with her at the MOMA members’ room—​“I was really outrageous,” Goldsmith later tells Cheryl, to whose exhibition at Bassilico’s gallery he later accompanies Perloff. At the MOMA lunch, he’d “throw opinions around,” “dissing” Perloff ’s “idol,” John Cage (53–​5 4). A demystifier at this point in the narrative, Goldsmith suggests the composer slept with Philip Johnson in exchange for a Summer Garden concert at MOMA (54). He is especially crude and disrespectful to Cage, claiming he cruised for partners in Palisades and how the composer, whose durational sound compositions from the 1950s preceded the poet’s own by many decades, would “sit in hotel rooms toward the end of his life and get plastered on scotch” (37). Ironically, Goldsmith, the career strategist, also represents himself as a schlemiel. He later tells Cheryl he got too drunk at the Perloff lunch to remember to ask her to blurb a forthcoming book. As Goldsmith not only admits, but regards as indicative of a democratic poetics that follows Whitman, Stein, W. C. Williams, Warhol, Antin, and Cage in refusing to privilege certain words and sounds as valuable while suppressing others as insignificant, Soliloquy is chock full of repetitive passages. Unable to stay in touch with the present moment, Goldsmith, who appears in the text



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to suffer from an obsessive-​compulsive disorder, spends much time planning for the future or rehearsing the past.10 To a significant extent, his relationship with Cheryl consists of on-​the-​fly telephone chats in which they run by each other their (often separate) schedule of evening events, and recapitulating who he has seen (Goldsmith claims to know everyone in New York’s art scene) and where he has been on the previous day’s professional artist circuit. He laments inevitable visits to and from his family, who live in nearby Port Washington, and invents schemes to avoid another summer in the hot city that elsewhere he claims to love by calling in favors from old friends in France, Greece, and Las Vegas: “I’m not gonna be here again this summer. We’ve been here for 5 summers the last 5 Augusts and I said I just cannot be here” (295). He picks up laundry, evaluates the proportion of vegetables to wantons to broth in the take-​out Chinese soup container, builds websites for clients, shows off a new pair of Kenneth Cole shoes, encourages his mother to purchase for him a “nice big cherrywood cabinet” (293), and, a good middle-​class Jewish boy from Long Island who suffers from insecurity that professional avant-​gardism may not have been the career path his parents had envisioned for their gifted son with a pricey RISD degree, boasts to close relatives and anyone else in earshot that Art in America’s Raphael Rubenstein has included information about his “600 page book of sounds that I’ve collected for the last 3 years” in a new article (208). In spite of his aversion to meeting his parents for social events, Goldsmith, especially in Acts Six and Seven, seems genuinely content around his extended family when he visits them on Long Island to celebrate his grandmother’s eighty-​ fifth birthday. Recalling the Odyssey-​ oriented “Nausicca” chapter from Joyce’s Ulysses, he collects shells and looks for crabs at a beach with his nephew, Max, plays host as he offers drinks, chairs, and appetizers to elders at his parents’ Port Washington home, praises the chicken salad, and, noting his grandmother Rosalind has “lung issues” (374), wonders how many years remaining his grandparents’ have left, and how old Max might be when they are gone. He laments that his dad is planning to retire to a college town in North Carolina, and engages in zany banter with his sister Margie: “How old are you? 33? Whoa! That was the year 33 is the year Christ was crucified and the year Buddha found enlightenment. You’d better get to work. This is a big year.” Claiming “Koch was an idiot,” (360), Goldsmith is pleased that Mayor Rudolph   Raphael Rubinstein notes the obsessive-​compulsive feature of Goldsmith’s “exhaustive transfer of data into his work”:  “Like Jonathan Borofsky obsessively cataloguing his dreams, Goldsmith presents himself as at once absurdly specific and hugely representative” (3).

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Giuliani is bringing “a lot of business activity” (360). “I love it,” he says, adding that he is tired of seeing bums on subway trains, and prefers Manhattan’s West Side to the Lower East Side: “I like Giuliani. I think the city is the is becoming a cleaner and, uh, safer place. I feel it. I don’t have an opinion, really. I like Cuomo, I always thought Cuomo in the end he seemed he seemed a little bit inefficient” (360). After the birthday party lunch for Grandma Rosalind, husband Kenny and wife Cheryl tool around in his parents’ car, observing the ever-​expanding suburban Long Island sprawl. Goldsmith, in typical fashion, reviews the day’s events. His observations, however, focus not on art world scorekeeping, but on changing relations to his parents, memories of old friends and neighborhoods, and the altered exteriors of his hometown. “Now my father’s talking about retiring in 8 years to North Carolina. What I, uh, much of this trip is about about is, uh, with the with the, uh, Gross’s to see what’s happening in North Carolina. Yeah. Yeah they’re thinking of going to someplace like Chapel Hill, like a university town in the South. Yeah. Uh huh. The latest plan” (376). Searching, unsuccessfully, for yard sales, Goldsmith recalls his playful time collecting shells on the beach with his sister’s child. He then recounts an unsettling memory of his childhood in Long Island, focusing on how a friend of his was, inexplicably, punched in the gut by other kids: Max is cute, huh? He’s so adorable. That was fun with him by the shore. The thing in the street here, it’s kind of weird. Maybe it’s Sunday. Could be. Could be. Sorry kids to disturb your game. It’s a little bit of a dead end. I  used to know a girl that lived somewhere around here. I used to know a few people who lived down here. Doovie once got hit. One night, one Friday night we were walking right here, right along Shore Road up here and this guy, like wailed Doovie in the stomach. Yeah. Sale. It’s Sunday. Ha ha ha. No, I thought this was today. Yeah yeah. Right here. Just just as we were walking by Doovie he took his fucking fist and wailed him, knocked the wind right out of Doovie. (376)

Seemingly disoriented—​the obsessive archivist of every move he made for thirteen hours in Fidgit and who typed up the entire contents of a single issue of The New York Times in Day isn’t even sure which day it is—​and disturbed because his search for sales is proving fruitless, the afternoon mood sours. Enduring a moment that calls to mind (admittedly in a minor key) the classical narrative motif of the katabasis (or “down-​going”) that traditionally designates, as Stephen Dickey reports, “a journey to the land of the dead as iterated through ancient epic—​Gilgamesh, The Odyssey, The Aeneid—​then Christianized in literary treatments of the Harrowing of Hell and, in its most



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sustained elaboration, Dante’s Inferno,” Goldsmith enters into a meditation—​ closer in timbre to a traditional soliloquy—​on how the Long Island town of his youth has morphed from an empty sand pit to prosperous, if racially segregated, middle-​class town, to unpleasant, but overpriced, sprawl (Dickey, 26): This was all sand pits. I actually recall, uh, when I was really young I had a friend who lived here when this was being built and this was all being carved out of a big sand pit, you know, this whole area is one big sand bar. It’s insane, isn’t it? It’s like also how could they all be as expensive as they are all now, I mean, you just can’t, yeah, it’s huge. It’s just Soundview is sprawling. I mean, Soundview is, if you could get a view down from from here which you can’t anymore, I mean, it’s absolutely. Yeah. Yeah this is post war suburbia. Yeah, now this is no longer Soundview. These houses are a touch older but just as close together. Very densely populated, isn’t it? Avenue B I  believe is down this way. Like the school, right, so we got to go down one more. The yard sale scene is a little disappointing, isn’t it? This is the older model, isn’t it? All things being being relative. Disgusting, isn’t it? [ . . . ]OK, here’s Avenue B. What do you think of Avenue B? I hope we find a sale. Yeah. It’s all just one version of ugliness after another. This is the way most of America live, you know? (378)

The trip in Act Six with Cheryl in his parents’ car to search for tag sales after his grandma’s birthday party ends speaks to Goldsmith’s nostalgia, and his bitter awareness that life is brief and mutable, an awareness that, one could argue, is only underlined by Goldsmith’s relation to computer-​generated art that intensifies the rapidity of personal, social, and artistic transformations that the author at once courts and fears in his own sprawling “Soundview” text. Soliloquy by this point has developed for me into a surprisingly heartfelt, psychologically revealing, and elegiac self-​portrait of the artist as not so young man. In Act Seven, during a roller blading trek through lower Manhattan with Cheryl at the tail end of the recording project, Goldsmith engages in youthful behavior that (again in a minor key) symbolizes an experience of vitality, a return to what Stephen Dickey would refer to as the realm of the “physically alive, corporeal, weighty, in vivid distinction to his or her spectral surroundings” as a “defining feature of the journey that it is roundtrip” and in which “the traveler can report the experience to the living—​as when Odysseus recounts his adventures to the Phaeacians” (27). The passage indicates that Goldsmith is remedying his previously lamented lack of exercise due to a lethargy stemming from a case of the blues. The passage also suggests Goldsmith’s growing desire to separate himself from his parents—​and, in displaced form, to create distance

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from an earlier, more cynical, version of himself—​by criticizing their shallow understanding of literature and art. His assessment of their concern for publicity about his art career serves as an implicit condemnation of Goldsmith’s own excessive focus on promotion and celebrity in the early acts of Soliloquy. The reproach to what he terms his parents’ “lazy,” “neurotic,” and “conventional” interest in fame widens into a critique of a postmodern society. The world has lost its way, he argues, in part because television and pop fiction have replaced serious intellectual endeavors: So my parents, you know, my parents are just, you know, they’re just lazy. They are neu neurotic and neurotic. So when they look at something like that article, it’s just conventional, you know? Oh, someone’s paying attention to our son. So, I don’t understand this but it’s nice that someone’s paying attention to our son. And that gets back to the thing with Sean and Stefano, 99% of the people are gonna say, oh yeah, someone’s paying attention to Sean. I wish I had that attention or someone is look at Kenny, he’s got a write up, oh yeah. I want one. This shit doesn’t make any difference. The only difference it makes is a is a 3 paragraph review in the New York Times that people don’t read either. It’s a drag. People don’t read. People do not read. Where, you know, with T.V. now and computer, who reads books, really? You know besides John Le Carré? Who really reads? I I, you know, I know Barnes and Noble is booming but I have a feeling that the, uh, you know, the good works are not exactly jumping off the shelves there, well I know it. Image world babe, isn’t it? You you you make your bed I don’t know why an artist would want to work at a gallery, I mean, that’s that’s his karma. Seriously. (440)

In the same scene, Goldsmith displays signs of personal growth and self-​ knowledge, if, as in the passage above, he has changed his position on key themes such as the relationship of literature to the culture of celebrity to a degree that defies credulity. Combining an Eastern religious perspective on Karma associated with a character known throughout the text as the “Swami” with the residue of his criticism of a former art world competitor and business partner, he begins to let go of resentments, and to offer an implicit critique of his own Mephistophelian persona, when he happens upon one Scott Specter, whom Goldsmith claims took advantage of him in a prior, unspecified commercial deal: You know, it’s like 5  years later or something and he’s just, you know, just the same. It was just really weird. Yeah. Yeah. I didn’t I didn’t I didn’t want to throw shit back I I’m over I’m just finished with that. Yeah, oh it was like



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remember when we saw him just walking with that girl I was kind of like oh, you know, we each made a little comment to each other? And then we just kind of changed quickly changed the subject? Right? You know? You know, as if it was like, oh yeah, you know, oh, you know, he’s an asshole but life goes on. Poor girl, right? You you could see by the rage in him that, like, noth, like he like he hasn’t progressed like an iota over, uh, over, uh, the old days. There you go. So, yeah, it’s weird. It’s kind of like what Swami was saying about you don’t steal something even though you know you could get away without getting caught cause you know kind of what the consequences in other words what will stick with you when you steal it, you know? And it’s his own worst punishment there. 5 years later, he’s just still, you know. Everywhere he goes it’s yeah. And he. It’s truly his own hell. Yeah because I’m not so strong. (468–​469)

In an interview with Perloff, published, subsequent to Soliloquy, in Jacket 2, Goldsmith offers a retrospective glance at what was, in the mid-​1990s, a then cutting-​edge embrace of the web and digital media as platform for art world matters: It’s been six years since I’ve done the project and it’s remarkable already just how much language has changed. In some ways, the book is prescient. Many readers in 2002 can understand the pages and pages of interminable computer talk in the book. In fact, it’s become common parlance. In other ways, though, so much about the book is completely dated, based on restaurants that are gone, businesses that are defunct, careers, friendships, and lovers that no longer exist. Written in the first blush of the dot-​com bubble, it’s incredible to think how the landscape has changed since then.

Goldsmith emphasizes his prescient understanding of the conceptual promise of computer-​generated poetics, but I want to pause here to notice an aspect of the commentary other than his awareness of “the pages and pages of interminable computer talk in the book.” The passage’s subtext of the dizzying rapidity of change resonates with a key theme and elegiac mood in Soliloquy, qualities that lend emotional depth to the conceptual project and that may be easily overlooked given the author’s blustery self-​promotional rap and his claims that his book is boring and unreadable. I would go so far as to suggest that what critic Scott Pound has termed Goldsmith’s “obsession with archiving speech” (321) may be understood as the middle-​aged poet’s quite traditional goal of preserving in a comparatively permanent form—​the book—​the otherwise ephemeral signs and traces of the human image and human voice so as to remember the significance of what Robert Lowell in “Epilogue” from Day by Day called Vermeer-​like

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photographic precision of representing “the poor passing facts” of our brief existence. One of the unexpected moods in Soliloquy is Goldsmith’s not infrequent elegiac sentiment. Entering early middle age, Goldsmith is married but not yet a father, notorious but not yet established as an artist or author. He is confronting the aging and retirement of his parents, the deaths of his grandparents, the flaring up into celebrity and subsequent crashing and burning of fellow art world members, the openings and closings of galleries and restaurants, the physical and emotional withering of former art world figures such as Ulla Dydo, and his own exhaustion when trying to make a living by designing web sites while spending morning, noon, and night pursuing face time.

III. Un-​theorizing Soliloquy and Goldsmith’s passion for craft Contra Perloff’s reading of Traffic as a narrative that reflects urban aggravations and hopes for a sublime release through escape, and my own reading of Soliloquy, Goldsmith has tended to interpret Soliloquy in conceptual rather than psychological/​narrative/​intertextual/​sociological terms. Here is Goldsmith getting theoretical in an interview with Perloff that appeared in Jacket2 in 2003: Perloff: In Soliloquy, you often flirt dangerously with actual mimesis. Your interlocutors are often identifiable and your assessments of people (myself included) have been held to be cruel, nasty, or just plain embarrassing. How do you answer this charge? Goldsmith: Soliloquy is not actual mimesis because it has been framed and presented as art as opposed to a scientific documentation of language or mere sociological research.

Unquestionably, Goldsmith in Soliloquy at times emphasizes the speaker’s awareness that his taped discourse belongs to a project that is being framed as art. Such moments not only amplify the texture of Soliloquy, but also serve as a distancing device that allows Goldsmith to represent himself behaving badly without suffering real-​world consequences. (In fact, Goldsmith has stated in an interview that he lost friends after Soliloquy was released as a book in 2001). Here is a metafictional moment from Act One in which Goldsmith at once enacts and predicts the conceptual project that would appear in print with



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Granary Books (and later, in 2002, online via the University of Buffalo’s poetics list serve, EPC) as Soliloquy: I have this idea with this piece that I could do weird things with this work once I collect a week’s worth of language that I’ve spoken shit and spew. Like, how many words is it, right? With an eye-​dropper and a glass how many drops of water would it take to fill that glass with words that I’ve spoken for this week? How much would that be? Say it’s 50,000 words. How much [ . . . ] would be like the eyedropper visual equivalent of that. (63)

In a subsequent passage from Act One, Goldsmith continues to treat his ongoing project as anything but an innovative method of expanding the notion of lyric confessionalism. Far from it, he categorizes the spoken word as if it were a thingy object with literal, rather than figurative, weight and volume. He compares the spoken words he is collecting on tape to jellybeans in a jar. “It would make everybody realize how much garbage they speak. How cheap language is” (64). Goldsmith is at once upgrading—​as conceptually driven sonic art—​ and degrading—​ as garbage of little value—​ his project. What Goldsmith downplays is that in among the “shit and spew” is the portrait of a son of the Jewish-​American middle class as culture-​v ulturish striver, a Hypermedia version of Budd Schulberg’s 1941 novel What Makes Sammy Run?. His contradictory relation to the art world and to academia reflects his ambivalent situation as an artist and his uncertainty about how to interpret the relationship of language to meaning in his conceptual projects. He desperately wants to express a Bohemian edginess that distances himself from a middle-​ class  Long Island family that he laments cannot understand his conceptual experiments, but he also wants to please his elders. He wants to prove to them that his quirky projects will pay off in terms of renown and financial security. At the end of Act Six, Goldsmith concludes his day by reflecting on the taping process with Cheryl: Another big day tomorrow, What? No this week has been particularly insane. I know. I mean we’ve been just been non stop parties and events, I mean, it’s really been a weird a strange strange week. I’m be glad to stop taping. How long do you think it will take me type every word I’ve spoken this week? Probably what I’ll work on in France. I’ll probably just sit there and transcribe all this language from this week. I  mean it’s so easy to words, you know how long it takes to type the sentence that I’m just speaking right now? A letter. Yeah, and how about just like gibberish? I’ve probably got 36 hours worth of tape. (418–​419)

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In Act Five, Goldsmith once more engages in metafictional commentary on the taping process. This time, however, his remarks involve the ethical issue and deeply personal question of whether the moans and groans of sex with Cheryl are permissible sounds for a project that Goldsmith has, in the subsequent interview with Perloff, stressed could be distinguished from Cage’s music because he, Goldsmith, has created a democratic sound space in which the artist is ruthless in his refusal to discriminate permissible from impermissible sounds. We sense his wish to mock the conundrum and to stick to his story about the artificiality of the project when he claims to engage in erotic talk at the end of Act Five with Cheryl, “just to spice up the tape” (327). Responding to his wife’s command that he turn off the tape during sex, he won’t comply because, he reasons, stopping the recording process is unnecessary to protect her privacy: “there’s no part of you [Cher] that’s on this tape. Your voice of your actions or nothing will appear. It’s all me.” After engaging in oral sex at the end of Act Five, Goldsmith, in exasperated tones, argues, ludicrously, for a quid pro quo, as he confronts Cher’s reservations about what amounts to a taped vocal pornography activity and the ultimate invasion of her privacy in a project that fetishizes the individual speaker’s “voice” while simultaneously deconstructing the category of private experience: “Come on, this is art! I mean, look at what I do for your art!” (329). An extreme example of the pot calling the kettle black, Goldsmith goes on to lambast his wife for selfish careerism because she will expose her body for her art, but will not do so for his. “Nobody will ever hear these tapes, Cheryl [. . .] How can you say you’re self-​conscious when you’re like the nude artist of the century?” (329). Goldsmith then tells Cheryl that the tape will turn off automatically if no sounds are detected. As the scene concludes, he expresses resentment toward her, feigns that strong emotion, or is torn between the two tonal modes at a point in the transcript at which the already bathetically comical and unstable relationships of life to art, performance to reality, artist to persona, ethics to aesthetics, and conceptualism to mimesis have become indelibly blurred. “I’m gonna go clean up. Good night. No, fuck it. I hate sex. Especially with you. Go to bed” (329). Interpreting Soliloquy as a theatrical performance the next morning, he, again unconvincingly, masks his anger at his wife and confusion about the ethical parameters of his own project when responding half-​heartedly to Cheryl’s concern about his outburst the previous evening:  “No. I’m not mad. We were just playing. Yeah. It was a joke” (330). In fact, Cheryl Donegan’s body-​oriented performance paintings are a visual equivalent to Soliloquy’s self-​exploitative representation of the relation of voice



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to body to technology through Goldsmith’s taping process and a window into his inner life. He explains to Perloff his wife’s aesthetics, which exhibits a mise en abyme quality comparable to Soliloquy, when they visit Cheryl’s installation at Bassilico’s SoHo gallery: If you look closely you’ll see its [a camera] tied around her neck so every time she makes a move the camera pushes. She’s looking at a camera at a self-​portrait of herself looking at the T.V. but the camera is looking at her. She painting on top of herself and she just keeps crawling around and smearing it. [ . . . ] There’s a mixture of kind of like disease and eroticism[  .  .  .  ] Each tape is an hour and it’s just a duration of her of her creating the work over the course of an hour [ . . . ] That really turns self-​portraiture on its ear traditionally doesn’t it. (163–​164)

Such moments display Goldsmith’s struggle to interpret situationist performances involving Cheryl’s sexualized body as if he were merely a detached postmodernist critic interpreting the fine points of a cultural experiment. As in other parts of Soliloquy, Goldsmith’s halting commentary reminds us an academic theorist of a Wittgensteinian context-​is-​a ll sort he is not. At an earlier point in the text, for example, we hear Goldsmith, unintentionally parodically, rehearsing by telephone to the experimental poet and editor Bruce Andrews, the gist of Perloff’s Columbia talk on Beckett’s Watt: “the refusal of the location of meaning or co or context making everything, uh, mean something so you’ve got a book of people that you know, nothing means anything the don’t even know the name the meaning of simple words such as doorknob or key and, um, you know, even though we understand it they don’t understand each other so that was the Watt link” (184). In Act Four, to cite another example, he once more stumbles when trying to explain his conceptual poetics while at his office with potential clients for a web site design gig in the Cable Building: “my whole idea is like what if language was was was selected by sound before meaning and what is, you know, what does that do to language?” He continues:  “The recombination of words and this is what my whole work is based on is there is a lack of intention and meaning is constructed by the way by the way the number of syllables in a word and the way that the sound ends. That’s why two phrases in my books live next to each other, not because I thought they had good meaning but because they were fallen in according to this system that I make” (219). Granted, these are off-​t he-​cuff, unfiltered remarks, not the carefully rehearsed two-​minute version of one’s dissertation thesis that PhD

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students are trained to develop for MLA job interviews. That said, we sense Goldsmith is flummoxed and out of his depth when trying to interpret projects that, he admits at other points, strike him as intuitively worth pursuing. Proponent of plagiarism as a creative act of reframing, Goldsmith is mimicking bits and pieces of postmodern literary critical pieties such as the challenge to “intention” and the notion that “meaning is constructed.” But, as with his political views on Koch and Giuliani, Goldsmith really doesn’t have a strong position or firm hold on the relation of sound to meaning, conceptualism, and mimesis. (If Donald Trump is the first “post-​policy” Presidential candidate, Goldsmith may just well be the first “post-​theory” post Language poet). On the one hand there is “a lack of intention,” but on the other hand he claims that he specifically chose—​a form of intention—​words because of their sound properties in relation to “this system that I make.” In the first part of the passage I  quoted from Act Four, Goldsmith states that sound precedes, but does not discount, meaning when he goes about choosing words for a text. In the later iterations of the sound/​meaning conundrum, “meaning” does not follow sound, but is unintended. Still, meaning is evident in the work in this second version, even if it is “constructed” (as opposed to? Natural?). Later in the passage he pivots in the direction of authoring works of pure sonic weight that have little or nothing to do with “good meaning” (whatever “good” might mean here). It is obvious that, however paradoxically the case may be, Goldsmith’s strength is not theorizing his “dirty” conceptual projects. (Part of what he admires about Perloff is that he sees her as what he calls a “reporter” of new developments in culture, rather than as an intimidating philosopher and theorist.) Describing Perloff as a “major exception” (181) in academia who is open to new material, even as Goldsmith would go on to edit a collection of conceptual writings with Perloff’s student from Stanford, Dworkin, now an English professor at the University of Utah, Goldsmith exaggerates academia’s aversion to new media poetics to the point academia becomes a corporate straw man and antagonist. He is, at bottom, less a theorist than an aesthetic formalist. He possesses a well-​honed and yet intuitive sense of craft and design matters and displays a keen appreciation for how computers are in the midst of influencing how art and poetry are designed and disseminated. Goldsmith, whom I have noted has an ADD-​t ype trouble staying in the moment, tending to obsessively rehearse previous conversations or planning future events, seems most able to focus on activities in the present moment when he is editing web sites. Designing a site for a client named Connie, for example, Goldsmith is being Goldsmith as he



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promotes Cheryl’s new show, grooves to Sun Ra, eats strawberries and drinks coffee, answers the phone, mentions his “addiction” (114) to spending his free time shopping for second-​hand CDs, and considers attending an afternoon Perloff lecture at Fordham. His discourse comes alive and his thoughts shift into focus, however, when he gets down to the aesthetic work of fine-​tuning Connie’s site as a multimedia performance: “The color thing is starting to make sense. The yellows and the grays. I love this piece” (133). Typically impatient with the time it takes to download files, Goldsmith shows off his professional chops as he discusses with Connie issues of spatial placement, includes sound on the site via a Soundedit application, adds videos, stills, and animation, sends files, and advocates the use of CD-​ROMs versus slides. He is frustrated with antiquated technologies, with people still using telephone lines for the web (120). In Act Three, similarly, Goldsmith promotes with passionate intensity to a potential client—​an NYU law school professor—​his advantages as a web designer with an artistic sensibility over more technical, but less creative, webmasters. “What I can do over the next week is to create a mood for the site which is what I do best” (173). He offers to develop promotional tools for prospective students, and considers including Daumier-​t ype drawings on the site (174). Still working in 1996 with the comparatively primitive and embodied technology of capturing sound through an unfiltered micro taping of his own voice to create Soliloquy as a small press conceptual book of poetry in 2001, Goldsmith would subsequently become a leading proponent of the “uncreative writing” movement in works such as Seven American Deaths and Disasters (2013) in which Goldsmith transcribes materials he discovers on the web and repurposes them for another small press poetry publication. He will theorize his own projects as unreadable, which he claims in a manifesto is “the last thing on this poetry’s mind” (Perloff, Unoriginal Genius, 147). But Soliloquy is the pivotal text. It establishes his awareness of the web’s potential for the dissemination of found language.

3

(In)decisive Moments and Bad Conceptual Art: On Kenneth Goldsmith’s Seven American Deaths and Disasters

I. The (in)decisive moment Kenneth Goldsmith has been at the forefront of the “uncreative writing” movement in our digital era, which, he states, transforms a writer into something resembling “a programmer” (Uncreative Writing, 1).1 In Seven American Deaths and Disasters (2013), however, he turns attention away from his primarily (and ironically) autobiographical emphasis on recurrent, quotidian, and domestic experiences typical for a contemporary US urbanite. In prior books, he transcribed weather reports in Weather (2005), traffic patterns in Traffic (2007), and The New York Times and New York Yankees radio play-​by-​play transcripts in Day (2003) and Sports (2008). In Fidget (2000), he recorded thirteen hours of minute descriptions of bodily actions—​Goldsmith blinks, lifts a coffee cup, blinks again, then tugs at the back of his pants—​w ith the effect, according to Tan Lin, that it is as if “the body [were] produced mechanically by information systems, the chief of which is language” (Lin, “Information Archives”). And in Soliloquy (2001), as noted in Chapter 2, he transcribed one week of audio tapes from April 1996 containing only his half of conversations, sometimes concerning the quality of the paneer at a new Indian joint, sometimes his relationship to other players in New York’s art world, thus accomplishing, according to Gordon

1  Signs of Goldsmith’s renown include a visit to the Obama White House to lead a poetry workshop, an appearance on the Colbert Report, accession to the rank of inaugural poet laureate to the Museum of Modern Art in New  York City in 2013, inclusion in the second edition of Postmodern American Poetry: A Norton Anthology, and essays devoted to his “information age” poetics in PMLA and The New Yorker.

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Tapper, “the curious feat of exposing, but not excavating the self” (2).2 The focus of Seven American Deaths and Disasters, by contrast, is on unfortunate events and infamous incidents in American history and popular culture ranging from the JFK assassination of November 22, 1963 to the death of Michael Jackson on June 25, 2009, but commemorated in a decidedly uncreative manner.3 As in his other books, Goldsmith’s Seven American Deaths and Disasters serves an archival function, a conceptual one, and, I’d argue, counterintuitively, a lyrical, even autobiographical one. Doubly archival and doubly appropriative, we can also say that Goldsmith lifts the theoretical underpinnings of Conceptual Art from the mid-​1960s to the late 1970s—​which, ironically, took visual culture in a linguistic turn in works such as Dan Graham’s “Schema” (1966), Joseph Kosuth’s “Clear Square Glass Leaning” and “Self-​Described and Self-​Defined” (both 1965), Lawrence Weiner’s “Many Colored Objects Placed Side by Side” (1979), and Mel Bochner’s “Language Is Not Transparent” (1970).4 Because he “took as his subject matter the totality of all systems,” however, the work of German–​ American Conceptual artist Hans Haacke (b. 1936), a critic of the relationships between museums, business interests, and the financial industries that sponsor exhibitions and whose leaders serve as museum trustees, may be most germane to how I  approach Seven American Deaths and Disasters (Corris,  192). Art historian Michael Corris summarizes Fredric Jameson’s reading of Haacke’s task as comparable “to homeopathy, writing that the artist ‘poses the political dilemma of a new cultural politics:  how to struggle within the world of the simulacrum by using the arms and weapons specific to that world which are

2  “While traditional notions of writing are primarily focused on ‘originality’ and ‘creativity,’ the digital environment fosters new skill sets that include ‘manipulation’ and ‘management’ of the heaps of already existent and ever-​increasing language,” writes Goldsmith in Uncreative Writing: Managing Language in the Digital Age (15). 3  In a manifesto, Goldsmith has stated conceptual “writing obstinately makes no claims on originality. On the contrary, it employs intentionally self and ego effacing tactics using uncreativity, unoriginality, illegibility, appropriation, plagiarism, fraud, theft, and falsification as its precepts; information management, word processing, databasing, and extreme process as its methodologies; and boredom . . . as its ethos. Language as junk, language as detritus. . . . entartete sprache, everyday speech, illegibility, unreadability, machinistic repetition” (Perloff, Unoriginal Genius, 147). 4  “Visual conceptual art makes its own compelling case for graphicality,” Johanna Drucker states in “Un-​Visual and Conceptual.” She adds: “Lawrence Weiner’s stenciled letters on the wall, as industrial and un-​aesthetic as he can make them, or John Baldessari’s otherwise-​empty 1967 canvas ‘True Beauty’ in block letters are striking instances of self-​conscious use of graphical codes” (6). Most relevant to my reception of Goldsmith is the conceptual “artist’s invitation to the spectator to participate in the creation or completion of the work’s meaning” as an “aspect of the social dimension of Conceptual art” (Corris, 23).



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themselves very precisely simulacra’ ” (192). Noting how the radio personalities who originally broadcast upsetting news reports were already referencing prior tropes and ideologically driven narratives based in responses to earlier American crises, Goldsmith, following Jameson’s reading of Haacke’s art as a simulacra doubled upon itself, exposes “on the spot” journalism as already framed (and thus, however imperfectly, contained) through discursive conventions that deflect attention from the disorienting occurrences happening in front of the reporter’s eyes. From this Jameson/​Haacke perspective, we may add the project of sociopolitical critique to the archival, conceptual, and autobiographical tasks I  assigned to Seven American Deaths and Disasters at the start of this essay. Discussing Charles Bernstein’s aversion to “frame lock,” Alan Golding writes: “The digital medium provides Bernstein with a much wider palette with which to counter ‘the deadly boring fetishization . . . of expository ordering’ (admittedly the kind of ordering I’m offering here.) Play with color and layout allow further possibilities for interrupting the tonal seriousness and structural predictability of normative academic writing—​what Bernstein calls elsewhere ‘frame lock’ and ‘its cousin tone jam’ ” (Golding, “Language Writing, Digital Poetics,” 269).5 Sensitive to how broadcasters have “frame locked” and “tone jammed” a half-​century of American political narration and cultural history to avoid disrupting the national imaginary, Goldsmith’s eccentric play with web-​ sourced transcriptions of prior media frames—​ in the “Afterword,” Goldsmith comments, “an internet search led me to sites where numerous 9/​11 radio airchecks were housed”—​follows Bernstein and Haacke in destabilizing predictable responses to bad news (172).6

  Susan Schultz writes that Bernstein “defines ‘frame lock’ as ‘an insistence on a univocal surface, minimal shifts of mood either within paragraphs or between paragraphs, exclusion of extraneous or contradictory material, and tone restricted to the narrow affective envelope of sobriety, neutrality, objectivity, authoritativeness, or deanimated abstraction’ ” (3). 6  Commenting on the historical underpinnings of Goldsmith’s archival imagination, Tan Lin argues, “Goldsmith’s roots lie ultimately in the Victorian era and writers like Henry Mayhew who walked countless miles to compile his four-​volume London Labour and the London Poor in 1849–​50 and who ended up creating one of the first oral histories. Mayhew aimed to ‘publish the history of a people, from the lips of the people themselves—​g iving a literal description of their labour, their earnings, their trials, and their sufferings, in their own ‘unvarnished’ language  .  .  .  ’ ” (Tan Lin, Information Archives, the De-​Materialization of Language, and Kenneth Goldsmith’s Fidget and No. 111 2.7.9310.20.96, 1–​2). By contrast to Tan Lin’s view of Goldsmith as a populist, Ron Silliman has critiqued Goldsmith for eliding a concern with the least among us even as Goldsmith claims that his work is an unfiltered blanket recording of sounds. “Imagine, for example, someone documenting every move a homeless person made during the day. That would be an utterly dissimilar project than any of Goldsmith’s, calling up all kinds of social issues around poverty, but also around surveillance 5

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I suspect N. Katherine Hayles would describe his work as “post human” because it produces subjectivity through an interface of human activity with intelligent machines (in Goldsmith’s case with his use of the web).7 At the same time, Goldsmith himself notices in an interview with Dave Mandl in The Believer that his works create sites for interpersonal exchange:  “they’re wonderful to talk about.” Implicit in Goldsmith’s comment about how the transcripts serve as prompts for reflection and subsequent conversation are Bernstein’s understanding in his online essay “An Mosaic for Convergence” (1997) of the potential for the internet to foster “interactions and interconnections among many sites of production” that enable us to better understand the “social” and “interpersonal” dimensions of poetry.8 Goldsmith’s comment that his work is “wonderful to talk about” speaks to the collaborationist and communitarian impulses of much new media oriented writing—​The Route, inbox, and An Army of Lovers are examples I discuss later in this book—​a nd also echoes Emerson’s understanding in “The American Scholar” of interpretation as creative endeavor: One must be an inventor to read well. As the proverb says, “He that would bring home the wealth of the Indies, must carry out the wealth of the Indies.” There is then creative reading as well as creative writing. When the mind is braced by labor and invention, the page of whatever book we read becomes luminous with manifold allusion. Every sentence is doubly significant, and the sense of our author is as broad as the world. (4)9 and real ‘appropriation.’ All these choices would set up a network of connotations, including contradictory political dimensions that the reader/​v iewer would have to confront. But since Kenny Goldsmith’s actual art project is the projection of Kenny Goldsmith, these are the kinds of questions his work passes over in silence” (Silliman, 3). 7   Adelaide Morris defines the term “posthuman”: “Although the term ‘posthuman’ has been defined in various ways, the common element in its use is a synergy between human beings and intelligent machines. [T]‌his synergy has profound implications for the category ‘literature’ and its subset ‘poetry’ as they enter into combinations with networked and programmable machines to emerge in such amalgams as ‘electronic literature’ or ‘e-​poetries’ ” (4). 8   In “An Mosaic for Convergence,” Bernstein addresses the interpersonal dimension of web-​based poetry: “Poems exist much more crucially in a social, in the sense of interpersonal, space than is often acknowledged. We have less single lyric poems than interactions and interconnections among many poetic sites of production. The meaning of the work is in the interconnectivity and not in any single site. The Internet suggests many remarkable opportunities for collaboration, discussion, exchange, distribution.” 9  As Mark Edmundson has written in Why Read? (2004):  “For Emerson, the reader can do more than discover the language of herself in great writing. Emerson’s reader uses a book as an imaginative goad. He can begin compounding visions of experience that pass beyond what’s manifest in the book at hand. This, presumably, is what happened when Shakespeare read



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As Emerson would suppose, my disposition as reader of the transcribed “sentences [already made] doubly significant” by Goldsmith’s recontextualizing them in Seven American Deaths and Disasters transforms unsung source material into an “imaginative goad.” By coming to terms with web-​sourced re-​presentations of hackneyed radio and television broadcasts concerning the deaths of John and Robert Kennedy, John Lennon and Michael Jackson, as well as the Space Shuttle Challenger and World Trade Tower disasters in the Wordsworthian situation of memory recollected in the tranquility of appraising a repetition of the broadcasts, I experience an uncannily fresh response to “boring” and often slipshod reportage.10 My reaction to Seven American Deaths and Disasters differs from Goldsmith’s theoretical assessment of what he calls his “nutritionless” project. My reading is closer to the responses of Christian Bok and Brian Kim Stefans. Stefans found Sports, the transcript of a radio broadcast of the Boston Red Sox versus New York Yankees baseball game from August 2006—​t he longest in Major League history—​to be “quite a gripping text” (Stefans quoted in Wershler, 3). In a review of Soliloquy, Bok states that although Goldsmith “takes pride in the fact that his soliloquy is relentless and unreadable,” he, Bok, finds surprising, narrative novelties, since the author does in fact create suspense for readers; first, by expressing recurrent anxieties about foreshadowed people; second, by conducting enigmatic dialogues with unintroduced people—​so that, in both cases, the reader continues to peruse the text in order to discover either the awkward dialogue with the awaited person, still forthcoming, or the gossipy anecdote about the unknown person, already encountered. Goldsmith, of course, retells similar stories to diverse friends, creating space for dramatic irony, particularly when he changes details of the same tale to suit the persons present (behaving amiably, for example, with a person whom Holinshed’s Chronicles or even Plutarch’s Lives. These are major sources for the plays, yes, but in reading them Shakespeare made their sentences doubly significant, and the sense of their authors as broad as the world” (4–​5). 10   In “William Butler Yeats: ‘Easter, 1916’: How the conflict of a nation was captured by a politically reluctant poet,” Ange Mlinko notes, “Repetition, circularity, and closure are as important to spells as they are to lullabies or nursery rhymes. In The Virtues of Poetry, James Longenbach points out that repetition is essential as therapy, where trauma must be psychologically processed: ‘The line must be said again, and then again, the past dragged into the present so that the trauma of the Easter Rebellion, difficult to process at the historical moment of its happening, might truly be experienced.’  ” http://​w ww.poetryfoundation.org/​learning/​g uide/​247616

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I quote from Bok on Soliloquy at some length here because my strange enjoyment in reading Seven American Deaths and Disasters—​as well as what makes the volume a displaced reflection on Goldsmith’s lived experience in line with prior “uncreative” works more obviously connected to his personal life as a New  York City resident—​derives, as with Bok’s comments about his pleasure in noting the ironies in Goldsmith’s “revising the details of his stories with each recital,” from the psychological conception of the Repetition Compulsion implicit in Goldsmith’s project. As Gerard Bonnet has noted, Jacques Lacan “saw repetition compulsion as one of the four major concepts of psychoanalysis, along with the unconscious, transference, and the instincts. He used it as the basis for his distinction between jouissance (enjoyment) and pleasure, with jouissance being situated ‘beyond the pleasure principle’ as the desired result of repetition of the worst carried to its extreme.”11 In form and content, Goldsmith’s transcriptions are “repetition[s]‌of the worst carried to its extreme.” Concerning prominent disasters that have befallen US culture since 1963—​given that Goldsmith was born in 1961 we may read his selections as the emergency soundtrack that traces his own existence—​ the book is itself something of a compulsive repetition of avant-​garde literary and art movements from the 1960s. Critic Darren Wershler, for example, notes that Goldsmith’s “overall aesthetics” are indebted to his own “careful positionings of [his] work in the context of the 1960s art world” ranging  Returning to Freud, Bonnet continues, “Repetition compulsion is an inherent, primordial tendency in the unconscious that impels the individual to repeat certain actions, in particular, the most painful or destructive ones” (Gale answers online). Freud believed the repetition compulsion was related to the Death Drive, hence making the topic of Goldsmith’s volume an especially prescient one for him to explore the primal pull to repeat traumatic episodes. Fundamentally conservative in nature, and, in his initial understanding of it a productive mechanism related to the process of therapeutic transference, Freud in his later work understood the compulsion to repeat as a destructive principle. He associated the urge to repeat with oddly satisfying experiences of guilt and self-​hatred:

11

Freud associated it with primary masochism, in which the subject turns violence against himself and subjugates his libido to it, endlessly repeating certain damaging patterns based on experiences rooted at the deepest levels within the self. He theorized that this is a way of tolerating feelings of guilt. The individual manifests a tendency to destroy and suffer, which brings with it feelings of overwhelming satisfaction, all of which are vestiges of a time when the individual did not yet have a sense of reality. (Bonnet)



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from Godard’s Week-​End to “the investigations of Cage and Mac Low” and, in more recent work, “into boredom and the ‘found’ poetry of Bern Porter to Andy Warhol and 60s pop’s mechanical reproductions of popular culture” (“Kenneth Goldsmith’s American Trilogy”).12 In terms of form, Goldsmith follows precursors such as Jackson Mac Low, who, Liz Kotz argues, attempted to “suppress overt personal expression through procedural means” in his compositions, which “produce poems by using prechosen word sequences to draw words from an existing text, and then arrange them into lines and stanzas” (120; 125). But whereas Mac Low selected texts of a very high order—​he used words by Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore in Stanzas for Iris Lezak and lifted language from The Old Testament in “ ‘first biblical poem’ ” (1968)—​Goldsmith has picked as his “prechosen word sequences” some of the stylistically “worst” broadcasts of eyewitness accounts of tragic events that I, for one, have ever encountered (Kotz, 122; 125).13 What I will be calling (with a nod to French modernist street photographer Henri Cartier-​Bresson[1908–​ 2004]) “indecisive moments”—​the journalistic stammering as a sign of an inability to remain legible, denials as symptoms of the trauma after such disavowals become unfeasible, informational missteps, and embarrassing outbursts that reveal unconscious racist, violent, and xenophobic impulses in the reporters—​in short the “worstness” of the transcripts—​once reframed in the context of a Goldsmithian transcript—​become for me weirdly moving and bad (in the awful and funky senses) reflections on the limits of language to contain traumatic experience through ideological templates. Given Goldsmith’s statement that with “conceptual writing, the idea is much more interesting than the resultant texts,” I  found myself wondering:  why

12   Discussing with interviewer Mark Allen the way the 9/11 disaster unfolded for DJs, Goldsmith himself makes comparisons with Godard:  “Unhinged from their media personalities, these DJs became ordinary citizens, more like guys in a bar than representatives of purported rationality and truth. Opinions—​some of them terribly misinformed—​inflected and infected their supposedly objective reportage. Racism and xenophobia were rampant—​ somehow the DJs couldn’t help themselves. Technical fuck-​ups abounded: on-​t he-​scene reporters were nowhere to be found, cell phones went unanswered, audio clips ended abruptly, eyewitnesses were absent. And then there was silence—​t he greatest fear of broadcasters—​lots of dead air. It was as if the essence of media was being revealed whilst its skin was in tatters. Unwittingly structuralist, the whole thing felt like a Godard film. I felt I had to transcribe and capture this amazing speech on the page, hence this book.” 13   Wershler writes: “The Weather, Traffic, and Sports are all profoundly aural texts, representative of particular patterns of listening to text and transcribing it” (2).

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is Goldsmith bent on theorizing his writings as avant-​garde experiments in banality when, as Freud and Lacan have noted, the urge to repeat is such a psychologically telling gesture? What might be the underlying impulse for Goldsmith to repeat disasters? Why the guilt? Here I  think his experience of 9/​11 matters. He notes that he was in Greenwich Village when the World Trade Center collapsed: As I stood silently on the corner of Bleeker Street and Sixth Avenue watching the towers fall, a parked car with a loudspeaker system blasted an AM radio station that was narrating the very events I was witnessing. There was a strange disconnect—​a feeling of simulacra and spectacle—​as if this show had been planned and presented the way that, say, reality television had recently begun to permeate our lives (171).[  .  .  .  ]Over the years, that radio broadcast stuck with me. I thought about the newscasters themselves: how did they even find the words to describe that which they certainly thought they’d never have to witness? And what were the exact words they used? (172)

Himself a “DJ for the alternative radio station WFMU,” Goldsmith describes his uncanny relation to an event, happening near him, but already mediated on TV and radio (Norton Postmodern, 700). Following Jean Baudrillard’s account in The Spirit of Terrorism and Other Essays (2002) of the terror attacks as “not ‘real.’ In a sense it [was] worse; it [was] symbolic,” Goldsmith sensed that he was witness to a staged event in a reality TV program (29). The perception that mediation becomes part of the event—​a s in Marshall McLuhan’s media theory and as exhibited in Hannah Weiner’s Weeks, is the event—​becomes evident in many of the Seven American Deaths and Disasters accounts. In the Robert Kennedy section, for example, the police turn off power in the ballroom where RFK was shot in Los Angeles to force media outlets to evacuate the premises so it could be cordoned off as a crime scene. In the section on the World Trade Center, TV transmission is blocked because the satellite antennas, which stood atop the towers, were destroyed. Is Seven American Deaths and Disasters Goldsmith’s way of working through his traumatic experience on 9/​11—​including the way it was imagined, often misrepresented, and labeled from the start as “America under Attack” with all the suspiciousness, scapegoating, and finger pointing that title entailed? Goldsmith displays an ironic distance from the broadcast transcripts that are the sources for his book. We also notice his emotional investment in the material even as perceptive readers such as Tan Lin have argued that his



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writings are “divorced from emotion, subjectivity, and fantasy” and that his antipsychological works produce “no memories” (“Information Archives,” 2).14 I am suggesting Goldsmith’s 9/​11 experiences relate to his book, but let me also take Goldsmith on his own terms as a conceptual poet. Just how provocative is the conception for the latest book? Transcripts of seven American “deaths and disasters” from 1963 (death of JFK) to 2009 (death of Michael Jackson). The concept is indebted to Warhol’s “Death and Disaster” series as well (Goldsmith tells us) to “Kota Ezawa’s chilling animated renderings of American media events” (176)?15 Another Goldsmithian example of what he calls his “archival impulse” (169) to do “nothing other than what I  had done with Day:  I  was simply transcribing what lay before me” (171), Seven American Deaths and Disasters differs somewhat from Goldsmith’s prior uncreative writing efforts. Where earlier works focused on “rendering the mundane in language” (169), Seven Deaths concerns dramatic (if incoherent and clichéd) renderings of events of national import and even international consequence. In “Conceptual Poetics,” Goldsmith has written that “Conceptual writing is good only when the idea is good; often, the idea is much more interesting than the resultant texts.” But, as an idea, Goldsmith is rehashing American calamities that in many cases have already been appropriated by visual conceptualists such as Warhol and Ezawa. Simulations of many of these events have already appeared in other media (one thinks of Oliver Stone’s film JFK [1991] and Don DeLillo’s novel Libra [1988]). My point is I don’t find Goldsmith’s repetition

 Goldsmith writes:  “I limited my choices to the American post-​ Kennedy era partly for autobiographical reasons:  all seven events depicted here were ones that I  lived through which changed me, and a nation, forever.” (173) Hyperbole—​a form of cognitive distortion—​seems to be a signature aspect of disaster discourse. 15   The “Warhol website” informs us: 14

Drawing on iconic film and photographic imagery, Kota Ezawa creates vividly colored, stylized animations that speak to the role of mass media in shaping collective memory. The artist represents emotionally charged events through abstract renderings that are shown as light boxes, film, and video projections. With The Unbearable Lightness of Being Ezawa investigates how film contributes to American mythologies surrounding celebrity and violence. The work depicts the assassinations of U.S. Presidents Abraham Lincoln and John F.  Kennedy. Ezawa recreated two film segments:  the fictional account of Lincoln’s assassination in Ford’s Theater, as portrayed in D. W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation (1915), and Abraham Zapruder’s amateur 8mm reel of the Kennedy assassination. Both films have had a controversial history as contested accounts: one as a racist fictional reenactment, the other an evidentiary document. Source: http://​w ww.sfmoma.org/​explore/​collection/​a rtwork/​123366#ixzz2V6nIXKtr San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

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of the conceptual model for the new book especially thought-​provoking even though he tweaks the project by working with digital media and (unusual for him) topics that are not routine. So why read (or think) it? Only someone who never could stay awake during a high school history class or who even bothered to glance at the tube while the news rolled by as the background ambient noise and light of our daily lives would read Goldsmith’s book for historical information. True, there are relatively obscure factoids some might have forgotten or never known: an assassination attempt had been made on Harry Truman by Puerto Rican nationalists in 1950; James Garfield is the other assassinated twentieth-​ century president; another Johnson (Andrew) was vice president when another president was assassinated; although it is commonly known as the Texas Book Depository, the official name of the building from which Oswald fired his rifle is the Sexton Building; Farah Fawcett and Michael Jackson died on the same day; “local screwball” Mark David Chapman was from Hawaii and had gotten Lennon’s autograph days before he shot him. Not exactly earth shattering info worth wading through almost 200 pages of transcripts to acquire. Goldsmith states that “quantity” not “quality” drives his project (“language more concerned with quantity than quality”), but my enjoyment, oddly enough, turned less on pondering the overall conception than with what Cartier-​Bresson termed “The Decisive Moment.” My nod to Cartier-​Bresson’s candid camera is, of course, tongue-​in-​cheek. Perhaps “indecisive moment” is the apt term. Contra the quintessential street photographer, Goldsmith follows Dadaists, Popists, and Conceptualists in deemphasizing romantic notions of genius, inspiration, originality, skill, or mimesis. By contrast, iconic Cartier-​Bresson black and white photographs of a man jumping over a puddle behind La Gare Saint Lazare in Paris in 1932, a blurred bicyclist darting down a curving stone street as seen from atop a spiral staircase, a round-​faced French boy in shorts carrying two large bottles of dark wine, a fully clothed couple supine on a rocky shoreline, their heads concealed by a black umbrella, dancers at Queen Charlotte’s Ball, or of a couple kissing, illustrate the French modernist favored immediacy. Cartier-​Bresson sought inspiration as disciplined by precise craftsmanship and an eye toward intriguing geometrical compositional patterns. Self-​consciously an archivist of the quotidian and an obsessive-​compulsive collector of sounds as a volumetric indicator of human presence for an



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arbitrarily defined temporal duration in the Cage tradition, Goldsmith is the master of repetition. Cartier-​Bresson, by contrast, captures a fleeting moment of someone else’s lived experience with his small Leica (painted black for concealment) and the 50 mm lens that he likened to his eyes. For Cartier-​Bresson, such experience would otherwise be lost to posterity if the photographer were not present on the scene and poised to snap the shutter at the precise second to rescue a poignant moment or beautiful gesture from oblivion. The broadcasts Goldsmith transcribed for Deaths and Disasters were available for years to be lifted out of the internet’s shadows. They did not require Cartier-​Bresson’s aesthetic gifts to “trap” a fleeting moment. And yet who before Goldsmith cared to resurrect the broadcasts from having already fallen into the void of an overloaded and digitalized cultural storage system? Archivists of the quotidian, Cartier-​Bresson and Goldsmith call attention to moments that would have been deemed insignificant if the photographer or poet had not re-​presented them. We would pay scant attention had not the photographer framed the image of the man jumping the puddle in Paris in 1932. The same is true had not Goldsmith framed portions of the Dallas radio station KLIF on November 22, 1963 by juxtaposing news bulletins of a possible shooting at the presidential motorcade, advertisements for Hamm’s beer and Armour meat products, and Sandra Dee song lyrics. There is, however, a difference between how Cartier-​Bresson and Goldsmith conserve unheralded moments. The former saves the decisive moment from oblivion by capturing its image prior to its disappearance from lived experience. The latter saves the decisive moment from oblivion through re-​presentation of an artifact after it had been discredited as possessing momentousness in the first place, and thus had been relegated to the netherworld of always available but never consulted internet archive.

II. Bad conceptual art (is the new good) Goldsmith’s transcribed broadcasts (I almost just typed bored-​ casts) are far away from the precise renderings of nuanced experiences as framed by a modern photographer who bought into the conception of artist as intuitive

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genius such as Cartier-​Bresson. Goldsmith’s transcripts of American deaths and disasters in fact may be an illustration of what Saturday Night Live’s Leonard Pinth-​Garnell dubbed “Bad Conceptual Art.” Perhaps not so ludicrous as the excerpt from Pavlov’s “Video Chicken I” as performed by the late Gilda Radner from Saturday Night Live in 1978 as introduced by the fey Garnell as performed by Dan Aykroyd, neck draped in silk scarf and upper lip hidden by pencil-​thin moustache. Nor are they framed with such humorous pretension as Aykroyd’s conceptualization of “bad” art recast on a hip late night art show masquerading as a dull late night art show. At the same time, in Conceptual Art such as Goldsmith’s the compulsion to repeat the worst of the Bad is the new Good. The badness of the transcripts Goldsmith represents Seven American Deaths and Disasters, I am suggesting, are best when they are at their worst because that is when their tellingly (in)decisive (read: discursively traumatized) moments emerge. My admiration for Goldsmith’s transcriptions of American disaster dovetails with “Bad Films” scholar Lance Duerfahrd’s appreciation in Ed Wood’s Plan 9 From Outer Space of an out-​of-​place pillow in a graveyard scene, which, he, Duerfahrd, comments “help us toward a sense of beauty that includes these small acts of disorder, or make room in our sense of what belongs and what doesn’t” (18): The bad films I revere do artlessly what every art film seeks consciously to do:  refuse our entry into it. Their poor craftsmanship—​a sudden cut, the mysterious displacement or appearance of a prop, an unintended response in the audience—​won’t let the spectator disappear into the film. The well made Hollywood film is like successful taxidermy: the dissimulation is so good that for a brief moment you forget that the thing is dead . . . We suffer the bad film and need an imagination to relate to it because it refuses us all the pre-​fabricated paths (for our interest, our attention, our wanting to believe). (17)

As with Duerfahrd’s attention to details in an Ed Wood scene (such as a peculiarly short cut of pants) that the critic does not think he would notice in a conventional Hollywood movie, I am fascinated when discursive incoherence in the Goldsmith transcripts calls attention to the materiality of an art form that resists seamless mimesis. Disjointedness in the transcripts, like Ed Wood’s pillow in the graveyard, brings us closer to a confrontation with an unruly quality of reality that resists containment through fictions of social order. (In) decisive Moments occur when things, in Goldsmith’s terms, go “spinning out



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of control” in the seven sections of Goldsmith’s text.16 They manifest when what Cartier-​Bresson calls the “Oop” emerges or when what Lacan called “the symbolic” is punctured by blundering, rhetorical missteps, shoddy repetitions of misunderstood information or misinformation, and discursive incoherence.17 (In)decisive moments in Goldsmith suggest what Lacan referred to as “the real,”18 which in Goldsmith transcripts occur when language breaks down into gibberish, as in the following extensive segment from Chapter 6, on the World Trade Center disaster: We have lost . . . Again, our transmitter is on top of the World Trade Center. So we, apparently, have lost contact . . . (131) Now this, uh, Ed. Was the World Trade Center Two. Oh my gosh! This is . . . this is absolutely . . . Uh, Joe, we can’t  .  .  .  I  can’t tell from my perspective, eh  .  .  .  exactly what’s . . . what’s happened here . . . how much of the building is still standing. But . . . but . . . but . . . but . . . but . . . Ed . . . but Ed it looks like the side portion of that has totally fallen and there is just a huge cloud of dust that is encompassing several city blocks. Oh God . . . eh . . . eh . . . what . . . this . . . this . . . would . . . this would fall into the area of Lower Manhattan toward, uh, the eastern portion of the World Trade Center. It looks . . . now . . . uh . . . eh . . . is that? I’m trying to look . . . Can you see? Is that building still there? I . . . I can’t tell. I don’t see it. (138)

 Himself a perceptive reader of such (in)decisive moments of linguistic rupture, Goldsmith comments on the excruciating pleasure of bad reportage in the “Afterword”: “The slick curtain of media was torn, revealing acrobatic linguistic improvisations. There was a sense of things spinning out of control:  facts blurred with speculation as the broadcasters attempted to furiously weave convincing narratives from shards of half-​t ruths” (172). 17   “There is a creative fraction of a second when you are taking a picture. Your eye must see a composition or an expression that life itself offers you, and you must know with intuition when to click the camera. That is the moment the photographer is creative,” he said. “Oop! The Moment! Once you miss it, it is gone forever,” wrote Cartier-​Bresson in the Washington Post in 1957 (10). 18   Dino Felluga writes:  “As far as humans are concerned, however, ‘the real is impossible,’ as Lacan was fond of saying. It is impossible in so far as we cannot express it in language because the very entrance into language marks our irrevocable separation from the real. Still, the real continues to exert its influence throughout our adult lives since it is the rock against which all our fantasies and linguistic structures ultimately fail. The real for example continues to erupt whenever we are made to acknowledge the materiality of our existence, an acknowledgement that is usually perceived as traumatic (since it threatens our very ‘reality’), although it also drives Lacan’s sense of jouissance.” 16

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Not Born Digital Let’s just think about this logically./​ There is no logic. /​ Oh my God!/​ . . . uh . . . uh . . . a hijacked air . . . air . . . airliner. (139) This morning of this day . . . the 11th of September, 2001 . . . will live in infamy. There’s almost no textbook for any of us here on the radio to figure out just what to say. There are no words at all to express this. (141) We’re in the worst place we can be. We can’t see a thing!/​It’s gone! Are you saying it’s gone?/​It’s gone It’s gone! We can’t see anything! All this smoke is moving and there’s no towers standing there anymore. We do have confirmation, that the, the north tower . . . has collapsed./​Oh, yes, it’s not there!/​It is not there./​It is not there. (142) And, um, it’s . . . it’s . . . it is a situation beyond description. (144)

Unlike Cartier-​Bresson’s Hemingwayesque privileging of artistic grace under pressure, the broadcaster’s wording here is imprecise, his style inelegant, the quality of “content” not informative. We are not terribly impressed with Goldsmith’s belated skill and cheeky wit in reframing the original local radio broadcasts from WABC, WOR, WFAN, and WNYC as pieces of appropriative “uncreative writing.” Rather, the “indecisive moments” are compelling because they encourage us to downplay aesthetic merits or philosophical questions of authorial originality while readers uncannily repeat exposure to the raw terror facing the broadcaster. Following trauma theorist Cathy Caruth’s observation that “it may indeed be in those moments that are least assimilable to understanding that a referential dimension may be said to emerge,” we identify as readers with how the broadcaster’s dread overwhelms his attempt to compose a legible account of disaster (3). Uninterested in locating cool, calm, and collected representations of a crisis of the Anderson Cooper variety via the World Wide Web archive, Goldsmith re-​presents an inscription of disaster, “a situation beyond description.” Like Barrett Watten’s version of Laura Riding, cited in my introductory chapter, as a poet of linguistic “insufficiency” when confronted with the “unrepresentable,” Goldsmith calls attention to rhetorical disability as registered through stammering phrases—​“It looks . . . now . . . uh . . . eh . . . is that?”—​as well as expressions of a crisis of visibility. As in classic twentieth-​ century American poems such as “Home Burial” (1914) by Robert Frost (“The wonder is I didn’t see it from here before./​I must be wonted to it—​that’s the reason,” states the husband when he realizes his estranged wife has been staring at their child’s gravesite) [Frost, 205] and “The Fish” (1940) by Elizabeth



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Bishop (“and then I saw//​t hat from his lower lip—​grim, wet, and weaponlike, hung five old pieces of fish-​line,/​or four and a wire leader/​with the swivel still attached,/​with all their five big hooks/​gown firmly in his mouth,” states the speaker, who earlier in the poem merely looked at the fish she had caught and described it as “tremendous” (Bishop, 21–​22), we sense the unstable relation between “looking” and “seeing.” Can we look at something and not see it? Can this discrepancy be so because that something has vanished, or is it because we lack the understanding to truly see it, to recognize it as a new fact? Are we suffering from a physiological blindness or is there, in fact, nothing to see except for the Stevensian “nothing that is”? Is the condition of disappearance permanent or will the scales lift from our eyes? Will the smoke settle on the streets and visibility be restored? If visibility is restored, can we tolerate what we will see? Is blindness the new normal? How does one witness an absence? The 9/​11 broadcaster’s voicing of anxiety and stress, which one associates with modernism (Eliot’s “I cannot say just what I mean”; the evacuated landscapes of Beckettian dramas), are revitalized through Goldsmith’s appropriation of obscure broadcasters, out of their depth, trying to cope with the trauma of a disappearing world as they say the unsayable on New York City radio stations including WABC, WOR, WFAN, and WNYC. Revealing a response to trauma, in Albena Lutzkanova-​ Vassileva’s terms, “as an epistemological disruption—​an event that, due to its sudden and unanticipated nature, has failed to be integrated in the structures of the mind, thus remaining unspeakable,” 9/​11 disc jockeys are tongue-​tied, but we notice another characteristic of trauma testimony that carries through in the other six American disasters transcribed by Goldsmith (2). However awkward the reports, however disoriented the reporters, the tendency is to withdraw focus from the indecisive moment. The tendency is to remember a piece of language—​a heartening phrase from a related “decisive moment” in the American imaginary—​to frame—​and thus, however inadequately, to attempt to contain—​t he disappearance of an iconic sign (in this case the Twin Towers) of the continuous existence of that imaginary space. And so there is, amidst the muttering, the emergence of the echo of the reassuring Brahmin voice of FDR: “This morning of this day . . . the 11th of September, 2001 . . . will live in infamy. There’s almost no textbook for any of us here on the radio to figure out just what to say. There are no words at all to express this” (141). There is “almost no textbook for any of us here,” but the announcer’s instinct—​his

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invocation of what Jameson would term a political unconscious—​is to create a textbook by linking Pearl Harbor to the Twin Towers and by concentrating on a notorious date—​December 7, 1941—​to facilitate the mnemonic process of installing September 11, 2001 as a contemporaneous repetition of chronological memorialization. Radio personalities, unprepared to interpret a tragedy, intuitively tap into the national imaginary to channel Roosevelt. They translate an absence—​a crisis they cannot speak in their own words—​as available to history. Goldsmith detaches poetry from obvious signs of originality. He also teaches us that eyewitness testimony is already a witness to second-​hand smoke, or what Bernstein calls “frame lock” and what critics have called conceptual artist Hans Haacke’s concern with the “operational structure of organizations” such as those connected with the “transfer of information” (Corris, 192). Goldsmith thus puts us in a position to read history. Not history as filtered through a textbook, but history as an indication of the on-​site process in which raw terror becomes reframed as decisive event. Goldsmith, we might say, also allows history to read us. I mean in reading the transcripts we recall our own process of synthesizing personal traumas and national disasters into stories that conform to how we wish to imagine ourselves (as, for example, “survivors” with courageous qualities of endurance and flexibility).

III. Wake up and smile I experienced an uncanny (dare I say jouissance) sensation when reading how radio commentators try to contain through narrative, description, and fact-​ oriented historicizing unruly moments of terror. Reporters frame disruptions of the status quo by placing shocking events in historical contexts. They fixate on ascertaining inconsequential “facts” such as noting the precise minute when a victim has been pronounced “officially” dead or learning the birthplace of the assassin. (Comically, even the insignificant facts, which announcers grasp onto to avoid facing devastation that facts cannot conceal, go awry. Moments after RFK’s official death time is given at 1:44 a.m., for example, a reporter states:  “John  .  .  .  er, Robert Francis Kennedy died this morning at one forty” [69]. In the John Lennon chapter, a persistent observation that Mark David Chapman had a “smirk” on his face when taken into custody is eventually repeated as a “smear” [79]). Even when mangled, as in the RFK and



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John Lennon examples, we notice how verbal acts meant to contain eruptions of a “real” that defies language, betray symptoms of anxiety about the failure to control upsetting experience through language. It is in the report’s badness that the slippery nature of terror, the way it defies composure, interpretation, meaning, emerges. Earlier I referenced a late 1970s Saturday Night Live series on “Bad Conceptual Art.” Here I find myself recalling the outrageous “Wake Up and Smile!” (12/​09/​ 99) SNL sketch, written by Adam McKay, in which a local version of a “Today” type morning news, weather, and entertainment program experiences technical difficulties when a teleprompter goes awry on the twentieth anniversary special episode of their program: [a stagehand taps on the teleprompter, which keeps spitting out the same phrase Oliver keeps repeating] Diane: [panicking] Um . . . it.. it looks like we’re having some problems with the prompter here! . . . [Oliver and Diane are silent with stage fright] Oliver: [fumbling for something to say] The teleprompter on which everything we say appears on.. is broken . . . Diane: [trying to laugh] Please! Let’s get that teleprompter fixed! Oliver:  Uh.. we’re having what’s known in the business as.. technical times . . . right now . . . Diane: Uh . . . well . . . let’s go to . . . Tom . . . Bulcher.. with the weather . . . [cut to the weatherman on the side of the set, stunned by the broken teleprompter] Tim Baker: Blank screen.. no words on it.. got to think.. must think . . . [pause] Back to you  .  .  .  [cut back to Oliver and Diane, who are forced to “make something up”] Oliver:  Uh.. you know, Diane, I  had a notion the other day . . . Diane: Uh . . . well . . . uh . . . notions make . . . uh . . . this country happen  .  .  .  Oliver:  I  . . . I  . . . I  was thinking someone should get a group together.. uh.. with guns to sweep out those ghettos . . . [the show cuts to quick commercial, then comes right back to its frightened hosts] Diane: I . . . drive a red car . . . Oliver: Make sure those poor people stay away from it . . . they’ve got sores . . .

Co-​hosts Oliver, as played by Will Farrell, and Diane, as played by Nancy Walls, freak out and go into panic mode (sweating, feeling hungry, cold, hot) when their teleprompter malfunctions. Twenty-​year veteran co-​hosts of “Wake Up

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and Smile,” the pair, lacking imagination or improvisational skills, experience stage fright as they confront what is for them exposure to Lacan’s “the real.” (As Dino Felluga remarks “the very entrance into language marks our irrevocable separation from the real.”) As is the case in several of Goldsmith’s transcripts—​ the Robert Kennedy and World Trade Center chapters chief among them—​ a discursive breakdown precedes an unveiling of a return to language and actions that display the violently primordial underpinnings of “civil” society. Oliver asserts the need to form a group to defend the country against gangs: “I was thinking someone should get a group together.. uh.. with guns to sweep out those ghettos.” Lacking words on the teleprompter, Oliver goes Neanderthal. He creates a cave-​like bunker out of the set couches, and then transforms himself into a dominant tribal male leader of a savage cult with a hand symbol painted onto his naked chest. Eventually, he tears off the African-​American weathermen’s head, which he cannibalizes before order is restored when the teleprompter is fixed. In Goldsmith’s second chapter, on Robert F. Kennedy, a reporter notes: And there are fistfights around as various people just plain get too emotional and attack each other. (52) Kennedy fans and Kennedy supporters literally tried to beat the suspect to  death—​ t hey were really giving him quite a pummeling on the ground. (64)

As with Oliver’s barbaric instinct to create an enemy scapegoat, first through his comments about cleaning out the ghetto, then through his decapitation of the African-​American weatherman, whom he perceives as a threat to his dominance of the studio qua bunker, a radio commentator on the World Trade Center disaster, who immediately jumps to the conclusion that the airplane crash is a terrorist act, proclaims that the American people will demand a violent reprisal:  “So Lawrence Eagleburger said that George Bush needs to respond quickly and go after terrorism wherever terrorism exists, indicating that even if we don’t know for sure that they were the people directly responsible, we must go after those who support Osama bin Laden and who have done so in the past” (150). The transcriptions, as Goldsmith suggests in his “Afterword,” are compelling when what Bernstein calls the linguistic “veil” of an ordered society that abides by the rule of law, justice, and fair play comes apart and an anarchistic political unconscious, one raw, vengeance-​based, often racist, and



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filled with bloodlust, comes to the foreground.19 Put another way, Goldsmith reveals what American Studies scholar Richard Slotkin referred to as the nation’s tendency to regenerate through violence and maybe even what Freud would consider to be a national death drive.

IV. The meat the butcher brings home In his introduction to The Believer interview that I cited earlier, Dave Mandl states: Goldsmith’s work forces a drastic rethinking of what a book or text can be. Incorporating elements of surrealism, concretism, and sound poetry, his writing takes pleasure in words as things of beauty (or manipulable items of data) in and of themselves. His texts—​fi ltered and itemized—​go well beyond traditional “list poems,” betraying an almost Asperger’s-​like attraction to organization and categorization on a grand scale. His enthusiastic use of the advanced copy-​and-​paste techniques of the internet age pushes the limits of the postmodern remix or Situationist-​style détournement. At the same time, his work is a comment on (and an undisguised cheering-​on of) the obsolescence of authorship and originality.

Mandl reads Goldsmith as an aesthetic purist, an art for art’s saker. His focus is not on semantics or mimesis: “his writing takes pleasure in words as things of beauty (or manipulable items of data) in and of themselves.” And yet I am struck by how much emotion Goldsmith, seemingly without effort, wrings out of the second-​rate material he appropriates.20 In Chapter 1 for example, I re-​entered, as if for the first time, the drama unfolding in the Big D through the Dallas   Alan Golding reports: “The veil suggests to Bernstein the materiality of language: ‘Our language is our veil, but one that too often is made invisible. Yet, hiding the veil of language, its wordiness, its textures, its obstinate physicality, only makes matters worse’ ” (1999b, 32). Golding, in his essay “Language Writing, Digital Poetics, and Transitional Materialities (p. 273), quoting from Charles Bernstein in Bernstein’s book: My Way: Speeches and Poems. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999 (Golding, 273). 20   Closer to my own response are Goldsmith’s comments from the July/​August 2009 issue of Poetry, which features a little anthology of “Flarf and Conceptual Writing,” edited by Goldsmith. In the introductory essay, “Flarf is Dionysus. Conceptual Writing is Apollo,” he declares: “Start making sense. Disjunction is dead. The fragment, which ruled poetry for the past one hundred years, has left the building. Subjectivity, emotion, the body, and desire, as expressed in whole units of plain English with normative syntax, has returned. But not in ways you would imagine. This new poetry wears its sincerity on its sleeve  .  .  .  yet no one means a word of it. Come to think of it, no one’s really written a word of it. It’s been grabbed, cut, pasted, processed, machined, honed, flattened, 19

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radio station KLIF’s broadcast of the JFK assassination on November 22, 1963. The transcript includes advertisements for Thanksgiving turkeys, Armour cold cuts, Hamm’s beer, as well as hokey pop songs by Sandra Dee. Like a message in a bottle, the transcript encapsulates a period before CNN and Sirius satellite radio contributed to the homogenization of news and entertainment resources, as well as before the internet and social media, when local disc jockeys, ma and pa grocery stores, and regional musical stylings were predominant. There is an amateurish, rough-​hewn quality to the broadcast, and this is so not only because of the colossal task the ill-​equipped radio crew faced of narrating a traumatic event. It is also because the reporters are not professional crisis managers in the mode of Anderson Cooper, whose hair remains (like Warren Zevon’s Werewolf) perfect even during thunderstorms and whose CNN-​signature rain jacket creates the aura of an L. L. Bean catalog section for Disaster Wear. Goldsmith could have selected a transcript of CBS anchor Walter Cronkite—​the “most trusted man in America”—​as he calmly reports in his signature baritone, first, of Dallas TV station KRLD’s “unconfirmed rumor” that the president is dead, then a few minutes later still calmly informs viewers that CBS reporter Dan Rather confirmed the death rumor, and then, in the most iconic portion of the broadcast, reads a paper that has been placed on his desk, “the flash apparently official,” that the president is dead.21 But Cronkite would have been the far less imaginative choice than transcribing amateurish KLIF’s coarse stylings. We may rightly claim Goldsmith as an auteur (albeit closer to Godard than to Hitchcock) in that he reframes a new type of realism by selecting and shaping the transcripts (without altering their wording) that possess aesthetic dimensions such as rhythm, pacing, juxtaposition, and implied ironic meanings.22 In the JFK chapter, for example, Goldsmith need not adjust repurposed, regurgitated, and reframed from the great mass of free-​floating language out there just begging to be turned into poetry.” 21   The Cronkite report remains almost unbearably gripping to watch because of his impeccably measured response to the rumors, his continued ability to report the facts—​that a prayer vigil is taking place in the hall where Kennedy was to have spoken, that 400 extra off duty law officers were put in place because diplomat Adlai Stevenson had been attacked in October, that a priest was administering the last rites to JFK, so that when Cronkite takes off his black plastic glasses to wipe away a tear in the moments after he reports the confirmation of the death of JFK to a national television audience, it is like the embodiment of the national symbolic—​t he baritone voice orator with the neutral (Midwestern) pronunciation—​has been stunned, even as he recovers his balance to announce that Vice President Johnson will be sworn into office. 22   To cite a second example from the interview with Mark Allen in which Seven American Deaths and Disasters is compared to the work of a film auteur, Allen notes that Werner Herzog, “teaches a screenwriting class where a required reading is The Warren Commission Report on JFK’s assassination,



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the KLIF broadcast for readers to notice tensions, ironies, and resonances between and among the advertisements, pop music lyrics, and the flash news bulletins suggesting an emergent crisis in downtown Dallas. Still rendered on a local scale, we notice how the nascent branded consumerism, which will determine American culture over the next half century, informs us of the socioeconomics and habits of the station’s lower to lower middle class target audience: “Armour, the meat the butchers bring home” (12) and the Armour lunch meat that “sticks to your ribs” (13); the Hamm’s beer (“someone is opening and enjoying a Hamm’s beer every three seconds” (14); the Robert Hall “holiday dresses priced as low as $7.97” (12). Turkey, lunchmeat, obsessive beer drinking, all take on grim connotations when read in relation to the anticipated slaughter of JFK. How can we not read (and not think Goldsmith wants us to read?) of lunchmeat that sticks to your bones as a kind of slang foreshadowing to the impending murder? Goldsmith’s transcripts trouble notions of “common knowledge” in ways that, weirdly, create suspense where one could not have imagined anticipation—​ enjoyable tension—​concerning the outcome to a drama that occurred fifty years ago. In an uncanny way, history is thus suspended, reopened. The drama’s conclusion remains uncomposed, even as, simultaneously, we already know the outcome is never in doubt. Do we know? Amidst the beer and pre-​Thanksgiving turkey ads and the torch songs of loneliness, break downs, and tears as sung by Sandra Dee and Tommy Rowe, the first sketchy and “unconfirmed” reports from the “KLIF Mobile Unit No. 4 in downtown Dallas” (14) of “confused at this moment” (14) hearsay about random shots fired at the “presidential motorcade as it passed through downtown Dallas” (15). Hints of a crisis. Through the first pages of the transcript, however, KLIF does not consider the information sufficient to suspend discussion of “Sandra Dee and her troubles” and previews of her latest movie at the “Interstate Palace Theater” (15). As in W. H. Auden’s “Musee des Beaux Arts” in which “everything turns away/​Quite leisurely from the disaster” (797), we sense a cognitive distortion in the broadcaster’s urge to minimize the possibility of a which he calls ‘the ultimate crime story’ and an excellent example of a screenplay based entirely on how it’s written, and it’s a government document.” Goldsmith responds: “Wow, I didn’t know that but it doesn’t surprise me. Herzog, more than anyone knows that real life trumps fiction every time.” As Goldsmith reveals in the essay with Allen, some of his answers in the interview—​such as his comparison of his work to Godard’s—​a re themselves word-​for-​word repurposings of comments he had made in other contexts such as the “Afterword” to Seven American Deaths and Disasters.

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serious crisis so as to return to normalcy, which is to say, to fantasy, to “Sandra Dee and her troubles,” even as rumors of a puncture in the national symbolic begin to intrude on the radio waves. What is it about the human psyche, Goldsmith implicitly asks, that we can read a transcript concerning an event already known, and yet we, like the first listeners to the Dallas broadcast that resists the reality that something extraordinary has happened, continue to read the transcripts as if it were a chronicle of real time events, rather than synchronic recitation?: He has been wounded, but he is alive (28); “It is now being reported to us by Parkland that president Kennedy is receiving blood transfusions” (29). “A special carton of blood, apparently for transfusion purposes, has been rushed into the emergency ward. Two Dallas police officers carried that carton. The president’s body was limp as he was carried into the hospital, cradled in the arms of his wife” (31). “Two Catholic priests who were summoned to the scene—​one has administered the last sacrament of the Church to the president, but at last report, he apparently is still alive and how critical his injuries may be we have not yet been able to determine.” (35)

What is the trick of mind that can simultaneously suspend (repress) knowledge of knowledge of how an archetypal American historical narrative will end? How can I  emotionally go through the developing narrative as reported by KLIF as if hope remains that—​this time, this telling—​the worst fear will not occur? (Do we not live in a period of hypertextual multiple endings?). Can we not choose the happy ending version? Goldsmith’s transcripts teach us that the broadcasters initial response is to deny the event’s significance, and to return to fantasy, and then to defer acknowledgment of the trauma. After the deferral strategy fails, the transcripts reveal the third strategy to avoid shock is to tie the crisis to a myth, in this case one that displaces the bullet-​riddled bodies into a tale of spiritual transformation. Consciously or unconsciously, KLIF broadcasters transform JFK into the martyred Jesus and Jackie O into Mother Mary. “Mrs. Kennedy reportedly had cradled her husband’s head in her lap during the speedy trip to Parkland Hospital” (24). In connecting JFK to Jesus I  am thinking of the blood, especially that description of the “special carton of blood, apparently for transfusion purposes,” which has a sacramental quality that connects medical work as a form of modern shamanism to the priestly last rites that follow. Even



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the earlier comment that, “He has been wounded, but he is alive,” takes on Christographic resonance. Camelot has become Calvary. It is as if confronting that state Keats described as “negative capability”: (“in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact & reason”) is intolerable to the reporters. They must divert attention from the immediate crisis by displacing the upsetting event and reframing it within preexisting paradigms of commonly known symbols, histories, and myth. After experimenting with strategies of denial, deferral, and transformation of a story about a ripped-​apart human being into a religious ritual involving a spiritual ascent via a sacramental transition from body to spirit, the last part of the JFK chapter revealed the comically bizarre, and yet traumatically poignant, way the reporters frame JFK’s death by “historicizing” it. Reporters repeat the fact that a second Johnson (Lyndon) will become president after an assassination—​at one point the reporter stumbles on who and when (“post civil war era”)—​and there is perfunctory reference to McKinley as the only other twentieth-​century example. We also hear of then-​prominent (now nearly forgotten) news of Truman’s assassination attempt from 1950. As much as the reporters deny, defer, mythologize, and historicize (one could say trivialize) to contain damage to the national imaginary, we notice how the radio commentary reveals information that opens, rather than closes, an event that remains unresolved fifty years later: And, incidentally, on the fifth floor of the downtown building from which the president and the governor were shot, they have now discovered empty rifle hulls and there is also indication that more than one man is involved in the attack, Joe?//​We have had descriptions of three men, actually—​ two white men and one colored man—​a s being possible suspects in this shooting, but at present, a twenty-​five-​year-​old white man has been taken into custody. (38)

Announcers try to contain the tragedy within a mythic template, but they open up the still pressing issue of whether there was a single gunman or if a conspiracy took place. There is also a peculiar denial of any conspiracy motive even though no one has put forward accusations of governmental involvement in the murder: “There was absolutely no warning that this would take place. Of course these things always come so spontaneously. Should there be any warning, then the president would be better protected and an alternate route

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could have been prepared” (32). In the John F. Kennedy chapter, Goldsmith’s conceptual aesthetics differs from Cartier-​Bresson’s poetics of immediacy, but in ways less obvious the chapter’s form also differs from Warhol’s “Death and Disaster” series, which Goldsmith self-​consciously emulates. In Remarkable Modernisms: Contemporary American Authors on Modern Art (2002), I  argued that Warhol’s “Death and Disaster” series, as with his representations of Marilyn Monroe’s face as a series of transparent images that trial off like smoke rings, uses techniques that disentangle him from identifying with victims of plane crashes, car wrecks, or a man who jumps from the window ledge of a mental hospital. Warhol distances himself and his audience from other citizens who have suffered bodily disfiguration by representing trauma through the grid, repetition, and colorful makeovers of images he discovered in the tabloid press. Warhol’s establishment of an impregnable boundary between the image of the human body in pain and “the thing itself”—​t he actual lived experience of persons in trouble—​links his art to a consumerist ideology and connects his art to the politics of abjection that defines the “stranger” and the “unclean other” in Kristeva. Advertisers construct a sanitized realm of “elsewhere” by associating personal contentment and safety with hygienic products. Like commercials for detergents and cleaning products such as Brillo scouring pads, Warhol’s art style promises to remove spectators from evidence that human existence resides within the vulnerable body. Goldsmith is, in subject matter, repeating Warhol’s (already repetitive) process of appropriating news media accounts of American Deaths and Disasters for a concept-​driven fine arts poetry project. And yet, as I  have stated throughout this chapter, my reading experience of the Goldsmith transcripts does not enable me to feel removed from the existential qualities of vulnerability, uncertainty, and semantic rupture that I have associated with the concept of a traumatic discourse, rather than with a detached and contained discourse about trauma. Although Goldsmith, especially in the JFK chapter, like Warhol in his Brillo Pads and Soup Cans, emphasizes the relationship between consumerism and the body, I  am suggesting Goldsmith associates, rather than detaches, the radio station’s advertising for lunch meats, Sandra Dee movies, Hamm’s beer, and turkey dinners with the “bulletins” regarding news of a shooting at the presidential motorcade in downtown Dallas. By contrast to Warhol, Goldsmith, as what I am referring to as a “dirty conceptualist,” thus



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encourages readers to mix, often ironically, the realms of commercial slogans (the Armour lunch meat that sticks to your bones) and the embodied tragedy. It is Goldsmith’s resistance to formality, his refusal to edit out what I have called the “indecisive moments,” that distinguishes his appropriations from Warhol’s more aesthetically sophisticated renderings of Life magazine photos through lithographic techniques.

V. Is there some way to close these doors? Who of a certain age has not seen color footage from June 6, 1968 of Robert F. Kennedy’s drained white face draped in a towel to stanch the blood as the stricken candidate for the 1968 Democratic nomination for the presidency, who had just made an acceptance speech (“On to Chicago!”) after winning the California Primary, and thus setting up a titanic floor fight to decide the head of the ticket in Chicago at the upcoming convention, lay supine on the ballroom floor with the phrase “Rafer get the gun” echoing in the background? Given my vivid acquaintance with the material, how is it that I felt a chill when reading the “eyewitness account from Andrew West of Mutual News in Los Angeles” (175) as Goldsmith transcribes it in Chapter 2? Part of my response was driven by Goldsmith’s juxtaposition of the intensely vivid RFK broadcast with the comparatively detached JFK transmission that preceded it. I  was struck by the different tone and relationship of reporter to spectacle in the JFK and the RFK transcripts, as well as by how the RFK tape references the JFK narrative as a template for representing a tragic public death. Like the transcript “of a 911 call made by Patti Nielson, an injured substitute teacher, from the school’s library during the shooting” (175) in the “Columbine” school shooting described in Chapter 5, the RFK tape registers a traumatic testimony of on-​site reporter Andrew West of Mutual News’s own near-​death experience.23 Relationships between participant and witness,

23

  In Chapter 5 on Columbine, Patti communicates her terror with the 911 dispatcher: “Um, kids are screaming, the teachers, um, are, y’know, trying to take control of things. We need police here” (121). “He’s outside? /​He’s outside of this hall./​Outside of the hall or inside . . . /​He’s in the hall. I’m sorry. There are alarms and things going off” (122) . . .” I said what’s going on out there? Well it’s probably a cap gun. Probably a video production, you know, they do these videos . . . Right. And the kids . . . Well, I said, that’s not, you know, a

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terror and testimony, the language of disaster and the disaster itself, are thus indelibly blurred in West’s discourse, as will be the case when Patti in the Columbine library frantically tells a 911 dispatcher “[whispering] He’s yelling everybody get up right now. [More shots] He’s in the library. He’s shooting at everybody” (124–​125). Here is West on RFK: It could . . . Is it possible, ladies and gentlemen? It is possible he has . . . not only Senator Kennedy . . . Oh my God! Senator Kennedy has been shot. And another man, a Kennedy campaign manager. And possibly shot in the head. I am right here. Rafer Johnson has a hold of a man who apparently has fired the shot. He has fired the shot. He still has the gun. The gun is pointed at me right at this moment. I hope they can get the gun out of his hand. Be very careful. Get that gun! Get the gun! Get the gun! Stay away from the gun!//​ Get the gun!//​Stay away from the gun! His hand is frozen. Get his thumb! Get his thumb! Get his thumb! Take a hold of his thumb and break it if you have to! Get his thumb! Get away from the barrel! Get away from the barrel, man!//​Watch it with the gun. Watch it with the gun!//​L ook out for the gun! Okay. Alright. That’s it, Rafer! Get it! Get the gun, Rafer!//​Get the gun! Get the gun!//​Okay now hold onto the guy!//​Get the gun! Get the gun!//​Hold on to him! Hold on to him! Ladies and gentlemen, they have the gun away from the man. They’ve got the gun. I can’t see . . . I can’t see the man. I can’t see who it is. Senator Kennedy, right now, is on the ground. He has been shot. This is a . . . this is . . . What is he? Wait a minute. Hold him! Hold him! Hold him! We don’t want another Oswald! Hold him Rafer, we don’t want another Oswald! (43–​4 4)

The passage makes for compelling narrative and characterization because if there is heroism to be found in the ugly event, some must be assigned to how Andrew West performs an improvised verbal high wire act. Like a 911 dispatcher instructing a terror victim, announcer West coaches former Olympian (and Kennedy aid) Rafer Johnson on how to handle the gun frozen in Sirhan’s hand. He maintains a degree of journalistic etiquette (addressing the radio audience as “Ladies and Gentleman”) while reporting his own danger—​“The gun is pointed at me right at this moment.” West then play gun, a real gun, I was goin’ out there to say no, and I went . . . [Another shot, very loud] Oh, my God! That was really close! . . . I think he’s in the library. What’s your name, ma’am? [whispering] My name is Patti. Patti? [whispering] He’s yelling everybody get up right now. [More shots] He’s in the library. He’s shooting at everybody. Okay. I have him in the library shooting at students and . . . the lady in the library, I have on the phone . . . Okay. Try to keep as many people down as you can.” (124–​125)



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historicizes the event in relation to the JFK assassination of five years earlier (another Oswald). At points, West thus maintains an extraordinary degree of rhetorical clarity, but the passage also illustrates how discursive breakdowns create in(decisive) moments in which the uncertainty of experience and the inadequacy of language intrude upon even West’s stoic reportage:  “I can’t see . . . I can’t see the man . . . This is a . . . this is . . . What is he?” (44). And a bit later, as West contemplates Senator Kennedy’s level of consciousness, we sense he is also reflecting on his clouded state of mind: “Right at this moment . . . the senator apparently . . . we can’t see if he is still conscious or not. Can you see if he is conscious?//​W hat?//​Can you see if he is conscious?//​I don’t know. He is half-​conscious.//​He is half-​conscious. And ladies  .  .  .  we can’t see, ladies and gentlemen  .  .  .  C’mon. Out! Out! Out! Is there some way to close these doors? Is there any doors here?//​Get out! Get out!//​Out through the . . . out through the exit. Let’s go. Out we go.//​Out . . . //​ Repetition in my speech. I have no alternative. The shock is so great. My mouth is dry.” (45)

In the The Believer interview, Goldsmith states: The moment we shake our addiction to narrative and give up our strong-​ headed intent that language must say something “meaningful,” we open ourselves up to different types of linguistic experience, which, as you say, could include sorting and structuring words in unconventional ways: by constraint, by sound, by the way words look, and so forth, rather than always feeling the need to coerce them toward meaning.

Contra Goldsmith, I do not, primarily, regard passages such as the Andrew West report on RFK or the 911 call by Patti in Columbine in terms of the sonic or visual dimensions of words that Bernstein would regard as “anti-​ absorptive” features. Nor do I open up a structural account of the discourse involving “sorting and structuring words in unconventional ways.” When I  read the West report or Patti’s 911 call from Columbine I  forget about theoretical issues of appropriation, conceptual art, questions of what is an author in a digital era, or that I am reading a 1968 transcript in a small press art book by a provocative “uncreative writer” published in 2013 from material Goldsmith discovered in the web netherworld. I am moved . . . aesthetically moved  .  .  .  emotionally moved  .  .  .  existentially stung  .  .  .  by West’s self-​ consciousness about his unconsciousness, about his blindness. His language is not merely disaster reportage, but, in Blanchot’s formulation, the language

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of disaster. Just as I  am moved when the 911 dispatcher asks Patti for her name, and she, quietly, tenderly, like a frightened child, tells it, I am captivated by how West paradoxically registers disorientation with bracing clarity. He testifies to a situation in which space, time, and identity—​what is inside and what is outside, where is here and there, who am I  and who are you—​the fundamental differences that make the world visible and legible, have come unglued: “Is there some way to close these doors? Is there any doors here?//​ Get out! Get out!//​Out through the . . . out through the exit. Let’s go. Out we go.//​Out . . . //​.” Doors—​of awareness of the “real,” that divide interior and exterior—​have, in Whitman’s terms, been removed from their jambs. There is no structure to close the wound. It is a language of disaster.

VI. Conclusion: Let us return to the tonight show The seventh and final chapter of Seven American Deaths and Disasters is devoted to Michael Jackson. What compelled Goldsmith to conclude his series with Jackson’s death? By deciding to end with Jackson, is Goldsmith’s point that by June 25, 2009, more than forty years after the JFK Ur-​tragedy and twenty-​years after the death of John Lennon, the other singer to whom Goldsmith devotes a chapter, we have traveled so far down the postmodern road of pseudo-​events that our fascination with celebrity and fame outstrips more serious concerns with political leaders such as the Kennedy brothers or with working-​class heroes such as Lennon? A common thread in the reportage on the seven events is that commentators, in their desire to bring coherence to violent incidents that puncture the imaginary realm of tranquility, tend to search for patterns—​ precedents, chance coincidences—​that would reframe what is happening into a historical narrative. As mentioned, the JFK assassination is almost immediately cast in relation to Lincoln and James Garfield. RFK is, of course, placed, again immediately, in the context of Dallas:  “As happened in the aftermath of President Kennedy, the scene of shock and turmoil here was nationally advertised and televised, just as it was when Jack Ruby shot Lee Harvey Oswald” (64). John Lennon’s murder is, unintentionally comically, linked to JFK and MLK through the miniscule factoid that Mark David Chapman had three names, just like Lee Harvey Oswald and James Earl Ray.



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The Space Challenger explosion is in Chapter  4 linked (and distinguished from) the Gemini disaster in which three US astronauts were killed in a fire during a training session and, in a Cold War swipe, to a Russian cosmonaut accident that was not widely reported (because of Soviet secrecy); 9/​11 is (again almost immediately) framed in terms of Pearl Harbor with repetition of FDR’s phrase “a day that will in infamy” quickly evoked as precedent for an attack on the “homeland.” Suggesting a ludicrous diminishment of what counts as an arrangement of related “disasters” of national or international import, Jackson’s death is understood as part of a triad of celebrity passings that includes Farrah Fawcett and Ed McMahon.24 (The McMahon death resonates back to the news of John Lennon’s death because it was reported as an interruption to The Tonight Show. In the context of McMahon’s death, the phrase from early in the Lennon section, “We now return to the Tonight Show,” takes on enhanced resonance.) Ed McMahon and Farah Fawcett fall into the category of celebrities with little or no discernible talent. They are famous for being famous. And yet a commentator in the Michael Jackson section does suggest how ordinary people in a culture obsessed with entertainment, and that associates television appearance with the validation of real presence, measure time and change via celebrity news: “It seems like yesterday we were watching Farrah Fawcett in her youth and beauty—​and sixty-​two years old to me is still young—​you don’t think of Farrah Fawcett being sixty-​two years old. You don’t think of Michael Jackson as being fifty. It’s . . . it’s just strange” (158). Few would argue that Ed McMahon (with the possible exception of his extraordinary ability to laugh deeply at Johnny’s hackneyed bits, his description of martini drinking as “sipping a cloud,” and telethon support of Jerry’s Kids) or Farah Fawcett contributed to American culture in major ways (with the possible exception of the famous poster of Fawcett in a skimpy red bathing suit that provided a site for masturbatory fantasy for countless adolescent boys from the 1970s), and yet the commentator has a point. There is something unsettling about thinking of Farah’s iconic frosted haired, Texas-​sized smile, and those perky nipples evident beneath the bathing suit as cancer ridden and dead at 62. Similarly, as   In an email to the author, Goldsmith addressed my skepticism about his selection of Jackson as an iconic “death”: “Students, I find, are usually more moved by Michael Jackson than by the Kennedys, who are cold, distant, historical figures. Conversely, people of a certain age, tend to dismiss my inclusion of Jackson as cynical.”

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the commentator mentions, the image of Michael Jackson, unconscious and not breathing at age fifty in an emergency vehicle on his way to the UCLA hospital contrasts with iconic images of Jackson as a round-​faced child with a big Afro as lead singer for the Jackson Five and of his performance of the “moonwalk” during his Thriller phase. The contradiction between celebrated images such as the Fawcett poster or of Michael Jackson performing on MTV, which seem immortal, and the reality that the flesh and blood human beings associated with the images continue to age, face disease, and eventually disappear becomes an uncanny aspect of their histories that may explain why their deaths seem so compelling to us. I wondered about Goldsmith’s decision to select Michael Jackson as the subject of his final chapter, but more generally I  pondered his selection of the seven deaths and disasters over the last fifty years. Certainly, selectivity is part of creativity, revealing through what is concealed.25 Few would argue with his decision to begin with JFK. As his book reveals, the JFK event was certainly a paradigmatic tragedy—​in part because so much of it was captured on film or else unfolded in real time on the relatively new medium of television. It was also, as Goldsmith notes, a template, or master narrative structure, through which many of the other six deaths and disasters would be discussed and represented. But did Michael Jackson’s death really change “a nation, forever”? Even as the transcribed reporters struggle to separate fact from fiction, I  wondered about how the focus on these seven events serves the national imaginary in concealing, rather than (only) revealing details about American disasters. Has our intense media focus on terrible things that happen to celebrated public figures—​politicians, singers, space explorers—​or to iconic symbols of American power—​the Challenger, the Twin Towers—​ erased, ignored, or displaced attention from larger, structural disasters that occur every day to anonymous people in America (or internationally to serve American interests)? Could one argue that media obsession with high-​profile

25  In the “Afterword,” Goldsmith mentions he didn’t transcribe the assassinations of Martin Luther King or Malcolm X because there were no recordings of immediate reports or witnesses available and so recordings of those events merely offered the normal controlled reportage we hear in typical news accounts of disasters. Goldsmith notices that the recordings he does transcribe reveal a disturbing, if not terribly surprising, dose of racism and xenophobia, and so his points about choosing not to account for the deaths of Malcolm and MLK may speak to his own self-​ consciousness about this issue.



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deaths concentrates a population’s attention on the realm of fantasy? With the possible exception of Columbine, do all of Goldsmith’s selections illustrate events that distract attention from problems such as structural poverty, racism, disparities in education, and the culture of violence that may underwrite the more sensational terrors?

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“The wound track shows deeper hemorrhage”: Kenneth Goldsmith’s “The Body of Michael Brown” as The Eighth American Disaster

A contentious figure long before he performed “The Body of Michael Brown” (2015), Kenneth Goldsmith currently faces the most significant firestorm of his career as a Warholian provocateur. Best known for repurposing web-sourced material as found poetry, it is as if the web has turned the tables, reprimanding him in a chorus for his bad taste. News has spread on Facebook, Twitter, and through online reports that in a performance at a conference titled Interrupt 3 held at Brown University on March 13, 2015, Goldsmith read for about thirty minutes a radically truncated version of the transcript, a publically accessible document which he found online, of the St. Louis County autopsy report on Michael Brown, the unarmed eighteen-year-old African-American man who was shot to death by Officer Darren Wilson, who is white, on Canfield Street in Ferguson, Missouri, on August 9, 2014. Compared to others who have weighed in on this controversial topic online, I am in the peculiar situation of regarding “The Body of Michael Brown” from a position of advantage and disadvantage. I  have an advantage over many other commentators because the poet has provided me with the six-page text of the unpublished poem—“The Body of Michael Brown”—sent via an email attachment in May 2015. But I write from the deficit position of discussing the text of a performative action I have not experienced. Video of Goldsmith’s conference presention of the six-page text has not, as of this writing, been released at the poet’s request.1 My reading 1   The Guardian reports that Goldsmith, in a Facebook post, “said that he had asked Brown University not to make the recording of his performance of the poem public. There’s been too much pain for many people around this and I do not wish to cause any more. My speaker’s fee from the Interrupt 3 event will be donated to the family of Michael Brown.”

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in the following pages, I  am admitting up front, is, therefore, an unusually partial one. I will frame my “print literacy” approach to “The Body of Michael Brown” from a quite literal position of blindness in that I have not witnessed Goldsmith’s extremely controversial performance at Brown University, and insight, in that I  have unusual access to the text itself. While my reading is, admittedly, limited to the text of a performance that I  did not see and hear Goldsmith read out loud, I do consider my interpretation of the language of the text itself to be a useful addition to the many reports on “The Body of Michael Brown.” No report of the event I have read online pays close attention to the words Goldsmith transcribed from the autopsy report and that now make up the poem called “The Body of Michael Brown.” I thus offer an unprecedented degree of attention to the language of a poem that was drawn from parts of the much longer source text, the “Narrative Report of Investigation” that was submitted by the Saint Louis County Health Department’s Office of the Medical Examiner. Goldsmith accessed the “Narrative Report of Investigation” via a link connected to the online version of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, which published the autopsy report in connection with the story, “Official autopsy shows Michael Brown had close-range wound to his hand, marijuana in system” by Christine Byers, and published on October 22, 2014 and updated on October 28, 2014 to add an editor’s note. Goldsmith’s timing for performance of the autopsy report as a conceptual poem, I must state, could hardly have taken place at a more uncomfortable moment in the ongoing narrative of the death of Michael Brown and its aftermath. CAConrad reminds us in a blog critical of the performance in HARRIET, occurred “just a little over a week after the US Department of Justice cleared Officer Wilson of all charges of Brown’s death (therefore approving before the world of putting six bullets into an unarmed young black man).” Direct witness to it has been limited to the approximately seventy-five persons who attended the conference session, remarks about the event shared by them through online communities such as Facebook and Twitter, critic Brian Droitcour’s “Reading and Rumor:  The Problem with Kenneth Goldsmith,” a condemnation of Goldsmith that appeared in Art in America (March 18, 2015), PE Garcia’s article in the online Queen’s Mob, which condemns Goldsmith for failing to acknowledge how his subject position as a white male during the performance contributed to the oppression of black male bodies such as Michael Brown’s, Jillian Steinhauer’s article in the online site Hyperallergic (March 16, 2015) “Kenneth Goldsmith Remixes Michael Brown Autopsy Report as Poetry,” Allison Flood’s report in the guardian online, “US



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poet defends reading of Michael Brown autopsy report as a poem” (March 17, 2015), and CAConrad’s, “Kenneth Goldsmith Says He Is An Outlaw,” a June 1, 2015 blog in HARRIET that critiques Goldsmith’s response to the withering criticism of his performance—Goldsmith twittered “the left is the new right”— by comparing him to a “Bush administration Neocon deflecting attention from his actions and branding all who opposed his racist ‘art’ enemy combatant censors.”2 CAConrad’s blog concludes with about thirty responses, critical of Goldsmith’s performance and his subsequent response to the controversy by notable progressive poets including Anne Waldman, Eileen Miles, Fred Moten, Kevin Killian, and Juliana Spahr. Cultural critics with significant Facebook followings such as Roxanne Gay and Cathy Park Hong have trashed Goldsmith’s performance as “tacky” (Gay) and as a “new racist low” by a poet supported by “elite institutions [that] continue to pay him guest speaker fees” (Park Hong). “The audacity of reading an autopsy report and calling it poetry,” fumes Gay, ignoring a significant history of US poetry that has invited readers to regard official documents as texts worthy of close reading usually reserved for receiving canonical poems. (“Kenneth Goldsmith” Figure 4.1) Roxanne Gay and Cathy Park Hong have company in expressing in hyperbolic tones their dismay at Goldsmith’s performance. Goldsmith has been accused of colonialist and racist forms of exploitation of the black body and there are reports that he has received a death threat because of the performance. Steinhauer writes: The conversation surrounding Goldsmith’s performance ties into a larger one about the racial and ethical realities of conceptual poetry (Interrupt’s subtitle is “A Discussion Forum and Studio for New Forms of Language Art”). An anonymous group called the Mongrel Coalition has recently begun questioning the “colonial aesthetics” of conceptual art, and in response to the Goldsmith incident this weekend wrote a missive on its website. It includes this passage: “On Friday night—in what was clearly an attempt to salvage the corpse of ‘conceptualism’—Goldsmith made explicit a slippage that we (and others) have been bemoaning for years: The Murdered Body of Mike Brown’s Medical Report is not our poetry, it’s the building blocks of white supremacy, a miscreant 2  Himself regarding Goldsmith as a “clown and a troll,” Droitcour states the poet “outraged people” at the conference because he aestheticized an African-American man’s death through a performance that called attention to Goldsmith’s body through a “rocking and pacing” presentation style. In an email to the author, Goldsmith denied the claim that he moved in rhythmic manner while reading.

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Figure 4.1  Kenneth Goldsmith. Photograph by Paul Soulellis. DNA infecting everyone in the world. We refuse to let it be made ‘literary.’ Goldsmith cannot differentiate between White Supremacy and Poetry. In fact, for so many the two are one and the same.”

By contrast to the Mongrel Coalition, which critiques Goldsmith for his inability to “differentiate between White Supremacy and Poetry,” I contend his decision to cast the autopsy report as a poem is a reframing of the document with progressive social implications. In my reading of a transcript of “The Body of Michael Brown,” Goldsmith’s conceptual action called my attention to its narrative, tropological, and linguistic features in ways that encouraged my reception of it as a textual space liberated from its mooring as an ideological state apparatus. Discussing Joseph Kosuth’s “Information Room” (1970), art historian Eve Meltzer writes that Kosuth designed the conceptual work’s “scientistic aesthetic” to promote what the artist called an “infrastructural analysis,” or what Meltzer describes as the “practice of interrogating the invisible structures that secure the ideological function of art and its economic, historical, and cultural values” (Meltzer, 44). A belated conceptualist trained at the Rhode Island School of Design, Goldsmith follows Kosuth in casting



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the autopsy report as a later day “information room” worthy of readerly interrogation. “The Body of Michael Brown,” through conceptual reframing, opens the St. Louis County Autopsy Report’s “information room” to alternative ways of reading. In “The Body of Michael Brown,” Goldsmith turns attention from media reports about the American “disasters” that animated the seven transcripts he repurposed for his 2013 book, and, unlike the web-sourced, but initially oral accounts of disasters that were later transcribed into a written form, he is in the poem under discussion reframing a text that was, originally, written, not spoken. In retrieving the St. Louis County autopsy report from the web as an eighth representation of an American death and disaster, however, Goldsmith, at risk of accusations of complicity with the information system and racial national imaginary his conceptual project is designed to denaturalize, continues to reframe official rhetoric associated with notorious traumatic events in and through a poetic rendering of publically accessible documents. (Government officials, for example, leaked the Michael Brown autopsy report to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in October 2014, while the investigation into his death was ongoing.) By “poetic rendering,” I  do not refer to Goldsmith’s editing of the transcript, although he has, controversially, altered the order of the transcript for what he has called a “poetic effect.”3 Rather, by “poetic effect,” I refer to Goldsmith’s staging the autopsy report as a poetic text in the sense defined by Johanna Drucker: “Poetry (by which I mean any form of selfconscious writing) is a means to call attention to language. Set it apart. Call it art. And in so naming, preserve the territorial demarcation that says, This is Aesthetic” (Drucker, 4). His transformative act, paradoxically, moves the reader of the text of the poem to focus on such literary features as tropes, repetitions, tone, point of view, metonymy, narrative, sentence construction, connotation, and semiotic play to illustrate what art theorist Benjamin Buchloh, writing on conceptualism, refers to as an “administrated” discourse, a “bloodless” 3   According to the The Guardian report, Goldsmith wrote on Facebook that he “altered the text for poetic effect,” translating medical terms into plain English and “narrativi[sing]” the words “in ways that made the text less didactic and more literary.” “I indeed stated at the beginning of my reading that this was a poem called The Body of Michael Brown; I never stated, ‘I am going to read the autopsy report of Michael Brown’,” he wrote. “That said, I didn’t add or alter a single word or sentiment that did not preexist in the original text, for to do so would be to go against my nearly three decades’ practice of conceptual writing, one that states that a writer need not write any new texts but rather reframe those that already exist in the world to greater effect than any subjective interpretation could lend.”

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and “bodiless” pseudo-scientific style that is designed to conceal agency and affect (Meltzer, 13).4 In my reading of the “bloodless” and “bodiless” autopsy report, Goldsmith’s conceptual feat, to use a key term from the autopsy report, prompts the text to hemorrhage so that, to quote from the report’s description of the path taken by one of Wilson’s eleven bullets into and out of Brown’s body, “the wound track shows deeper hemorrhage.” By not only regarding the bullet’s path, but also imagining the autopsy report as itself a “wound track”—that is, a repetitive discursive loop—and then considering how that text hemorrhages unruly significances the report’s neutral tone cannot manage, my reading emphasizes how painfully reductive is the autopsy report of Michael Brown as the state’s response to Brown’s death, and how the report’s official rhetoric fails to alleviate the responsibility of the state for Darren’s Wilson’s shooting the unarmed Michael Brown to death on a street in Ferguson. Goldsmith’s “uncreative writing” shaped my response to the clinical examination of Michael Brown’s body toward attention to its poetry—which is to say toward unusual responsiveness to the text’s uncontrollably figurative and connotatively rich semiosis. “The Body of Michael Brown” opens up a necessary space for reception of the text’s “wound track” as a document that “hemorrhages” meanings that the reporter cannot staunch. In his Facebook defense of his performance, Goldsmith placed “The Body of Michael Brown” in the context of Seven American Deaths and Disasters. The work, he said, was “in the tradition” of his previous book. “I took a publicly available document from an American tragedy that was witnessed first-hand (in this case by the doctor performing the autopsy) and simply read it.”5 As with transcriptions in Seven American Deaths and Disasters, Goldsmith’s “The Body of Michael Brown” is most amenable to close reading at points (and there are many) where the medical reporter’s detached rhetorical surface breaks apart. We notice paradoxes, inconsistencies, unselfconsciously self-reflexive figures   In the widely adopted textbook, Poetry:  An introduction, which I  use in my Introduction to Poetry course at Purdue, Michael Meyer offers a typical statement of how poems focus our attention on language: “What is ‘unmistakable’ in poetry (to use [Edwin Arlington] Robinson’s term again) is its intense, concentrated use of language—its emphasis on individual words to convey meanings, experiences, emotions, and effects” (34). 5   Goldsmith continued in his Facebook defense:  “Like Seven American Deaths and Disasters, I  did not editorialize; I  simply read it without commentary or additional editorializing. The document I read from is powerful. My reading of it was powerful. How could it be otherwise? Such is my long-standing practice of conceptual writing: like Seven American Deaths and Disasters, the document speaks for itself in ways that an interpretation cannot. It is a horrific American document, but then again it was a horrific American death.” 4



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of speech, and stylistic gestures that reveal—rather than conceal—a gruesome reality the official story cannot hold at bay, regardless of how strenuously the storyteller works the language, narrative point of view, and sentence construction to deflect responsibility for Brown’s death from Officer Wilson and from the racist national imaginary made manifest by Wilson’s actions against Brown’s body.6 Here are examples from the “The Body of Michael Brown” in which the reporter erases agency and/or uses passive sentence constructions to deflect attention from what government officials did to Michael Brown in the last moments of his life, and then how they treated his bullet-shattered body as it lay on the street in Ferguson and later in the autopsy facility: “The deceased hands were bagged with paper bags to save any trace evidence.” “The weapon discharged during the struggle.” “The deceased mother was on the scene.” “The deceased was properly conveyed to this facility for examination by Dr. Norfleet.” “The deceased was cool to the touch.” “Rigor mortis was slightly felt in his extremities.”

In “The Body of Michael Brown,” “[t]‌he deceased hands were bagged with paper bags to save any trace evidence” appears as a stand-alone paragraph.7 6   Inspecting Brown’s body, the coroner reports, “There are no injuries of the tongue.” The formulation is, as typical in this report, troubling in part because of the erasure of agency and thus evacuation of point of view, as well as the passive construction. The oddness of the phrasing, ironically intended to veil the subjective and emotionally resonant quality of the examination report, merely accentuates the linguistic confusion within the discourse. 7   In an online essay, “4 Revelations from the leaked Michael Brown autopsy report” (October 22, 2014), PoliceOne editor in chief and columnist Doug Wylie, commenting on the autopsy report leaked to the St. Louis Post Dispatch, states:“This one line in the leaked documents about the hands may be among the most important: 

‘The deceased hands were bagged with paper bags to save any trace evidence.’ Of course he did.  For weeks I’ve been patiently waiting for any news about the status of Brown’s hands. More specifically, whether or not the knuckles showed signs of swelling or other damage typically incurred in a fisted altercation. This will quite likely be the next document to leak . . .”   Wylie is interested in the sentence from the autopsy report concerning the “deceased hands” because he believes they will serve as evidence validating his narrative speculation (and corroborating Darren Wilson’s story) that a fight took place between Wilson and Brown in or around Wilson’s police car at which time Brown tried to grab Wilson’s gun from its holster.

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The  spatial placement transmits the autopsy reporter’s desire to contain the image, but the hands recur at later points in the text with slight variation and in the present tense:  “The hands are covered with brown paper bags.” The repetition conveys how the image continues to haunt the text as a resonant specter. No longer granted the appellation of “the deceased,” Michael Brown is regarded as an uncannily threatening chopped off part of the corpse. In contrast to the meritorious high school graduation photograph of Brown— mortar board on his head, as if it were a sharp-edged halo above his brightly lit face, gown on, two hands clutching his diploma at waist level—which Goldsmith projected on a screen above the stage while he performed at Brown University, the autopsy report offers the horror movie image of “deceased hands.” In my reading, the metonymic “deceased hands” correspond to Darren Wilson’s impression of Brown as a “demon.” Bullet after bullet cannot put down such a fierce apparition because it is neither alive nor dead. Described in typical administrative discourse with agency omitted and narrated in a passive construction, “deceased hands” are, weirdly, in the grammatical position to become agents of their own concealment (“deceased hands were bagged with paper bags”). Reanimated in the text and beyond the grave as in the John Keats poem “This Living Hand,” Brown’s hands symbolize what Emma Lazarus in “The New Colossus” referred to as “wretched refuse.” If not garbage, we infer the hands are cast as a commodity worthy of a grocery store shopping trip. The “deceased hands” are “bagged with paper bags” (as opposed to plastic bags, as in the phrase one hears at the supermarket checkout line, “paper or plastic?”). The autopsy reporter adds that Brown’s hands were bagged, “to save any trace evidence.” To defenders of Darren Wilson’s actions such as Doug Wylie, editor of the online site PoliceOne devoted to covering law enforcement agencies, Michael Brown’s hands in paper bags stand as evidence useful to the state for building a case that justifies Darren Wilson’s shooting Brown to death. Wylie praises investigators for bagging Brown’s hands because by so doing, the autopsy doctor may detect evidence of marijuana traces under Brown’s fingernails, and signs of blood and bruises to the knuckles indicating a fight took place between Brown and Wilson. For me, the “trace evidence” is not anything that could help condemn Brown as the Hulk Hogan demon whom Wilson needed to put down with eleven bullets. Rather, the bagged hands represent a “trace” of how officials—and the autopsy report itself—mistreated



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Michael Brown, not only in life, but also in death and in the subsequent autopsy report.8 Of critics who have commented online about the text of “The Body of Michael Brown,” most focus on Goldsmith’s editorial decision to conclude his reading of it at Brown University with the autopsy reporter’s remark that, “[t]‌he remaining male genitalia system is unremarkable.”9 I  would defend Goldsmith’s decision for two reasons. First, the final line of his text punctuates the reporter’s persistent judgment of the “remarkability” or “unremarkability” of various aspects of Brown’s dead body, his inner organs, and even his “personal hygiene” (“good”), “odor” (“no unusual odor is detected”), “skin pigmentation” (“no abnormal skin pigmentation present”), and “surfaces of the left eye” (“unremarkable”), as well as the judgment of which aspects of Brown’s corpse and internal organs may be deemed “normal,” “abnormal,” or “entirely normal,” as is the case for the “wall” surrounding Brown’s heart. The text’s evaluative aspect unwittingly manifests the same race-based fantasies that encouraged Darren Wilson to imagine Michael Brown as a “Hulk Hogan,” a “demon,” and as a science fiction monster/Mandingo figure unable to be put down even as Wilson shot him eleven times.10 Even Brown’s “unfixed brain”—whatever 8   Prior to this passage, in the second paragraph, the autopsy report states: “The deceased had been covered with several white sheets.” The “white sheets” connote imagery closely aligned with the means of concealment of identity in cases of US white supremacist violence against the black male body in the wardrobe of choice for the Ku Klux Klan. “White sheets” also connote discourse that “covered” the Brown body in the sense of reported upon it. The textualization of the body, the passage suggests, is a form of concealment. The criticism of Goldsmith’s work as a textualization by a white author who is exploiting the tragedy that occurred to a black man is thus, somewhat obliquely, brought forward. 9   In the St. Louis County autopsy report from which Goldsmith worked, the controversial phrase concerning Brown’s genitals appears six paragraphs from the end of a report that concludes with a medical-jargon description of how “[f]‌ocally lightly pigmented keratinocytes are present within the basal layer of the stratified squamous epithelium”—a statement, I gather, relevant to the autopsy reporter’s observation that traces of paint from the surface of Officer Wilson’s police car became embedded into Brown’s skin during their altercation. 10   Below are the portions of testimony, quoted in Time Magazine, in which Wilson described his fear of the unarmed eighteen-year-old: “He was just staring at me, almost like to intimidate me or to overpower me,” Wilson said. It was then when Brown, according to Wilson, reached into his police SUV and punched him.

“When I grabbed him, the only way I can describe it is I felt like a five-year-old holding onto Hulk Hogan,” Wilson, who is 6’ 4’ and 210 lbs., said of Brown, who was 6’ 4’ and 292 lbs. at the time of his death. Wilson said that Brown went for the officer’s gun, saying: “You are too much of a p—to shoot me.” He said Brown tried to get his fingers inside the trigger. “And then after he did that, he looked up at me and had the most intense aggressive face. The only way I can describe it, it looks like a demon, that’s how angry he looked.”

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that bizarre formulation is meant to signify—is judged to have an “essentially normal structure throughout” that, the reporter adds, would be the case “prior to the acute injury.” Some parts of Michael Brown are adjudged “grossly normal,” as are, for example, his “pituitary glands.” Undoubtedly, the autopsy’s review of which aspects of Brown’s corpus are normal or abnormal, remarkable or unremarkable, good or bad, must cause some readers to reflect on the report as a belated example of late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Eugenic analysis of the brain, skull, and facial features. The second reason I  think Goldsmith chose to end his reading with the comment about the “remaining male genitalia” is because he wants to emphasize how the report reduces Michael Brown to a collection of symbolically charged body parts (heart, hands, brain, skin, as well as genitals) that the autopsy doctor regards in an unselfconsciously judgmental manner. Further, the remark about the “remaining male genitalia” dovetails with the sense put forward throughout the text that the stereotypical image of the black male as less of a human being and more of a threatening sexual predator is apparent throughout the autopsy report. Readers may pause to wonder. How can anything related to the examination of Brown’s body, including observations about his brain, his genitals, and even his “heart wall,” which is described as “not remarkable,” be framed in the report as unremarkable? The word “unremarkable” seems worthy of commentary. Unremarkable. Unable to be re-marked? The word calls to mind the untranslatability of Brown’s body, as well as the ordinary-ness of its defilement. Given the controversy surrounding Goldsmith’s performance, we may consider the term “unremarkable” in relation to the critical reception of Goldsmith’s re-marking the initial shooting of Michael Brown by Darren Wilson by re-framing the autopsy report, and the subsequent re-marking of the event of Goldsmith’s performance via New Media.

Wilson testified that his gun went off twice inside the vehicle. Brown then began to flee and Wilson followed. But Brown turned around. “He turns, and when he looked at me, he made like a grunting, like aggravated sound and he starts, he turns and he’s coming back toward me. His first step is coming towards me, he kind of does like a stutter step to start running,” Wilson said. “At this point,” Wilson said, “it looked like he was almost bulking up to run through the shots, like it was making him mad that I’m shooting at him. And the face he had was looking straight through me, like I wasn’t even there, I wasn’t even anything in his way.”

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Gaps in the Machine: Andrei Codrescu’s Unarchival Poetics

I. Bibliodeath: What is an archive in a digital era? Bibliodeath:  My Archives With Life In Footnotes (2012) is not a writer’s autobiography. Instead, it is the autobiography of a writer’s vexed relation to his corpus—​physical body and body of writings—​as the author encounters rapid transformations in writing technologies as well as data storage that, he argues in The Disappearance of the Outside (1990), threaten to eliminate the exile’s “opportunity to mock the native obsession with order” that Andrei Codrescu associates with outsider status, imagination, poetry, myth, magic, and the book (54). Through Bibliodeath, the noted Romanian-​ American poet, memoirist, editor, translator, and National Public Radio commentator Codrescu (b. 1946) envisions subjectivity amidst shifts in media production, distribution, and, through the transition from paper to virtual archives, conservation. “This is the story of a writer fast-​tracked by the zeitgeist from the awakening of his mind in calligraphy to its maturity through a half-​century of quickly morphing technologies of keyboards and memory” (v). Since Codrescu associates corpse and corpus, and textual composition with self-​ making, he interprets the fate of print culture as a crisis of personal survival. Following in the tradition of Dadaists such as Marcel Duchamp, Francis Picabia, and Kurt Schwitters, who, Sven Spieker in The Big Archive: Art from Bureaucracy (2008) argues, subverted nineteenth-​century ideas of archiving and modernity’s desire to assert social and political control through the rational accumulation of systematically organized data by composing “anti-​archive” montages that “encourage a receptive mode characterized by distraction, a lack of linear direction, and repeated fading in and out” (11), in Bibliodeath, Codrescu regards poetry and memoir as what he calls

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an “unarchive” designed by an exile from Romania’s then-​ Totalitarian 1 state. He imagines creative writing and book publication as, historically, antiauthoritarian gestures. Skeptical about the traditional definition of historical memory as locatable in an official depository (or, more recently, in hyperspace), Codrescu considers his writings an “Archives of Amnesia.” The phrase refers to the “history of the vanquished, written out of the Official Archives,” that exists only in its erasure. Should the awful history be told, Codrescu prophesizes, the narrative might do more harm than good for survivors because of the “inevitable anger, horror, and helplessness that follows the restoration” (21). In an earlier memoir, An Involuntary Genius In America’s Shoes (And What Happened Afterwards) [2001], Codrescu states that amnesiac forgetfulness serves an aesthetic function. Selective memory shapes inchoate experience into scenes. [A]‌mnesia is more important at art than total recall. Amnesia shapes the few remembered or misremembered scenes into whatever you’re going to make. The kind of remembering that interests me is anamnesis, which is an intense flashback. Such a flashback is generally devoid of facts because it has room only for feelings. Outfitting these feelings with facts like a grandmother with chicken feathers is a job I like very much. (14)

Illustrating Spieker’s observation that much contemporary art views archives with suspicion because “marked in formerly Communist Eastern Europe by the manipulations of the Stalinist era and the inertia that followed it, and in the West by the social encoding of widespread amnesia through the commercial mass media,” archival inscription is itself a catastrophic site (Spieker, 11). Influenced by a youth spent in Nicolai Ceausescu’s Romanian Stalinist state from 1946 to 1966, his stated goal is to write poetry that “is an archival machine that moves through time in time to the imperative of the poet, which is to counter history by demolishing, or at least misdirecting, its archival certainties” (Bibliodeath, 41).

 Discussing Schwitter’s “Cherry Picture” (1921), a “collage of colored papers, fabrics, printed labels, and pictures, and gouache on cardboard” that appropriates a Schwitter painting as its base (10), for example, Spieker writes: “Works such as Cherry Picture are archival not only in the sense that they constitute sites of storage for the discarded, alienated fragments of a shattered symbolic order; they are also analytical of the relationship between the archival base and what the archive stores. Dadaist montage hints that it is the relationship between these two strata, or rather their persistent interference and oscillation—​our inability to tell the one from the other—​t hat dooms the nineteenth-​century project of integrating the archive with contingent time” (11). 1



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Codrescu is especially sensitive to the nature of archives—​and to how archives may be curated via the World Wide Web—​because he was engaged, after 1986, in depositing his vast paper collections—​“I was drowning in my own manuscript archive and books at home” (Bibliodeath, 85)—​at his home institution, Louisiana State University (LSU), and later at the University of Illinois at Champaign-​Urbana (U of I). At this time, curators were redefining archival space from brick-​and-​mortar libraries toward virtualization through digital mediation and the cloud. He is not sanguine about the preservation of cultural memory in the internet age. Even as Bibliodeath records his insecurity about archival memory, Codrescu’s project in poetry and memoir is to resist assigning residence of history in a single archive, traditional paper or digitalized version. Bibliodeath’s antipathy toward the electronic archive—​“The machine will be holding all of humanity’s memory hostage” (93)—​as a postmodern, market-​oriented, and deceptively enjoyable version of surveillance culture is deeply influenced by his experience as a subject of Ceausescu’s government. “We live now in an Internetic Police State that can feel quite pleasant, very unlike the clunky old one I  was born in” (124). At the same time, Codrescu’s heritage included a robust literary, religious, and scholarly endowment that emphasized occult practices through Hasidism and Christian Orthodoxy, as well as in the poetry of Lucian Blaga and Ion Barbu, explorations of the sacred in the writings of Mircea Eliade, and Dadaist and absurdist texts by Tristan Tzara and Eugene Ionesco. Codrescu thus views the internet archive as a postmodern repetition of Ceausescu’s Orwellian state, but also as a shaman, a mystical conduit of global consciousness that exceeds repository containment. A product of late twentieth-​century US education and culture, it is difficult for me to regard poetry as an ideologically charged site of conflict for anyone outside a cadre of aficionados such as those who weighed in on the controversy surrounding Kenneth Goldsmith’s “The Body of Michael Brown,” but that is the context into which Codrescu first wrote and shared his lyrics. In An Involuntary Genius, Codrescu recalls sitting in a Romanian café with poetry friends: The fact is, said Pradu [a gynecologist interested in literary matters], that poetry has a certain kind of power in this country . . . All the bureaucrats are intellectuals . . . every single book of poetry is sold out . . . When I go out of the abortion room, no one waits for me to shake their hand . . . when you read a poem, there is always a reaction.[. . .]Walking home [Codrescu] thought about

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poetry. It was truly the only medium people could criticize their government in. This is why it is so popular.2 (85)

Codrescu’s attraction to poetry, books, and paper, and to handwriting on lined or unlined notebooks, as well as an anarchist sensibility that revels in derangement of senses—​originally defined by Rimbaud—​of Romanian Dadaist Tzara—​subject of his The Postmodern Dada Guide: Tzara & Lenin Play Chess (2009)—​are formative occurrences that relate to his desire to view his exile from Romania and his diasporic existence in the United States as an enactment of a myth. Harking back to the myth of Romanian literature as contingent upon exile originates with the story of Ovid, Romania’s “first poet” (The Disappearance of the Outside, 48), Codrescu accepts the replacement of home, the friends and lovers one knew there, and one’s native language with a realm of books that signifies imaginative freedom, adventure, magic, and a condition of exile that for Codrescu registers “the pure Outside. We could play there to our heart’s content without ever being called back in by Mother Country or Father State” (The Disappearance of the Outside, 37). Given Codrescu’s mythic associations between books, poetry, exile, imaginative adventure, the forbidden, and “the pure Outside,” we can understand why the internet age, which from Codrescu’s point of view is so invasive and all-​consuming that the creative space of outsideness is erased, would cause anxiety. “When I  left Romania, the idea of being a writer and the idea of being an exile were synonymous. I know that leaving—​or even expressing the desire to do so—​would make me an enemy of the State, a political exile. I would lose my Romanian citizenship, and never again be allowed to live in Sibiu. I would never see my friends again,” he writes in The Disappearance of the Outside (38). “On the other hand, I could barely contain myself because I knew also that I was about to share in a poetic religion” (38). He continues: Through the offices of both poetic and political exiles, the West, between the two world wars, became a vast airport of cultural misfits. Surrealism, which took its 2  In An Involuntary Genius, Codrescu recalls how he got into trouble with party officials for a poem called “The Eagle” in which he stated the sad histories of famous Romanian poets, including those who had syphilis and those who had killed themselves or been put in jail (78). Codrescu must criticize himself before party leaders, but news of John F. Kennedy’s assassination in November 1963 diverts attention from his need to self-​criticize (79). The Kennedy assassination represents the first television show he sees via satellite. It is a rare window into another world: “American cities, cars and people. There were buildings he could not believe existed . . . Amazing incomprehensible things written in ten meter letters on the walls” (80).



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energy from Dada and its cultural stand from the psychology of the unconscious, internationalized Western thought to a new level. The unconscious, as proposed by Freud and adopted by the Surrealists, was an alternative to nationalism: it was universal, preverbal, and constant. (51)

From age fourteen he will understand poetry, not as belles lettres or a career path such as one finds in today’s Master of Fine Arts (MFA)-​driven culture in the United States, but, as for other Eastern Bloc authors such as Milan Kundera, resistance to groupthink. Poetry represents an imaginative space of private defiance and expressions of spiritual yearnings to counteract allegiance to Kitschy social realist allegiance to the worker: [A]‌s soon as I was in possession of my communist-​bookstore-​originating-​ unlined-​notebook, I proceeded to write in it thoughts and verses that were filled with religiosity, decadence, disobedience and profanity—​t hings that defied the ethos of communism as we were taught it. (Bibliodeath, 3)3

Given his association between irreverent self-​expression and the lost unlined notebook, one can appreciate why archives held at LSU and U of I of Codrescu’s half century of participation in the US avant-​garde would recall his primal scene of poetic origination. Because a considerable amount of his paper holdings have vanished, a robust archive can never be reproduced: Some of my paper matter was inevitably lost during my moves, because it fell off trucks, dropped from shoulder bags, was lost in the mail on exploding planes, burnt for warmth in cold rooms, given away to drunks in generous moments, lost in the snail-​w ays of the cumbersome zags of the old means of transport, and modified in unpredictable ways by climate. (88–​89)

Further, given the poet’s link with Tzara’s Dadaism, as well as his early literary project with resistance to hegemony, the web archive represents for Codrescu an exclusion of a radical outsideness and a bitter submission to a postmodern repetition of centralized control. “The Dadaists were the first moderns to glimpse the possibility of a total revolt leading to a pure Outside, but exile itself is conducive to the creation of dangerous organic

  He continues: “I got drunk with my literary-​inclined gang[. . .]in a lowlife tavern called The Golden Barrel, when we displayed defiance by reciting out loud poetry, both bawdy and philosophically inaccessible, to the smelly crowd of bitter alcoholics in their oil-​stained work overalls” (5).

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revolutionaries of the same persuasion,” he writes in The Disappearance of the Outside (52). In Bibliodeath, Codrescu offers a footnote that extends over six pages concerning a Red Star literary workshop he attended as a young man in Sibiu. It was presided over by “judges,” five communist party officials who set up rules of decorum. Special attention was paid to observing “unswerving loyalty to the working class and the Communist Party” (6).4 Defying “unswerving loyalty,” Codrescu describes “Socialism” in one poem as “being like a milk pail emptied into the stomachs of people” while the “Cow of Mother Nature is turning red” (An Involuntary Genius, 83). The secretary reprimands Codrescu, but admires the lyric’s dialectical logic. Perversely, Codrescu learned two lessons about poetry and book culture when disciplined and praised for penning the rebellious poem about the sterile cow. He realized Communist officials took seriously the printed word and writing could bring him notoriety: That poets were valued and watched by the authorities did not escape me: I hoped to be valued and watched (and hopefully punished) for my poetic transgressions. The communists, and all intellectuals, were book people. The ideology itself had spread from dank underground print shops through inflammatory pamphlets. The founders’ pamphlets, now books gilded and bound, were required furniture for party apparatchiks. The Communist party employed censors and monitored an index more extensive than the Vatican’s. Children’s first outing was to the library, and while the Bible and lots of other books were forbidden, the object itself was worshipped. (Bibliodeath, 12)

Struggling against censorship via dissident lyrics, Codrescu regards other Romanian poets such as Blaga and Barbu and scholars of mysticism such as Eliade as “totems” for his “mental altar” (Bibliodeath, 47). As a young man, he memorized poems to counteract amnesia, historical lies, and a self that must be split to adhere to party doctrine. Romanians must smile and cheer, he notes, while crying inside. “[C]‌itizens [were] required to participate in mass manifestations of official optimism about a future that everyone, including the overseers, didn’t believe in. My notebook—​soon full of religion, decadence and profanity—​contained these violations chaotically, not in any sensical order” (Bibliodeath, 4). 4   Codrescu also tells the story in An Involuntary Genius. He notes that a Party Secretary critiqued him for being arrogant and uncontrollable, for keeping his collar up as Bohemian resistance to conformity (83).



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A secular Talmudist, Codrescu not only footnotes his main script in Bibliodeath, but he becomes an aficionado of “marginalia” (47).5 “I had no qualms about underlining, writing on the margins, making symbolic marks” (47): I remember some of my notes as very good and concise pro or con arguments against something or other, but others were unconnected to the passage, being just something that occurred to me in some remote connection[. . .]Sometimes I copied my notes, especially early on, and I often used both marked passages and notes for some writing in progress. (47)

A mise en abyme referring the reader back to “marked passages and notes”—​ mediation, not authenticity—​ copied remarks thus become fodder for Codrescu’s writing in progress. Understanding reading as rewriting, he footnotes himself in Bibliodeath, recasting stories told in prior versions of his life story such as An Involuntary Genius in America’s Shoes (2001) and The Hole in the Flag:  A  Romanian Exile’s Story of Return and Revolution (1991). Even his handwriting becomes an iconoclastic personal archive related to Romania’s history as a political football kicked about and conquered, first by Germany, then Russia. “My German-​learned calligraphy tried to make itself legible to my American students, but my attempts to imitate handwriting taught in the US ended up as a hybrid of lower-​case printing” (Bibliodeath, 48). Bibliodeath registers Codrescu’s skepticism that a web (or cloud) archive could provide scholars with anything like a complete account of an author’s literary remains.6 Exiled for over twenty years from Sibiu, the peripatetic author argues that electronic archives fail to encompass a history that includes   Like Codrescu, Daniel Y.  Harris is a US based Jewish poet with a midrashic sensibility who was displaced from his home country (in his case, France) and native language as he has taken up residence on the West Coast and, more recently, in Chicago. Not born digital in 1962 and still attached to the material culture of the book, Harris, like Codrescu, nonetheless approximates in Hyperlinks of Anxiety (Cervena Barva Press, 2013), the bewildering explosion of personhood in a web realm by giving voice to the displaced Other through a virtually untranslatable opaque verse style:  “Diaspora the body in all places/​at once,” he writes in “The Agon Poems” (29). His book specifically addresses from multiple perspectives that I  associate with his Jewish background—​ prophetic, diasporic, ethical, midrashic, gnostic—​the vexing problems and sublime potential of disseminating lyrics, the ancient form of transmission and preservation of the singular, private human voice across time and space to an individual reader, in an environment in which e-​poetry and digitalized poetics pose a crisis (understood as both opportunity and threat) to traditional page poetry. 6   As was the case with Daniel Y. Harris, I do not devote a chapter to Ander Monson’s work in Not Born Digital, but his Letter to a Future Lover: Marginalia, Errata, Secrets, Inscriptions, and Other Ephemera Found in Libraries (Graywolf Press, 2015) deserves mention here as it may be likened to 5

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notebooks Codrescu lost during his journey from Europe to the United States. Two key stories in Bibliodeath focus on seminal, but misplaced, hand-​written documents. One story involves an unlined “ur” notebook he lost at a Greenwich Village café upon arriving in New  York in 1966. Representing Codrescu’s resistance to communist repression, the mislaid notebook, ironically, spurs the author, then a poor young bohemian living on the fringe of New  York’s art world with only broken English, to create multiple personae. By then I  carried a cloth satchel full of notebooks. Each notebook served a different function, according to a vast and now mostly forgotten plan to create poetic personae who looked at the world in different ways, and in different languages. I  think that I  was writing a sort of novel in verse, trying out characters for my new American life. (19)

In New  York between 1968 and 1970 his “alternative” diary mixes different versions of experience, one containing mundane occurrences, another using “Catholic high school girls” passing by the plate glass windows of Blimpies, a sandwich shop, as characters “featuring sexy encounters” (54). “I intended to re-​read in ‘the future,’ twenty years hence, say, both the imaginary and the real journals, to see if I could tell the difference. I was convinced that I wouldn’t be able to” (54). Because the notebooks, upon which Codrescu based memoirs and poems, were themselves often fictional, interpreting them from an archival perspective as historical ground for creative musings, Codrescu argues, misunderstands the unstable relation between notebook and subsequent poems Bibliodeath in its exploration of the relations between the human body, personal memory, and onsite library and digital archives at the moment when Gutenberg and Google galaxies collide. Monson, who was born in Wisconsin in 1975 and currently resides in Tucson, Arizona, where he teaches at the University of Arizona, represents himself as fanatical about libraries and their classification systems. A bibliophile and compulsive list maker, he appreciates the strenuous efforts undertaken by librarians to preserve history’s fragile material traces. With a nod to Jean Baudrillard’s challenge to mapping information in The System of Objects (2006), however, he engages with gaps, erasures, missing and/​or misfiled materials, and mold or burn damage, all of which challenge archivists to accurately conserve the past. “There is no home for this brokenness, how neither the Dewey numbering nor the Library of Congress system is continuous, so you’re always missing something,” he states in “Dear Afternoons” (17). We may compare Monson’s trouble in “Time’s Revenge” with quite literally replaying the past by hooking up game consoles in Tucson’s Learning Games Initiative Research Center to his meditation throughout Letter to a Future Lover on the fragile, often dissonant, and imperfect way we remember through objects. “Any structure will fracture under sufficient pressure,” he writes in “SOME CONSTRUCTIVE CORROSIONS,” an essay that points to limits of the Dewey and Library of Congress classification systems as these two approaches fail to account for all volumes in the University of Arizona’s libraries. “This pressure’s budgetary, certainly. But books get written in, lost, marked up, dog-​eared, coffee-​spilled, food-​smeared, torn up, stolen, misclassified, incorrectly reshelved, intentionally misplaced, mutilated, defaced” (137).



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and stories. Codrescu enacts the creative process as a palimpsest of interwoven creative compositions. As notebooks multiply, self-​ creations morph. Those who observed the notebooks “saw instead the infinite process of the making, splintering, remaking, expanding, shrinking of my morphing ‘self.’ ” (22). In An Involuntary Genius, Codrescu recalls the period in Bucharest just prior to his exile in New York, when, no longer a math student at university, he was ineligible for deferral from military service. To protest former friends and students who had become party bosses, he imagines himself in writing as other identities, including a female lesbian poet named Maria Parfenie (109). He writes poems under her name and in her persona. Identity change served to throw Romanian officials off course as they searched to enlist him into the army: Andrei conceived the following simple idea: if it was that man’s business to be an informer, it was Codrescu’s business to put him on the wrong track. If power was the game, Codrescu was against power. If power, brutality, the army and the Party represented reality then he was against reality. He decided to disguise himself, disappear, fight dirty, be insidious, change identities. (108)7

In a manner reminiscent of the late Doris Lessing’s The Golden Notebook (1962), Codrescu combines factual information and fictive versions of the self in a series of notebooks. Further, Codrescu notebooks represent seminal texts that even the most robust digital archive will never access: This notebook became everything to me: it was the archive of my young mind taking to a path that would lead, I  well knew, sigh, to relentless suffering and ignominious death, as Wordsworth had warned but which I  conceived of at the time as the only possible modus vivendi in a society as repressive, repressed, provincial (and boring) as ours. (Bibliodeath, 5)  In An Involuntary Genius, Codrescu elaborates on his fictive, metamorphic identity as he transitions from Europe to America in 1966. In ­chapter 19, “A Letter” (addressed to his first wife, Kira), he notes how his identity is officially (and illegally) changed when a mystic Gypsy named Willy provides him with a false Persian passport. “It is a phenomenal thing. Between these thick covers, printed with letters I don’t understand, is my freedom from bureaucracies. I can go anywhere except, of course, to Persia. When I asked Willy about the price, he merely waved his hand in the air and said it was a gift from one wanderer to another. The photograph on the document is, by the way, my Lyceum graduation picture. I had no other” (122). He adds: “I felt so brash, in fact, I wished that a policeman would stop me so I could pull out the document and present myself in this new form, a form without history. Looks like I am doomed to forever changing identities” (122). 7

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The other story in which Codrescu loses touch with early writing concerns a poem, drafted in the Romanian language while he was in Italy en route to the United States around 1966. In Italy he jots down notes and poetry “around the print” of a book by Renata Pescanti Botti “in the wide vacant spaces around Renata’s poems” (Bibliodeath, 19). Codrescu receives the book many years later when an unusually astute Emory University librarian suspects Codrescu as author of marginalia on the Botti volume donated to Emory. Renata Pescanti Botti’s refound book brought back the memory of my first notebook (the truly lost one), it returned to me my first history, the specific ambitions of poetry in that long-ago time. The first notebook, to continue with the geometrical metaphor, was the beginning of my orbit, the start of my moving around the fixed center of poetry. When I deliberately abandoned the lined notebook something inside me erased borders, it blurred the boundary between the austro-​hungro-​calligraphic border of my schooling and the soviet border I ironically crossed to get the unlined notebook. In the decades that had elapsed, the Renata objet had not moved with me; it had no history, it had been lost. But now that it was found and published, my journey in English pointed me back to my start in Romanian. (Bibliodeath, 37)

Stories of the vanished unlined notebook and of the long lost, but eventually recovered, Codrescu poem scribbled on the Botti volume, illustrate the author’s skepticism about a virtual archive that claims blanket coverage. Ur-​texts are often unrecoverable, but even if only missing, as in the Botti example, Codrescu regards them as irrelevant to his personal archive. Because dissociated from what has happened to him since leaving Europe, he considers the poem found in Botti’s book from a position of estrangement. It is as if another person had written it. For Codrescu, poetry is the “fixed center” around which subsequent compositions of self—​or selves—​orbit. He remarks, however, that the “fixed center” exists as a figurative black hole, an absence inscribed in the unrecovered notebook. Given his identification of poetry, black holes, identity, and memory, archival resources will inevitably lead researchers on a fool’s errand because the creative center is for Codrescu a subterranean realm of mystery and forgetfulness, not the bedrock of historical fact. In Bibliodeath, Codrescu associates texts with dematerialization, but, ironically, he also unites archival material with human remains in a manner in which Bill Brown in “Materiality” would consider an experiment in



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“exhibiting the body as information” (Brown, “Materiality,” 58).8 In the case of the Pacific Northwest counter-​cultural author Richard Brautigan’s final manuscript, the archive quite literally reveals what Philip Roth called the human stain. Brautigan’s archive becomes for Codrescu a gruesome, extremely literal example of bibliodeath in which corpse and corpus are coterminous. Codrescu retells the story, conveyed to him by J. J. Phillips, former archivist at The Bancroft Library, of the novelist, best known for Trout Fishing in America (1967), who committed suicide by blowing “his brains out all over pages of his last manuscript” (117). I’ve handled them, archived them, touched his brain matter on numerous occasions, though at first I had no idea what I was touching because TBL said nothing and even denied what became all too apparent after I eliminated the other possibilities of what this strange stuff could be [. . .] I see what’s on these pages as something of a completely different order than coffee stains, cigarette burns, the tomato seeds Josephine Miles idly spat onto her mss., even drops of spit, blood, semen, boogers, and the like. With Brautigan, these are the actual physical remnants of brain tissue, blood splatters, and cerebral fluid of the very brain that created the ideas he had and the words he wrote, now creating its own narrative on top of those words, and of course that act insured he’d never think or write another word. Those pages constitute both a palimpsest and something incomprehensibly more. [. . .] The two “expressive” mediums, the mingling of flesh and word made flesh, merge into one unbelievably complex and believably simple text of death. (117)

In retelling Phillips’s narrative of Brautigan’s blood-​and-​brain-​stained archive, Codrescu sets up a binary distinction between traditional paper and digital archives. He associates paper archives with sensory-​laden and material traces of embodiment, fluids, eroticism, the human, the animal, the partial, aura, and individual authorship. Rehearsing what Bill Brown in “Materiality” refers to as “the dematerialization of material culture” that “laments the current separation ‘between communication and substance’ ” in an intangible, electronic realm, he connects digital archives with machines, perfection, the flat, the total, the virtual, social networks, and the computer-​generated (Brown, 51). 8   Drawing on Eugene Thacker’s Biomedia, Brown writes:  “The field of genetics has shown that biological life depends on the storage and processing of ‘information’ to the point where it now makes sense to wonder whether the body is best understood as a network. It is as though information has found a body, and that body turns out to be yours. In this post-​Cartesian universe, arguments that insist on the embedded and embodied character of information give way to experiments exhibiting the body as information” (58).

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Codrescu conceives of autobiography as a process of shaping and reshaping a Stevensian “man made out of words.” Emphasizing gaps in his historiography, he also believes unrecorded aspects of personal and social histories, as well as his “ur” lost notebook, may be more revealing than what is preserved, making archival knowledge partial, a “hole shaped exactly like myself” (Bibliodeath, 23): It is possible also that in “making a hole” I was only unveiling the dark twin of the history buried in the Archives of Amnesia, what came out of these holes were the figures of my murdered kin. There is no technology for digging deeper than that. Beyond the figures of one's erased self there is nothing. (23)

Certainly his childhood experience, as a Jew in anti-​ Semitic Romania—​ even his culture heroes Barbu and Eliade were affiliated with the Fascist Iron Guard—​and born on the heels of World War II, informs his repulsion to archival knowledge as an episteme of factual certitude. His memoirs are littered with tales of disappearing or disappeared people. One involves his father, a womanizer who gained renown for resisting Nazis in the 1940s only to be assassinated as a counter-​revolutionary in a purge once the Soviets came to power. Other stories involve Hungarian relatives lost to Hitler and Auschwitz.9 A  background of amnesiac forgetting of lost relatives enhances Codrescu’s suspicion of optimistic appraisals about state or corporate-​driven technologies of image control: Only school children like myself moved forward without the terror of windowless black vans following them, and only a clueless Jew like myself (and there were only three of us in Sibiu in 1963)  could absorb the optimism of brotherly love propaganda without noticing that all my friends’ families had missing members and a diffuse suspicion of foreign-​language speakers. I had no father, but mine had evanesced for psychological reasons, not evaporated by history like the fathers of my friends. On the other hand, or side, all my grandmother’s sisters and children were seized by Hungarian authorities and exterminated at Auschwitz. (21)

9  In An Involuntary Genius, Codrescu tells the story of his father’s assassination: “The random story of his father came slowly in romantic pieces. During the war he had led a small partisan detachment against the Nazis by blowing up trains and shooting German officers. The detachment was really what was left of the Romanian anarchist movement. When the Communists came to power on the turrets of Russian tanks, his father was awarded the Third Order of Stalin and a highly honorary job in the new government. During the first purge in the new power structure, his father was eliminated” (46).



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In “Orwell: History as Nightmare” from Politics and the Novel, Irving Howe notes how “the destruction of social memory becomes a major industry in Oceania” (244). Howe continues:  “Orwell was borrowing directly from Stalinism which, as the most ‘advanced’ form of totalitarianism, was infinitely more adept at this job than was fascism. (Hitler burned books, Stalin had them rewritten.) In Oceania the embarrassing piece of paper slides down memory hole—​and that is all” (244). Like Orwell and Howe, Codrescu does not regard state media as serving to protect human images. What distinguishes Codrescu from Orwell and Howe is that he extends his critique of “the destruction of social memory” to postmodern archival practices: Storing my archive in an [Electronic] Archives was a comforting thought, but hardly the cure for the bad (good?) luck of being born at such a momentous time of transition between flesh and machine. Would any archive survive so much archiving? It remains to be seen. The crash of each of my hard drives was hard on me, made even worse by the certainty that a truly burnt drive can never be recovered, whereas for a lost notebook there is always the hope that thieves and time might return it. One of my darker thoughts about the new technologies of storage and production is that they are designed to contain the record of the past (under the guise of preserving it) in order to destroy it. (89)

In Bibliodeath, Codrescu further illustrates his suspicion of archival certainties by recounting the subject of a lecture about the “creative ambiguity of the typewriter” (90) delivered by a poet and friend, the late David Franks. Like Charles Bernstein in “Lift Off,” Franks based his work on slides of Correct-​ o-​Type tapes. “[H]‌e developed a theory of mistakes as a language of the subconscious misdirecting the typing hand almost as authoritatively as a Ouija Board” (90). Franks’s interpretation of typos as traces of the unconscious via slips, and Codrescu’s subsequent rant against Spellcheck, are of a piece with his thesis that electronic archives, paradoxically, may not be an ideal repository for cultural memory precisely because they reproduce information on a total scale. For Codrescu, the transition from pen to typewriter to digital increases authorial distance from marks of erasure, mixed mind, marginalia, cover ups, and cover overs—​t he ambivalent mess of creative mishaps, failures, forgetting, and holes—​t hat he deems essential to creativity. Codrescu understands poetry as a medium associated with anarchy, subterfuge, movement, possibilities, and novelty. He believes that such qualities contradict the archival tendency to centralize, conserve, order, store, and contain art, music, and literature.

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Codrescu’s identification of poetry with defiance to groupthink is only one reason why his childhood influenced his privileging of books over new media. His region of Romania “housed one of the oldest printing guilds in Europe, contemporary with Gutenberg,” his mother worked in the printing trade as a color separator, and, although the Bible was Gutenberg’s first printed book, a pamphlet concerning Vlad Dracul was the second (Bibliodeath, 14): The Dracula pamphlet with its vivid woodcuts had a phenomenal and instant impact: it was translated in many countries, including Russia, where it inspired Ivan the Terrible. Gutenberg’s second printed book was the world’s first best-​seller. (14)

Further, his reading of Romanian poets such as Blaga and Barbu, and of scholars such as Eliade, who, Codrescu notes, believed that all religions “had in common Paradise, the center of the world (Axis Mundi), and The Tree of Life,” taught him to view poetry as an exploration of the sacred (42). From Eliade he came to believe “[l]‌ife itself was possible because of the memory and practice of one’s beliefs in these symbolic places” (42). Codrescu expresses his fascination with exalted knowledge.10 In the tradition of mystics, his project involves lifting the veil of a diurnal “virtual reality.” Mystical and occult practices, once hidden, became democratized through Hasidism and Christian Orthodoxy in Romania. Informed by his reading in Romanian mysticism, he also views the internet as a shaman, a mystical conduit of global consciousness that exceeds management by curators. Contrary to his prior linkage of the internet with an Orwellian surveillance state, Codrescu imagines the internet as surpassing a totalizing regime capable of organizing all that has been thought and known. “My spiritual real estate is vast and nonspecific, I am the archive of everything I’ve known and everywhere I’ve been, as Walt Whitman might have put it” (34–​35). How can archives account for the ineffable, the erased, the imagined, the marginal, the realms of fantasy, spirit, and bodily fluid that Codrescu regards as the warp and woof the poet calls upon to resist totalizing regimes? Given his skepticism about archives as a forum to recover history, does Codrescu believe that any genre can assist the author in recovering the truth about the past? For Codrescu, poetry is the  In An Involuntary Genius in America, Codrescu recalls taking a “little white pill” and entering a hallucinatory drug trip in Italy where he has a Whitman-​like experience in which he feels “this kind of joy” an “I LOVE EVERYONE ALIVE!” He adds: “There was no death . . . the whole amazing universe was vibrating, alive . . .” (124) 10



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genre because it represents a site to write a counter history to demolish archival certainties. Bibliodeath surpasses a Luddite’s screed lamenting the threat to books in a new media context. Codrescu challenges humanist identifications of self on page as an immediate reflection of a living “voice.” Regarding identity as mercurial, multiple, and textual, he critiques, even parodies, his elegiac view of print culture as a repository for an embodied self. Codrescu acknowledges that he was—​ nearly literally—​ buried in the print archive he lugged around with him from country to country and state to state in crates, boxes, and rental trucks. He recalls cartons of now-​valuable little magazines and rare avant-​garde titles tumbling off trucks, lost forever as the archetypal wandering Jewish exile travels from Romania to Italy, Israel, New  York, Detroit, Northern California, Baltimore, and Baton Rouge. Far from a woe-​is-​me page poet intimidated by a technology he fears because he doesn’t understand, Codrescu engages with the web by, for example, taking his esoteric journal Exquisite Corpse online. He offers the “resolutely dark (‘opaque’) idea that computers store things in order to destroy them” (89), but also notes that he “quit handwriting and typing on typewriters, and took to the new computer keyboards as if they’d always been there. All my records after the mid-​Nineties were keyed in and logged into machines” (89). He was an early operator of the Kaypro 4 computer, using WordStar and floppy disks for word-​processing. Bibliodeath is Codrescu’s autobiography of the representational manifestation of himself across continents, seismic ideological shifts during the Cold War and post-​Cold War periods, and through to the Post Gutenberg Revolution of the Virtual Web world in which we now live, write, publish, and perish.

II. Gaps in the machine: On Andrei Codrescu’s unarchival poetics In Bibliodeath: My Archives (With Life In Footnotes) and in the poems I will be discussing in detail in this second half of my chapter such as “bridge work”—​ indebted to his reading of Ivo Andric’s Nobel Prize winning novel The Bridge on the Drina—​“as tears go by,” “the mold song,” “history,” “did something miss new orleans?,” and “the revolution and the poet” from So Recently Rent A World (2012), Codrescu regards lyric poetry as a forum to write counter-​history to

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demolish archival certainties. By establishing in “history” what he refers to in Bibliodeath as “the act of hiding as an alternative to history” (39), Codrescu leans in the direction of establishing an archival poetics that regards absences, fissures, gaps, and amnesiac forgetfulness as aspects of the lyric recollection of trauma that he would pursue for the next three decades. Here is Codrescu’s “history” (1971) in 1946 there was my mother inside whom i was still hiding. in 1953 i was small enough to curl behind a tire until the man with the knife passed. in 1953 i also felt comfortable under the table while everyone cried because stalin was dead. in 1965 i hid inside my head and the colors were formidable. and just now at the end of 1971 i could have hidden inside the comfy hollow in the phone but i couldn’t find the entrance.

“It’s a list poem and thus archival, but it’s actively archival,” Codrescu writes of “history.” He continues, “it is an archival machine that moves through time in time to the imperative of the poet, which is to counter history by demolishing, or at least misdirecting, its archival certainties” (Bibliodeath, 41). Because Codrescu regards archives as sites that exist in history—​not removed from world events in a splendid isolation—​he interprets archives as dwellings of catastrophic events. And because he does not distinguish representation from history (and thus from catastrophe), Codrescu does not consider the archive as available to containment. Resonant with Walter Benjamin’s historical materialist perception of the “barbarism” of “cultural treasures” in his “Theses on the Philosophy of History,” Codrescu perceives each historical inscription within the archive as a potential erasure of a prior historical conception of an event’s significance.11

  Benjamin writes: “They are called cultural treasures, and a historical materialist views them with cautious detachment. For without exception the cultural treasures he surveys have an origin which he cannot contemplate without horror. They owe their existence not only to the efforts of the great minds and talents who have created them, but also to the anonymous toil of their contemporaries. There is no document of civilization which is not at the same time a document of barbarism. And just as such a document is not free of barbarism, barbarism taints also the manner in which it was transmitted from one owner to another” (256).

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The Post Hurricane Katrina City of New Orleans remains the displaced Romanian’s adopted hometown. At the same time, like Treasure Island in the San Francisco Bay, which, as I discuss in Chapter 9, David Buuck investigates as a layered archaeological site “full of hidden histories, presents, and possible futures” (1)  in his BARGE (Bay Area Research Group in Enviro-​aesthetics) multimedia project, “Buried Treasure Island:  A  Detour of the Future” (2008), New Orleans is for Codrescu an unarchive that embodies and resists amnesiac forgetting in the sonnet, “did something miss new orleans?” The sonnet form is oddly appropriate. The poem is a vexed love lyric to the city Codrescu described in the title of an essay collection—​w ith a nod to the Marguerite Duras screenplay for the classic Alain Resnais film concerning a French woman’s affair with a Japanese man in the aftermath of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima—​as New Orleans, Mon Amour. The city in “this catastrophe sonnet” is described in line two as a vanished space—​“used to be called n’awrleans”—​but in its absence it has been renamed as “the greatest engineering disaster in u.s. history” (line 3). Codrescu acknowledges concern with archiving remnants of a devastated civic environment, but this is so not only because the area had become submerged in the deluge that broke through the faultily engineered banks of Lake Pontchartrain in late August 2005. The archival problem is that Codrescu’s poem adheres to Benjamin’s assertion that “there is no document of civilization which is not at the same time a document of barbarism.” The poet maintains any definition, nomination, or archival representation of New Orleans—​including the rechristening of the city as an engineering disaster—​w ill, in transforming the metropolis into a site of a nation’s failure to protect an urban treasure, erase, or, as in a palimpsest, overwrite (and thus conceal) prior layers of a distressed urban archaeology. Codrescu’s poem and his other essays about New Orleans make clear that engineering problems are the tip of an iceberg of catastrophe that includes the slave trade, environmental degradation of the Mississippi River by chemical companies and Big Oil so that “[s]‌pills, poisons, and floating garbage have choked its constrained flows” (New Orleans, Mon Amour, 124), police brutality and corruption, the distinction of being in 1994 dubbed as the “murder capital of the United States, with 425 killings” so that “[b]ookies were taking bets on the numbers,” as Codrescu reports in an essay, “My City, My Wilderness” (152), as well as site of the political rise of David Duke, a Neo Nazi elected in 1990 to the state legislature as representative of Metairie, and subject of Codrescu’s essay “Letter Home.”

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New Orleans, for Codrescu, is not merely a repository of an archival history of disaster. Because “New Orleans” embodies disaster, Codrescu argues in his poem as well as in the “Introduction” to his poetry collection Jealous Witness, what happened during Katrina cannot be contained in media reports that assert “coverage” of the storm’s aftermath: One third of its poorest inhabitants never returned. I went back to the city two days after the flood, allowed past the National Guard and army checkpoints to report for NPR. Those days, which now stand like a “time outside time,” an island of inexpressible memory, were much written about and reported on, but like some of the most powerful experiences of the sixties, they cannot be captured in any media translation. (So Recently Rent A World, 383)

Codrescu notes in “did something miss new Orleans?” that the “engineering disaster” version of “n’awrleans” deletes the city as archival repository of “the greatest human disaster/​in pre-​civil war history.” He is referring, of course, to events that happened at places such as the New Orleans Slave Exchange, which, he notes in an essay “Mammie Dolls,” has become a quite literal site of bad taste: “a little restaurant on the site of what used to be a real slave exchange in the old days” (New Orleans, Mon Amour, 92). In the poem Codrescu adds: “and before that/​t he greatest rum sugar and human warehouse/​in north america” and “before that it was just the greatest swamp a drunk/​Frenchman ever dedicated to his sun king.” His unarchive lyric on New Orleans enacts Codrescu’s experience of witness to what he calls the “archives of amnesia.” Along with “this catastrophe sonnet” titled “did something miss new orleans?,” Jealous Witness includes another unarchive lyric, “the mold song,” in which archival material is itself unavailable to salvage, except in the poetic space as a trace reflecting what is no longer a tangible artifact. In an essay titled “Se Habla Dreams,” Codrescu has described New Orleans as “an intoxicating brew of rotting and generating, a feeling of death and life simultaneously occurring and inextricably linked” (New Orleans, Mon Amour, 60). An irreverent, Bluesy verse, written for performance by the New Orleans Klezmer All-​Stars and recorded on a CD that accompanies the Coffee House Press book Jealous Witness in 2008, Codrescu’s “the mold song” incorporates things and persons of New Orleans into a (dis)organized whole that simultaneously rots and generates what it archives: it was one of a kind the earliest map of the united states it was hanging right here on the wall



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the mold ate it all in one gulp the mold ate it all and these books the only copies of newton franklin galileo and this shakespeare folio the mold ate them like they was candy look at the satisfied grinning mold stretching from floor to floor like a fifties horror movie mold not to speak of that stack of cash I never shoulda kept around not a zero left in the whole stack look at me I’m growing old I’m giving myself to the mold (386–​387)

Like “tears” in “as tears go by” and “snow” in “the revolution and the poet,” other unarchive poems I will read in this essay, “mold” is the organic depository in “the mold song.” Given New Orleans’ humid climate, is it surprising that mold would have infested the city after Katrina’s deluge of moisture? It is also not a surprise that fungus would represent to Codrescu a health hazard to citizens in the hurricane’s aftermath12: “it’s some kind of lesson//​I knew that one day I’d be sorry/​I’m not wearing a mask/​I’m not wearing any gloves/​I feel stupid I  feel cold/​I’m giving myself to the mold.” What is peculiar from an archival perspective is that Codrescu as curator treats “mold” as conceptual depository for the ravaged city and the fate of self. “My world is made of water, a fact that makes me feel both transitory and humble,” he writes in the essay “Roll On, Big River!” in which he quotes the Keats epitaph: “ ‘Here lies one whose name was writ on water’ ” (New Orleans, Mon Amour, 117). In “the mold song” he interprets rot that biodegrades rare books, maps, money, wallpaper—​as well as the authorial self (“I’m giving myself to the mold”)—​as a transformational entity. Mold reconfigures a human speaker and valuable human-​made artifacts into an amorphous form, a natural entity with an insatiable appetite. The mold reminds readers that archival data is inscribed on biodegradable resources subject to deterioration from natural forces  Even a brief survey of online information about molds—​“ fungus that grows in the form of multicellular filaments called hyphae” (Wikipedia)—​ confirms why molds would appeal to Codrescu’s idea of a living archive that consumes and destroys the historical materials it absorbs into its rhizomatic development. Molds, Wikipedia reminds us, “play a major role in causing decomposition of organic material, enabling the recycling of nutrients throughout ecosystems.”

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simultaneously too small (cellular) and too large (Katrina) for human beings to contain in a traditional depository for storage of cultural memory. Further, the mold that nourishes itself on deposited archives (maps, folios, rare books, cash) cannot be separated out from the catastrophe it commemorates. I say this because mold is a biological organism that flourished because of Katrina. The “mold” is thus product and inhabitant of the city it consumes. Mold coordinates a self-​inflicted annihilation (suicide) and the ghoulish performance of carnivalesque exuberance for which New Orleans is widely celebrated (Halloween):  “halloween and suicide rolled in one/​I shoulda sold I  shoulda sold/​only in new orleans only in new orleans.” The bittersweet reading of mold’s transformational power—​suicide/​Halloween—​matches Codrescu’s perception in “Roll On, Big River!” that catastrophes such as Katrina are sublime events that teach the limits of human control over self and world: What we share with the world is an unbroken lament. But it isn’t all sorrowful. Catastrophes make us feel insignificant: We are in awe of great forces like raging rivers and quaking earth, events that show us just how puny we are in the scheme of things. Such swift lessons in humility are joyful occasions, actually, despite or, perhaps, because of the pain. (New Orleans Mon Amour, 121)

Regarding an archive as a metamorphic site, Codrescu interprets the waterlogged city as a dwelling of catastrophic events. New Orleans can never be adequately interpreted as a completed archival space because each historical inscription of it erases a prior historical conception of its significance. Following Whitman in Leaves of Grass, Codrescu in “bridge work” favors the list as taxonomy for organizing a vast historical canvas. Like an archaeologist digging through sedimentary layers of rock and soil, the poet sifts through history to chronicle a contested site. A  metacritical reflection on the relation of catastrophe, history, monuments, narrative, poetry, and the archive, “bridge work” is a historiography self-​consciously indebted to The Bridge Over the Drina, Ivo Andric’s novel from 1945 that garnered its author the Nobel Prize for  Literature in 1961. In both novel and poem, the bridge over the Drina becomes a symbolic main character. Built in 1516 and partially destroyed in 1914, both authors imagine the bridge, set at the small Bosnian town of Visegard near the Serbian border, as eyewitness to Balkan history through a series of fictional vignettes. Like Andric’s 314 page novel, Codrescu’s 20-​line poem asks the question: Can a bridge be an archive? The answer is yes, no, and it depends on how you



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define archives and whether or not you can imagine a bridge with eyes and memory banks. What is certain is that Codrescu understands “bridge work” as an ongoing activity with no end in sight. It is like a highway project. It involves construction and deconstruction, deterioration, delay, and hope for a safer, more stable pathway between one point and another, even as motorists know that a new construction project will inevitably crop up, causing further confusion and delay, somewhere else down the pot-​holed path. As in the term for a dreaded dental procedure, “bridge work” can be a painful process that does not encourage one to speak. In strophe one Codrescu regards “the bridge over the drina” as an architectural monument, a placid site for amusement and aesthetic appreciation. At first, readers perceive the bridge from the surface, as “a UNESCO tourist attraction” and “the title of a marvelous novel by ivo andric.” In the second strophe, by contrast, Codrescu imagines the bridge as a live archive open to ongoing catastrophic rupture. As was the case in his poems about Post-​Katrina New Orleans, Codrescu selects the list as method for organizing information that occurred across a wide swath of time. Handling history with a minimal degree of chronological organization, he regards in a short lyric the sweeping, 600-​year multi-​ethnic history that included imperial conflict as well as the multicultural understanding that Andric treated in over 20 chapters in his major novel. In Andric’s novel, the bridge was constructed by a Serbian, who, as a boy, had been removed from his mother only to come to power as a Muslim working for the Turkish Empire. At around age sixty, he built the bridge to signify his estrangement from home and as a belated expression of his desire for a symbolic route of return. The bridge is thus a sign of multinational unification and religious toleration, as well as (primarily) a site of grotesque violation of the human body and of international conflict: joined christendom and islam for six centuries witnessed and withstood impalements hangings the assassination of archduke ferdinand the first world war dynamiting by austrians the nobel prize for literature to ivo andric

This second strophe is, in essence, an indexical gloss on Andric’s emotionally complex novel. It also serves as a nod to Andric’s biographical involvement

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in the Balkan revolt against the Austro-​Hungarian Empire that led to the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand by a revolutionary colleague of Andric’s. The political murder occasioned Andric’s incarceration (during which time he read Russian novels and began to refashion himself as an author), as well as World War I. For it is in Andric’s novel that a notorious act of impalement is featured early on in the novel and Codrescu’s reference to “the assassination of archduke Ferdinand” directly relates to Andric’s biography.13 To view Andric’s celebrated novel as an airtight archive that encapsulates the bridge’s history of violence as well as reconciliation, the remainder of Codrescu’s poem argues, is to assume an end to history coterminous with Andric’s conclusion of his novel, when the bridge is damaged in World War I. One reviewer describes Andric’s novel as telling the “vibrant, but often turbulent, history of life at the cross roads of Turkish and Austrian history. The Bridge over the Drina seems to have seen a lot of horrific things, but it is worth remembering it was nothing compared to what happened on its ramparts during the recent Bosnian war.”14 Codrescu notes that Andric’s practice of writing his novel illustrates how futile it would be to regard the   As Bojana Simeunovic reports: “Beginning Andric s own story is one of tension and reconciliation with complex cultural origins: Born in Bosnia of Croatian parents, he was part of a radical ‘Young Bosnians’ movement, active in terrorist plots against the Austrian government. When one of their group, Gavrilo Princip, assassinated the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, Andrić was imprisoned as a co-​conspirator. There he read Dostoyevsky and Kierkegaard and began to write.” 14   One commentator, who goes by the pen name of Giordano Bruno writes: “Ivo Andric’s stately architectonic prose spans the five-​century history of Visegrad, in Bosnia, as imperturbably as the Ottoman stone bridge that centered the economic, political, and social life of the town. The bridge, as told with thorough historicity, was built as a ‘gift’ to the region by Mohammed Söküllü, a janissary taken from a Serbian peasant family who rose by natural ability to become the Grand Vizier of the Ottoman Empire in the mid 16th Century. Life in Visegrad, with its uneasy blend of Muslims, Christians and Jews, flows under the bridge as steadily as time, now a turbid torrent now a turgid trickle but like Time itself always toward the sea of forgetfulness. Incidents of passion, violence, cruelty, and comedy occur and recur on the ‘kapia’—​t he broad center of the bridge—​leaving their imprint in folk songs and lurking fears.” Andric writes: “So, on the kapia, between the skies, the river and the hills, generation after generation learnt not to mourn overmuch what the troubled waters had borne away. They entered there into the unconscious philosophy of the town; that life was an incomprehensible marvel, since it was incessantly wasted and spent, yet nonetheless it endured ‘like the bridge on the Drina.’ That enduring phlegmatic balance, that provincial tranquility, would last even through the decadence of Ottoman authority and the incorporation of Bosnia into another multi-​cultural empire—​Austria-​Hungary—​but it would meet its destruction with the intrusion of modernity, nationalism, and World War 1.  The bridge itself would be mined and demolished in the War. Though Ivo Andric depicts the exploitation and tyranny of the Ottomans, then the crass invasive bureaucracy of the Austrians, with caustic realism, it’s plain that he pines for the old days and old ways, that his vision of history is utterly conservative and nostalgic.” 13



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bridge as historiographical site with a conclusion attached to it. As Fiona Sampson reports, Andric wrote: During the Second World War, when the author was under house arrest in Belgrade, this is a novel of longing for his Bosnian home, “the little oriental town of Visegard and all its surroundings, with hamlets nestling in the folds of hills, covered with meadows, pastures and plum-​orchards.”15

Codrescu notices that even when Andric was drafting his novel, the archival domicile (the novel) was already becoming a part of history, and thus only a partial accounting of an ongoing site of rupture. In the third strophe, Codrescu revises the interpretation of the bridge in strophe one as entertainment site (novel, tourism), and in strophe two as closed archival representation in which Andric’s Nobel Prize novel inscribes the bridge as the technology of historic witness and receptacle of cultural memory. and looked like the bridge might make it out of history into the 21st century but the 20th century wasn’t done with it yet to come were the visograd genocide the mass rape of bosnian women by serbs and a new bridge of corpses over the drina parentheses not closed andric’s book a pregnant pause. (35)

If the bridge is for Andric the repository for what happened over 500 years of the region’s contested history, Codrescu’s lyric riposte is that the archive is itself a site of rupture during its composition. For Codrescu, the archive has no place to set itself outside history. Concerned with a far milder catastrophic history than were the cases in “history,” “bridge work,” “did something miss new orleans?,” and “the mold song,” Codrescu’s “how it happened” is nonetheless an archival lamentation over the erasure of times and disappearance of places he associates with the social pleasures and gastronomic delights of eating comforting meals at unique and hybrid ethnic restaurants in Manhattan (Greek/​Jewish) and Baton Rouge

  As one reviewer reports, “Written in Belgrade, during the worst of the Nazi bombing, demolishing the city as the author wrote, Andric looks back across the histories that have been written across his home-​land.”

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(African-​American, Creole). Like “the mold song,” it is an archive in which eating plays a key part in the regurgitation of historical site into memorial. america came over chained to frozen food and politically pretentious slaughter and asked of me: if you were a restaurant which restaurant would you be? a Greek diner in midtown Manhattan huge menu liver and onions mashed potatoes dumplings matzo ball soup roast beef mousaka coffee pie `a-​la-​mode everything incredibly fast steamy inside middle of winter ten degrees outside! window seat. and Laura said: The Half Moon Café in Baton Rouge beans and greens and ham hocks everything starting up from beans again next day gumbo stewed chicken dumplings after a late-​night drunk! communal table. less than a year after we answered america the half moon café in Baton Rouge closed and there were no more greek diners in manhattan (33)

What is the “it” that “happened” in the title? As in the “something” that “doesn’t love a wall” in Frost’s “Mending Wall,” “it” signifies the entropic nature of things (Frost, 203). “It” consumes a site associated with sensual pleasures including warmth, place, and community into an eccentric version of a living archive. The vanished remains of the original moment, however, are in the poem turned into a spectral reflection. “It” is a quintessential form of archive for Codrescu for two reasons. First, archival knowledge is embodied knowledge. Born in nature and by its nature quixotic, archival material will morph, and, eventually, disappear. Liver and onions are enjoyed on the spot in that steamy New  York diner when it is freezing outside; liver and onions don’t translate into joy when refrozen and reheated; “everything incredibly fast” says Codrescu of the Manhattan Greek Jewish place. Second, the archival significance of ethnic restaurants as repository for authenticity and sensual pleasure is related to international tastes associated with Codrescu’s



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history as a Wandering Jew. In the poem, America has denied (imprisoned?) its multicultural celebration of immigrant roots by transforming an aspect of US culture that Codrescu admires into a tasteless imperialism associated with commodification (“frozen food”) and state-​sponsored terrorism (“politically pretentious slaughter”). The poet’s conservation of the diner and café—​which we learn at the end of the poem have shut their doors—​only exists in the taste buds and affiliated memories of consumption possessed by Codrescu and his wife Laura. Poetic imagination is thus likened to “mold” that quite literally eats away at the precious materials it simultaneously inhabits, preserves, and erodes. An example of Codrescu’s perception of New Orleans as essentially a dream-​like, above-​ground cemetery of ghost stories that “grow in abundance here, like the flowering vines and the myrtles, the bananas and the figs,” as he states in the essay “The Muse Is Always Half-​Dressed in New Orleans” (New Orleans, Mon Amour, 70), archival space in “how it happened” is hidden, preserved only in stories loquacious gourmands such as Andrei and Laura can tell about pleasures once shared at the now moribund “communal table.” As was the case with “how it happened,” “as tears go by” reimagines archival knowledge. Codrescu envisions the place where archives are held as, paradoxically, embodied and ephemeral, and as an emotional human reaction to remembered intimate encounters mediated through prior cultural occurrences (eating memorable meals in ethnic restaurants, listening to a classic 1960s baroque pop ballad). As in “did something miss new orleans?” “History,” and “bridge work,” he follows Whitman in recalling memories associated with “tears” by cataloguing them as a list. The poem’s title refers to a baroque pop ballad co-​written by members of the Rolling Stones in 1964. The Stones recorded the song and even performed it on The Ed Sullivan Show, but it is to rehearing, as a self-​described aging poet, the breakout version recorded by then-​17-​year-​old Marianne Faithfull that is the affective sensory incident that triggers Codrescu’s meditation on how tears relate to memory. He thinks about tears as an archival repository of personal upset and cultural experiences of grief. In the Stones lyric, released two years before Codrescu immigrated to the United States from Romania by way of Italy, the speaker (remember, Faithfull was seventeen when she sang the version Codrescu addresses in his poem) is already a languorous figure of ennui. Although still young, Faithfull sings as if detached from the unselfconscious pleasures of children at play. Where

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the children are innocents, the speaker perceives their enjoyment as a painful reminder of her alienation from an occurrence that she regards as merely repeating unoriginal experiences. The speaker’s self-​k nowledge disables her from sharing their unselfconscious purity. Rain is interpreted as ephemeral tears (the tears are quite literally moving, they are “going by”). Attending to her tears, which she watches and hears fall, cancels the sound of children singing. The speaker’s basic relation to the atmosphere and to time is disoriented. Day becomes evening. In the Stones lyric, tears split, rather than collapse, the relation of speaker to her environment and to other people who occupy it. Faithfull does “want” to watch the children play, but tears disconnect her from their world. By contrast to the truncated relation between “tears” and world outside the self in the Stones number from 1964–​1965, Codrescu’s “as tears go by” enacts his archival resourcefulness with full force. Where the Faithfull version detaches speaker, world, and other young persons, Codrescu’s rehearsal of hearing the British teenager sing of alienation from the children, paradoxically, connects him to a desire to cry, but by no means are his tears strictly rooted in detachment from childhood. Quite the opposite of the Stones—​one must acknowledge Jagger and Richards penned the tune in their early twenties, not a time associated with empathetic imagination—​Codrescu does not read childhood as an idyllic time protected from tears and loss. Instead, he identifies childhood with disenchantment: “she’s watching children play and children always make me cry because I think that it’s a big bad world that’s mean to children.” In Bloomian fashion, one might say Codrescu “misreads” Jagger and Richards (and thus distorts the source text for his meditation) in order, ironically, to transform the pop tune into a prompt toward a reflection on how tears, however quixotic, are liquids and thus seamlessly mix with those shed by others. Where the Stones detach speaker and children, Codrescu’s reception of Faithfull’s rendition connects his speaker to children who serve as whole/​part (rather than part/​ whole) synecdoche for episodes in his traumatic childhood. He treats his early years in a brief litany in “as tears go by,” but draws upon comparable material in narrative detail in several memoirs. The poem, in other words, becomes, like “bridge work” in relation to Andric’s novel, an index for the author’s robust archival prose repositories such as Involuntary Genius, Bibliodeath, and A Hole in the Flag. The poem is not about Codrescu’s tears, as is the case for Faithfull and her tears. Rather, it is about his absence of tears. He fears that if he started



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to cry he would never stop. His inability to cry illustrates what he elsewhere calls an “archives of amnesia.”16 His inability to cry symbolizes the extremity of his traumatic past, but tears also function as a conduit to connect his troubles to a transhistorical horizon of misfortune. The speaker’s tears merge with his mother’s tears; implying that tears become a mother tongue. Tears also connect the speaker to his grandmother and to the ancient (and now extinct) ritualistic grieving process known as keening. His poem moves from the speaker’s reflection of another speaker’s (Faithfull’s) reflection on children playing to a growing awareness that he, the Codrescu speaker, is, in effect, one of the children Faithfull is singing about. The “big bad world” was “mean to me, certainly, when I was a child.” An unfaithful reading of Faithfull’s lament, the poet transforms the original “As Tears Go By” to address his abandonment by parents, and by the death of the Romanian child’s symbolic father, the Iron man, Stalin. He links his litany of personal dirge to a deep transhistorical folk tradition of mourning rituals known as keening: They were generic when she cried because life and the world were unendurable. And sometimes she cried neither specifically nor generically but deeper like an animal. And those were not her tears [.  . .] they were part of a river of tears that runs through our kind since the beginning of time. This river sweeps us all in its swell and we stand in it keening, wailing, and arguing with something invisible in the language of lamentations. My mother’s two aunts, my grandmother’s sisters, who died at Auschwitz, were swept away by this river. (So Recently Rent A World, 366)

The poem is itself an archival repository for tropes found in prior American poems. The phrase “our kind” recalls Ann Sexton’s “her kind.” Like Codrescu’s speaker, who fashions maternal lineage as a sorrow singer via the ancient tradition of keening, Sexton aligns her position as ostracized Boston feminist housewife in the late 1950s with a transhistorical archival folk mythology including the scapegoating of Salem women as witches. The poem also echoes a classic archival lyric written almost one century earlier before Codrescu’s—​ Langston Hughes’s “The Negro Speaks of Rivers.” In Hughes’s iconic early poem, the speaker becomes, in the tradition of Whitman and Emerson, a   As in Benjamin’s “Theses on the Philosophy of History,” Codrescu’s “Unarchive” calls attention to the “barbarism” of historiography by imagining archival inscription itself as a catastrophic site. Influenced by his experience of Ceaușescu’s Romanian Stalinist state from 1946 to 1966, his stated goal is to “sabotage the narratives of Archives in ways that would allow the Archives of Amnesia to pour through into the present.”

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representative man. His knowledge extends in time and space far beyond the scope of an individual self. The speaker’s awareness expands to an epistemological association, via rivers, with oppression, enslavement, and creative endurance of maligned communities preceding recorded history and even prior to human existence. Codrescu connects his history of traumatic dislocation from his birth country to the silent maternal language of lamentation—​tears—​and then, via his mother’s tears, to a primordial prehuman history of suffering beings through the language of depth and rivers that recall Hughes’s first great poem of association with Sorrow Songs. Where Codrescu writes that his mother’s tears were “deeper like an animal. And those were not her tears, they were part of a river of tears that runs through our kind since the beginning of time,” Hughes wrote that “My soul has grown deep like the rivers” (Hughes, 688). “The revolution and the poet” offers a complex analysis on the relation between art, ephemeral nature as repository of suffering undertaken in the cause of social change, and memorialization. I say “complex analysis” because Codrescu suggests events related to the poet’s life, especially the overthrow of Ceausescu’s regime in 1989, were blood-​drenched manifestations on the natural ground and national landscape—​“There is still blood on the snow in Bucharest”—​that Codrescu interprets as the frozen remnant (“still blood”) of two centuries of art that idealized revolutionary movements in France and Russia. Rather than imagining archives, history, and memory as the aftermath to lived events such as the Romanian revolution, he regards such actions as revolutionaries striking a pose atop tanks in Bucharest as itself a theatrical gesture, a performance that re-​presents what Codrescu refers to as the “tableaux vivants of years of Marxist schooling.”17 Codrescu’s implicit comparison of Bucharest revolutionaries in 1989–​ 1990 with contemporary performance artists such as Cindy Sherman staging cheesy movie stills is richly ironic. As

17   On “tableaux vivants,” The Chicago School of Media reports:  “The Oxford English Dictionary defines the phrase ‘tableau vivant’ as, ‘a representation of a personage, character, scene, incident, etc., or of a well-​k nown painting or statue, by one person or a group of persons in suitable costumes and attitudes, silent and motionless.’ Historically, ‘tableaux vivants denoted figures posed, silent and immobile, for twenty or thirty seconds, in imitation of well-​k nown works of art or dramatic scenes from history and literature.’ In 1760, the Italian actor, Carlo Bertinazzi staged the Greuze’s painting The Village Betrothal in Les Noces d’Arlequin. In 1781, at the Royal Palace in Versailles, the court appointed governess to the sons of the Duke of Orleans, Madame de Genlis, was known to stage tableau vivants in her tutelage utilizing paintings of Jacques Louis-​David and Eugene Louis Isabey. Not only were these playful costumed stagings but they were also used to dramatize important moments of history and literature in order to educate and inform.”



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much as the flag-​waving revolutionaries on tanks in Bucharest reenact images of Soviet Era social realist sculptures, the 1990 version reverses the ideological meaning of the image. Romanians atop tanks signifies rebellion against the regime that instilled “Marxist schooling” that resulted in the “transfusion” of fervor against the Neo-​Marxist regime. Codrescu suggests a postmodern intertextual loop between French revolutionary paintings, Marxist social realism, and Romania’s overthrow of Ceausescu. He also connects himself as poet with the mythic image of Vlad the Impaler as Dracula. He asserts at the start of the poem that the primary significance of the “still blood” on the snow in Bucharest—​we must recall that “snow” is traditionally understood by poets such as Dickinson and Stevens as a figure for poetry—​may be for “the poet” a “transfusion” of material to infuse his imagination with enhanced value: “The poet needs revolution every decade/​like the wounded need transfusions.” “the revolution and the poet” bucharest January 1, 1990 The poet needs revolution every decade Like the wounded need transfusions. There is still blood on the snow in Bucharest. The people with flags unfurled atop tanks strike the perfect revolutionary poses the tableaux vivants of years of Marxist schooling. The French fall in love with them. This is the snow sprung live from every painting between 1846–​1965 and sculpture, too: the bronze train atop of which Lenin arrives at the Finland station where two lovers have found a dark place for love. Only now Lenin is down and the lovers are on top. This is the new decade in Bucharest, snowy New Year by the blazing candles of the martyrs’ shrine drunk with the millennium schooling complete at last (371)

As in Yeats’s paradoxical formulation of the birth of “terrible beauty” at the moment of cataclysmic transformation at the end of “The Second Coming,” Codrescu’s bitter note at the end of “the revolution and the poet” reflects his awareness that real-​world revolutions cost blood in ways “tableaux vivants” never do. Codrescu’s chilling conclusion is that the drunken exuberance

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characteristic of a romantic conception of millennial change may soon enough morph into the bracing realism of the hangover. Real revolution involves blood on snow, martyrdom, and an education in what Philip Roth refers to as the “human stain.” The uncertain, even jaundiced, conclusion to “the revolution and the poet” reflects Codrescu’s similarly pessimistic remarks in The Hole in the Flag that Ceausescu’s overthrow has not displaced Romania’s sad history of oppression as well as its Orwellian association of grand sounding abstract words with a culture of violence and state control: Words like “democratization,” “privatization,” and “human rights” have been taking on the hollow sound of the “wooden language” of their Communist predecessors. The glow of optimism that infused everyone for several weeks after December 1989 faded quickly under the nightsticks of the miners of Jiul Valley. (Hole in the Flag, 11)

In The Hole in the Flag:  A  Romanian Exile’s Story of Return and Revolution (1991), Codrescu goes on to note that CNN reported that 60,000 to 80,000 Romanians were killed in the bloodiest revolution among the Eastern European states in the concluding period of the Cold War, when in fact the figure was less than 1,000, still tragic, but layered by sensation-thirsty media to a size closer to its own expectations of a revolution. Just as Codrescu’s “the bridge over the drina” reads as if it were a gloss on Andric’s Nobel Prize novel, “the poet and the revolution” may be read as a lyrical synecdoche of the broadly drawn narrative reflection on revolution and representation in Codrescu’s The Hole in the Flag. As noted, “the revolution and the poet” foregrounds a media loop. A  history of French painting and Soviet image-​making and a Romanian education promoting revolution manifest in a living archive—​a “tableaux vivant.” History, social change, and a litany of representation coalesce in images of blood on snow as well as revolutionaries atop tanks. Just so, The Hole in the Flag takes on a decidedly postmodern turn as it presents the peculiar relation between media and social change: “To the people, overtaken by events and astounded by the flight of the dictator, it seemed that the provisional government was born on television” (37). He continues: The historic scenes of the war for Romania were shown live by Romanian television, using both the studio inside the Central Committee and the studios at the television station. One of the fiercest battles to be telecast was that for the television station itself, which reported its own situation in dramatic bulletins.[. . .] The Romanian tricolor, red, blue, and gold, with the



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Communist emblem cut out of the middle was mounted on top of tanks. The same flag, emblem cut out, was draped over the wall of the TV studio, and the words “FREE ROMANIAN TELEVISION” were handwritten on a banner that became the new logo of Romanian TV. (37–​38)

Contrary to late Proto Rap poet and funk singer Gil Scott Herron’s 1970 Black Power anthem “The Revolution Will Not be Televised,” Codrescu in The Hole in the Flag locates Ground Zero of Romania’s Revolution as occurring in the battle for control of the television news studio in Bucharest. As Gil Scott Herron had predicted “the revolution will be live,” but Herron did not foresee the situation that cultural critic Richard Dienst, following from his teacher Fredric Jameson’s observations that the “televisual image is not produced ‘after’ or ‘inside’ its temporal and spatial frames; rather, these are working dimensions of the apparatus,” refers in Still Life In Real Time: Theory After Television (1994) as television’s power not merely to communicate “ ‘discrete messages,’ ” but to shape “its own ‘world,’ gathering distances into itself in order to redistribute them according to its own program” (Dienst, 59; 4). Telemediation of the Battle for Bucharest occurs in the TV studio. Revolutionaries and communist party officials realize that the real-​time representation of the fight for the studio is the quintessential battleground for the revolution. The revolution amounts to a contest over how to project—​how to narrate and how to name—​t he meaning of the blood-​stained performances occurring simultaneously on the tank-​laden streets and inside the gun-​shot pelted studio of Bucharest TV. As in “the revolution and the poet,” the tableaux vivant of revolutionaries on tanks recurs, this time in the context of the title of Codrescu’s memoir. A hole in the Romanian flag represents a negation of the Ceausescu regime, but also an absence, or fissure, in the nation’s cultural imaginary. Through the hole, Codrescu can reenter the Romanian narrative that he had escaped in 1966. As is typical of Codrescu’s archival imagination, the hole in the flag signifies his understanding that historical meaning occurs under the sign of negation. By that I mean the most prominent signifier of revolutionary change in Romania in 1989 and the author’s figurative way in to re-​visit, as patriot and reporter, that historical space takes place through the part of the flag that has been “cut out of the middle.” What is missing, what is invisible, what cannot be preserved in the archive becomes for Codrescu the significant repository of historical change. Codrescu poems convey an archival theme, but his conception of an archive is so iconoclastic that it even defies categorization among what

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Wikipedia calls the “2.7% of archivists [who] were employed in institutions that defied categorization.” Codrescu’s (un)archival poetics is an exceptional exception when it comes to imagining what an archive looks like, where it is located, when and how it can be consulted, of what it is made, and of how it may be interpreted. Archival lyrics from So Recently Rent A World bear out my point that Codrescu’s definition of what constitutes an archive defies easy categorization. In Codrescu’s poetry—​influenced as it is by his Romanian modernist forebear, the “daddy of Dadas” Tristan Tzara—​swamps, molds, New Orleans, the bridge over the Drina River, human tears, snow, and eating all are imagined as simultaneously serving and upsetting archival purposes. That is, Codrescu regards his representations of the eccentric items listed above as unstable, damaged, and often ephemeral repositories—​what he calls an “Unarchive”—​for the conservation and transmission of history. A kind of metaarchival practice, his writings retrace and, for a time, store as residual elements, the personal record and public history of the author’s time and place that had previously been subject to amnesiac forgetting.

6

“Needing to Summon the Others”: Archival Research as Séance in Susan Howe’s Spontaneous Particulars

“Nature is a Haunted House—​but Art—​a House that tries to be haunted” Emily Dickinson (L 459) “A haze/​Blink into aching lost/​Only words remain/​If the print is available” Susan Howe1 “The only real in writing is writing itself ” William Carlos Williams, The Embodiment of Knowledge. Because she attends to writing as a residual manifestation of a fragmented self, and because of her opaque texts—​cut up, taped together, and, at points, overlapping—​Susan Howe is often cast as a postmodern Language poet with historicist leanings.2 Spontaneous Particulars (2014), however, emphasizes Howe’s indebtedness to modernists such as William Carlos Williams, Hart Crane, Gertrude Stein, and Hilda Doolittle. As does Williams in In the American Grain (1925), which Michael Palmer describes as bearing “the same relationship to a consciousness of American language and speech” as one finds in Howe’s “creative scholarship,” she digs into layers of writing several levels beneath modernism (My Emily Dickinson, back cover). Through archival research, Howe investigates the American ground as it appears in writings by Nathanael

1   Unpublished poem, quoted by Joyce in “The Small Space of a Pause”: Susan Howe’s Poetry and the Spaces Between. 2  “Because of her poetry’s seeming impersonality, collage-​ based density, and semantic and syntactic fragmentation, Howe has often been grouped with the Language poets (Lyn Hejinian, Charles Bernstein, Ron Silliman),” declares the headnote to Howe’s entry in the Norton Anthology of Modern and Contemporary Poetry (Vol. 2, p. 688). The Norton does link Howe to Woolf, Joyce, and Dickinson.

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Hawthorne, Jonathan Edwards, and Noah Webster and reproductions of cloth patches associated with the otherwise unacknowledged figure, Susan Edwards.3 The bits of fabric testify to the exclusionary, even violent, character of archival memory.4 Howe points out, “embroidery and dress fragments, a pair of silk shoes” (21) represent the only material reminder of a gifted, learned woman in the vast Edwards archives at Yale’s Beinecke, which includes over 1,200 sermons by Susan’s brother, Jonathan, the New England evangelical preacher credited with helping inaugurate the Great Awakening in the first half of the eighteenth century.5 As with Andrei Codrescu’s Bibliodeath, which describes the gruesome blood and brain matter splattered upon a manuscript by Richard Brautigan, who committed suicide during composition of a novel in 1984, as a critical component of the late author’s archive held at the Bancroft Library in Berkeley, I will be focusing in this chapter on Howe’s archival research into material culture—​for example, the embroidery and silk shoes and wedding dress fragments assigned to female members of the eighteenth-​ century

3   Style is another term with a deep history. It is a term, Dictionary.com reminds us, connected to a Latin term for a writing tool. 4  In Led by Language:  The Poetry and Poetics of Susan Howe, Rachel Tyvia Back emphasizes the multiple meanings to the term “mark,” which appears frequently in Howe’s writings. Back notes that the term holds an autobiographical significance for Howe because her father and son both had Mark as a first name. The term also speaks to Howe’s association with marking as a sign of how language is loss-​based (an inscription replacing the lived experience the mark represents), and is linked to a history of US colonialism, imperialism, and a frontier aspect of domination and erasure of indigenous peoples that Howe connects with the violent marking of boundaries that inflicted erasures of native persons. Her concern with marking as a form of violence is in line with her critique of archival re-​marking of the past as an exclusionary procedure. 5  In That This, Howe invokes the family history of Jonathan Edwards, “the only son among ten unusually tall sisters their minister father jokingly referred to as his ‘sixty feet of daughters’ ” (20). Esther Stoddard Edwards [1695–​1766], “also known for her height, taught her eleven children and others in Northampton in a school that consisted of a downstairs room in their farmhouse. Later they received the same education Timothy provided to local boys in his parish in East Windsor, Connecticut. The girls were tutored along with their brother (in some cases they tutored him) in theology, philosophy, Latin, Greek, Hebrew, history, grammar and mathematics” (20–​21). Howe continues: “The Beinecke Library in New Haven owns a vast collection of Edwards family papers. It contains letters, diaries, notebooks, essays, and more than twelve hundred sermons; but apart from a journal kept by Esther Edwards Burr (Jonathan and Sarah’s eldest daughter) after her marriage, and a few letters to and from the sisters, daughters, and Sarah, all that remains of this 18th-​century family’s impressive tradition of female learning are a bedsheet Esther Stoddard Edwards probably spun and embroidered herself, Sarah’s wedding dress fragment, and several pages from Hannah Edward Wetmore’s [1713–​1773] private writings—​a long with posthumous excerpts collected and transcribed with commentary by her daughter Lucy Wetmore Whittlesey” (21). She adds:  “The Connecticut Historical Society in Hartford owns a fragment of Mary Edwards’ crewel embroidery, and a pair of silk shoes ‘worked by Miss Hannah Edwards daughter of the Rev. Timothy Edwards, wife of Seth Wetmore, Esq. of Middletown’ ” (21).



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Edwards family—​as evidence of what William Carlos Williams termed the “embodiment of knowledge.”6 As with Codrescu’s punning on the relation of corpse and corpus in his analysis of the human-​stained Brautigan manuscript, Howe perceives archival research as a work of bereavement. In That This (2010), for example, a Howe work inaugurated by the unexpected death in 2008 of her second husband, the distinguished SUNY Buffalo philosopher of American pragmatism Peter Hare, she describes her researches in terms of mourning: “If you looked through my papers until now, you would find a former dead husband at the center. We had almost stopped needing to summon the others—​ not quite. Not if you rely on written traces” (That This, 15). Like That This, Spontaneous Particulars addresses her gnostic disposition and serendipitous relation to archival researches as forms of trance-​like “summoning” of the dead that remain as textual spirits: “Often by chance, via out-​of-​t he way card catalogues, or through previous web surfing, a particular ‘deep’ text, or a simple object (bobbin, sampler, scrap of lace) reveals itself here at the surface of the visible, by mystic documentary telepathy. Quickly—​precariously—​coming as it does from an opposite direction” (18). Archival research enables Howe, through luck or fate, to, as it were, read life backward. She can experience an uncanny repetition of, not only a textual trace of the past, but what she calls an “experience [of] a moment before.” In In the American Grain, Williams reframed Early American history through liberal quotations from source texts to convey their impact, in sound and sense, on the modern scene. Howe, by contrast, focuses on writerly stylistics, but she also comments upon the physical surface of texts. In reviewing the Edwards family papers held at Yale’s Beinecke and at the Connecticut Historical Society in Hartford in That This, for example, Howe devotes a half page of Spontaneous Particulars to describe the quite literal fabric upon which family members wrote. By so doing, Howe encourages readers to consider the fabrication of the “homemade” and “hand-​stitched” writing surface itself as a crucial aspect of the overall creative composition. Howe notes that one of the Edwards manuscript surfaces has been described by earlier commentators as a canoe-​like “antique paper vessel,” an appropriate figure of speech considering the text serves as vehicle for transmitting material traces of an extraordinary seventeenth-​century New England family into the present day. Composed of   Howe discovered the Edwards fabrics during visits to Yale’s Beinecke and Hartford’s Connecticut Historical Society. 6

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“linen rags salvaged,” the writing surface itself tells a story of scarce resources for communication, with special attention to the ingenuity of women in recycling articles of clothing into a makeshift surface for personal expression and theological reflection: The folio-​size double leaves Jonathan, Sarah, and his ten tall sisters wrote on were often homemade: hand-​stitched from linen rags salvaged by women from worn out clothing. Grassroots out-​of-​tune steps and branches, quotations of psalms, dissonant scripture clusters, are pressed between coarse cardboard covers with frayed edges. The rag paper color has grown deeper and richer in some places. One in particular, with a jacket he constructed from old newspapers then tied together at the center with string, looks like a paper model for a canoe. The minister or possibly some later scholar has christened his antique paper vessel “The Doctrine of [the] Justice and Grace of God, Explained and Defended, and the Contrary Errors that Have of Late Prevailed, Confuted . . .” (22)

The sartorial metaphor is apt. Jonathan’s book cover “jacket” preserves the written word in its handmade folder as if it were a suit of clothes designed to comfort and protect a body vulnerable to the ravages of time and change. Howe suggests a correspondence between Edwards’s writing surface (the “jacket”) to contain an eccentric bibliographical miscellany, itself made up of myriad linen samplings, with her collation of source texts in That This and Spontaneous Particulars. Edwards’s “jacket” also resonates with Howe’s interest, as a visual-​oriented author trained at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, in shaping passages from the Edwards archive into patterns designed to approximate their appearance as tattered fragments in the archive. My commentary on the physical texture of archival materials in the Edwards case points to Howe’s preference for onsite rather than digitalized archives. Here, Howe would seem to fall into the camp that Bill Brown, in “Materiality,” refers to as adhering to what he calls “The Dematerialization Hypothesis,” a “dystopian wonderland where we’re left with only traces of a physical world, a world somehow vaporized by electronic media” (Brown, “Materiality,” 51).7 No Luddite, however, Howe remarks on the technical process of storing 7  In “Materiality,” Brown quotes the archaeologist Colin Renfrew’s lamentation on “the dematerialization of material culture in the context of electronic media’s alleged intangibility”: “physical, palpable material reality is disappearing, leaving nothing but the smile on the face of the Cheshire Cat” (Renfrew quoted in Brown, 51), Acknowledging without bemoaning the fact that, as Mark Poster argues, “the material infrastructure of the sign” has been “drastically reconfigured” by new media, Brown, citing modernist examples in Walter Benjamin and Andre Malraux, claims new media “always seem to provoke this old melodrama” (Brown, 55; 53). To cite



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and reproducing archival materials using post-​modern digital products and reproduction processes such as the “state-​of-​the art North Light HID Copy Light system” that boasts “doubly-​fan-​cooled” lamps with “one chamber for the hot (lamp) side and one fan for the electronic side” (That This, 30), while attending to absences within the preserved record.8 As in Walter Benjamin’s “Theses on the Philosophy of History,” Howe, like Codrescu in Bibliodeath, recognizes the “barbarism” of historiography. In Spontaneous Particulars, she describes the “acquisitive violence, the rapacious ‘fetching’ involved in collecting” materials to remember the past via archival research (43). Like Codrescu, Howe worries over the transformation of archives from brick and mortar sites to online digital formats. Illustrating what Bill Brown in “Materiality”—​citing N. Katherine Hayles’s interest in maintaining a close relationship to “the materialities of embodiment”  —​describes as a scholar’s desire to “rematerialize media by exhibiting the physical interaction that occurs between humans and technology and disclosing the multilayered histories that lie within any technology of communication” (Brown, 56), Howe laments the loss of “the need to see and touch objects and documents” as part of a synesthetic experience that foregrounds the embodiment of history in our examination of its textual remains (9). She acknowledges that online “technologies offer new and often thrilling possibilities for artists and scholars,” but her latest book is a “collaged swan song to the old ways” of onsite archival research that privileges what Mark Hansen in New Philosophy for New Media refers to as the task of the “affective body” to “give body to another example of how what is now an old media was viewed at the time as a threat to embodiment, Brown notes that the telegraph was “understood to make ‘communication independent of embodied messengers,’ to separate thought from the body” (Brown, 57). 8   The story of Jonathan Edwards’s gifted sisters calls to mind the extraordinary literary education of women in the eighteenth century in this rare case. It should be noted, however, that Jonathan Edwards is by no means the enemy in this story. Howe views him as possessing a poetic sensibility and emotional vulnerability that, like her own, was in touch with the recuperative values of nature. His spirituality was far more mystical, textual, metaphoric, and searching and intuitive than doctrinaire, as she explains in an essay in which she expresses affection for the poetic sensibility of Edwards and Wallace Stevens: “In 2008 we see through speculative knowledge and are unwilling to embrace the imaginative and aesthetic crossing he makes between our material world—​t he world of types—​a nd the spiritual world as it actively flows from revelation into human history. For Edwards, new truths are suggested through inspiration, but such light is only understood and revealed in the Word of God; it can’t be given without the Word. This Calvinist minister who spent his life in the eighteenth-​century Connecticut River Valley, and didn’t write in verse, had the imagination of a poet. He believed that precise word choices, when disciplined into becoming bare embodiments of ideas, would become the source or occasion of conceptual discovery.” Howe in “Choir answers to Choir: Notes on Jonathan Edwards and Wallace Stevens.”

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digital data” (Howe, Spontaneous Particulars, 9; Hansen, 11; 13)  through a sensitive interaction with and artful rearrangement of digitalized archival information. In In the American Grain, Williams perceived Puritans such as Cotton Mather as European-​oriented allegorists, and thus enemies to the objectivist’s call for a nonsymbolic embrace of the American ground, a quality that Williams locates in a French contemporary of Mather’s, the less celebrated Pere Sebastian Rasles, the Jesuit Missionary who Bryce Conrad writes “provides an anti-​Puritan model of accommodation” with Indians (34).9 Williams’s rendering of Mather’s writings, which speak to the minister’s dissociation from native inhabitants—​he viewed indigenous peoples as devilish savages whom he found repugnant to the touch—​reveals his distaste for Otherness.10 By contrast to Williams’s critique of Mather’s writings as a source of repression that played itself out in modern American detachment from the native ground and antipathy toward newly arriving immigrants, Howe regards Jonathan Edwards as an unexpected spiritual ancestor and forerunner to herself as idiosyncratic archivist. Howe’s theological sensibility and aesthetic practice is comparable to Edwards’s uncertain, but obsessively persistent, expression of faith in redemption, and especially his emphasis, in collections now known as “Miscellanies,” on “storing information in an extensive system of notebooks, which he carefully cross-​ referenced and arranged in his desk drawers” (Sweeney, 46–​ 47). Howe also appreciates Edwards’s faith in the mystic properties of words. She admires his biblical exegesis and his perception of reading scripture as what Edwards scholar Douglas A. Sweeney describes as a “divine, supernatural event” (40). Edwards reportedly experienced in 1721 the “spiritual sense of the reality of God” while meditating on a passage from

9   Conrad notes that Williams read Rasles’s letter in the original French. Williams describes it as a “source not reckoned with” by “most historians writing in English” (35). Like Howe, Williams, in his work on French Jesuits is, according to Conrad, working with sources that had “virtually vanished from histories of the period” until the middle of the nineteenth century. 10   Bryce Conrad writes: “Mather’s shunning of the Indians, his horror of actually contacting that which the Puritan formula for salvation denied, is the key gesture of Williams’ excerpt from the Decennium: it is the Puritans’ fear of the Other, of life as found in the New World. The Puritans are a source for Williams—​‘they were themselves the corn I speak of,’ he tells Larbaud after describing their first December in the New World (111). But ‘There was a maggot in them. It was their beliefs’ ” (114) (29–​30). Conrad continues: “And it is on the basis of those beliefs that Williams identifies the Puritans as ‘an IMMORAL source’ (113). Their formula for knowing America, their fear of touching the native and the unfamiliar, Williams argues, persists today ‘like a relic of some died out tribe whose practices were revolting’ ” (115) [Conrad 29–​30].



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1 Timothy (Sweeney, 41). Howe even cares for Edwards’s eccentric comparison of the silkworm to Jesus Christ.11 A charming story Howe tells about Edwards in Souls of the Labadie Tract (2007) connects his evangelical journey into the New England wilderness to her investment of extraordinary psychic energy into archival researches as an expression of desire to forge a usable past by preserving its physical remains. In the story, Howe ties Edwards to paper fragments to clothing to body to memory to location. The chain of associations between ideas and their embodiment are key to her fascination with archives as textual (both paper and cloth) reminders of historical memory grounded in material culture, the body, and the specific geographies in which humans dwell and move. The tale’s title, “Errand,” alludes to what Harvard American Studies scholar Perry Miller referred to in 1956 as the Puritan “Errand into the Wilderness” (Miller was himself alluding to a 1670 jeremiad sermon by Samuel Danforth of Massachusetts). Howe’s title also puns on the word “error.” It is an essential term for Howe. She searches archives at SUNY Buffalo, for example, to notice how William Carlos Williams used his typewriter’s “#” key to strike out errant or unwanted passages as he composed Paterson. Her fascination with errors and omissions as telling, but often overlooked, reminders of how creativity occurs in the midst of mistakes, erasures, sublimations, or second thoughts, also comes across in her practice of cutting, taping, and splicing elliptical bits of passages in a manner that repeats errant (nonsymmetrical) visual shapes of cloth fragments the Edwards family used for a writing surface.12 In “Errand,” Howe casts Jonathan Edwards as a lonely traveler on horseback in New England, an evangelist visiting parishes from his home in Northampton to other towns in Massachusetts and in Connecticut. In an archival version of the Hansel and Gretel folk story,

  In “Images of Divine Things,” Edwards wrote:  “The silkworm is a remarkable type of Christ, which when it dies, yields us that of which we make such glorious clothing. Christ became a worm for our sakes,” he continued, and by his death finished that righteousness with which believers are clothed, and thereby procured that we should be clothed with robes of glory” (Sweeney, 104). 12   Further, Howe likens archival research to a political desire for possession of history. An “Errand” in the sense that Howe is the proverbial “errand boy” (or girl) fetching material to recover a powerful ancestor’s (or deity’s) memory, but also the act of her own “errand” into the textual wilderness to reshape the past into a meaningful design, Howe associates her archival project with US colonial, imperial, theocratic, and evangelical movements accused by contemporary American Studies scholars of erasing native cultures, suppressing women’s voices, and anxiety about nature, sexuality, and the body as sources of shame worthy of repression. The “wilderness” referred to by Perry Miller is comparable to Howe’s own ancestors’ desire for control of the American ground through subjugation of native persons in the form of boundary markings. 11

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Edwards, Howe recalls, pinned bits of paper to his clothing, “fixing in his mind an association between the location of the paper and the particular insight” (9). “On his return home,” Howe continues, “he unpinned each slip and wrote down its associated thought according to location” (9). Howe casts Edwards’s body, absurdly, but quite delightfully, as a moving repository of personal memory deeply connected to the “wilderness” setting in which his insights came to pass. He is covered in scraps of text that, upon his return journey to Northampton, trigger his awareness of prior thoughts and the locations that prompted the initial reflections. “Words give clothing to hide our nakedness,” Howe adds, once more connecting textualities (verbal and cloth-​made) to the vulnerable human body. Howe’s focus in Spontaneous Particulars is primarily (although not exclusively) on spiritual resonances and aesthetic pleasures she has accrued by aligning her experience with writings by previous male American authors such as Jonathan Edwards. She enacts the “field” poetics of modernists such as Williams in Paterson and postmodernists such as Charles Olson in Maximus. Her etymological linkage of textuality to weaving—​she reminds readers that the “English word ‘text’ come from Medieval Latin textus ‘style or texture of a work,’ literally ‘thing woven’: ‘to weave. To join, fit together, construct’ ” (19)—​bring into line her composition to aesthetic practices and narrative strategies distinctly feminist in lineage, and often accompanying making female violation.13 One thinks of classical examples of garment-​ as a means to postpone unwanted sex and to stave off political upset in Penelope’s weaving and unweaving of Odysseus’s shroud to ward off suitors to the Ithacan throne, as well as the ur-​narrative of female poetic initiation imagined in the form of a tapestry that told the story of Philomela’s rape by Tereus, King of Thrace.14 To illustrate the relation of textuality to embroidery, Howe juxtaposes—​on the same page in which she defines “text”—​a “detail of embroidered silk on linen sampler” from 1766 by Rebekah White that Howe   In recalling the roots for “text,” Howe provides a genealogy for a common, but often unexamined, term for a piece of writing. Further, she connects her multilingual rehearsal of the term’s history to another word, style, which connotes the concern for aesthetics that, as I explain, drives her archival researches. 14  In TriQuarterly, Allen Grossman offered an impressive discussion of the tale. As Grossman asserts, the female victim’s weaving of a tapestry with information about her trauma in that myth is a literal form of textual manifestation. Philomela’s weaving is a last resort of communication, replacing disabled speech by one whose tongue has been cut out by the king to prevent oral announcement of his violation of her to Procne. 13



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discovered at the Antonio Ratti Textile Center at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (72). Just as Howe imagines textuality as a Folk Art—​embroidery—​ Spontaneous Particulars is informed by a High Cult modernist poetics that, in its assemblage, nonetheless resembles a homespun weave. In Spontaneous Particulars, Howe puts in spatial relation to each other reproductions of textual scraps from archives. Examples include an envelope fold on which Emily Dickinson scribbled words of faith to loved ones not long before her death, and prescription pads on which Williams jotted down images of locust flowers in bloom and his concern with the costs of beauty in a hasty script for eventual use in Paterson.15 Following the envelope fold note to her sister-​in-​law Susan in which Dickinson states, “[e]‌merging from an Abyss, and re-​entering it that is Life, is not, Dear?” (18), Howe records with serendipity her shared first name with Dickinson’s interlocutor, a nominal concurrence that evokes subjective historiography as well as her mystic bent. Through such coincidences, Howe twins modernist “impersonality” and contemporary “confessionalism” by, as she stated in My Emily Dickinson (1985), “concealing” and “confessing” her alignment with Dickinson’s eccentric views on the afterlife. Howe imagines the precursor’s writing as part of a telepathic procedure. Sister-​in-​law Susan may be the primary addressee, but Howe, too, receives the long distance call in a distinct temporal frame and spatial context: “The tie between us is very fine, but a Hair never dissolves,” wrote Dickinson. Stating, “[t]hings-​in-​t hemselves and things-​as-​t hey-​are-​ for-​us,” (18) Howe interprets her archival task as a séance. The researcher hopes to revive kindred spirits from a vanishing beyond. Her overlapping placement of documents, however, mimics in outline the fractured remains of written surfaces American authors have used to express themselves. Her stammering text thus suggests that the telepathic endeavor will, at best, only partially recover her literary family tree via the existent record. We read Howe’s idiosyncratic researches in special collections housed at Yale, Harvard, Buffalo, and other institutions such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, as a displaced, even objectified, form of personal reflection and creative reading.16   Howe offers a witty definitional riff on the various meanings of “prescription” as, among other things, a form of “Prefatory writing” [40] beside her placement of a Williams scribbled script on his prescription pad concerning his affection for the beauty of the locust tree in flower. The passage informs his views about the “cost of beauty” in Paterson, The Library. 16   Howe’s “collaged swan song” in Spontaneous Particulars includes reproductions from materials “taken from various research libraries and special collections” (9). Her pastiche highlights texts from the “William Carlos Williams Collection at SUNY Buffalo’s Poetry Collection,” as well as 15

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Howe advocates for study in traditional brick-​a nd-​mortar repositories (as opposed to digital archives) because she is less focused on interpreting a document’s semantic content, and more affected by gaps, erasures, blank spaces, marginalia (Charles Sanders Peirce’s doodlings, for example), and the literal texture of objects she encounters with the senses of smell and touch, as well as sight.17 In Spontaneous Particulars, Howe notices that Dickinson, in the example described above, took advantage of second-​hand surfaces—​a torn envelope—​to sketch out her goodbye note. Experiencing the quality, odor, and composition of the paper—​often, in the case of the Edwards family, writing surfaces were composed from repurposed cloth—​is a critical part of Howe’s telepathic reunion. Foregrounding writing and other material artifacts as fundamental means of retracing the past, Howe combines attention to physical “works” with an interest in process that takes after Roland Barthes in “From Work to Text,” Hayden White in Metahistory:  The Historical Imagination in Nineteenth-​Century Europe, and Williams’s In the American Grain.18 As Conrad has argued, for Williams, “documents are seen as living sources that constitute the present in addition to the past” (15).19 Howe’s promotion of aesthetics and spirituality—​ topics she regards as currently “taboo”—​as well as her celebration of Edwards, the eighteenth-​ century theologian, contradicts the skeptic disposition evident in much contemporary literary and cultural studies. Her challenge to the privilege of center over margin is, by contrast, in line with recent geopolitical concerns, even as her spatial method of demonstrating her challenge to such thinking is eccentric. To demonstrate the meaning of marginalia, she explores doodles on manuscript pages by Peirce, the Cambridge polymath, semiotician, coast content from “the Jonathan Edwards Collection” “at Yale University’s Beinecke Library,” “the Charles Sanders Peirce papers at Harvard’s Houghton Library, the Ratti Textile Center at the Metropolitan Museum of Art” and archival holdings of Emily Dickinson, Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, Hart Crane and Noah Webster. 17   As Elisabeth W. Joyce argues in her book on the poet, Howe “reshapes cultural configurations of space through her drive to infiltrate interstitial areas of ‘third’ spaces: the silences of history, the margins of the page, the placeless migrants, and the uncharted lands” (15). 18  Howe emphasizes the role of readers, another of Barthes’s emphases. Like Howe in relation to archives, readers of Spontaneous Particulars are welcomed to imagine themselves as creative correspondents to the author’s readerly act of subjective historiographical repositioning of materials that have been stored and catalogued in archives, but rarely taken to heart, looked at but not seen. 19   Spontaneous Particulars bears traces of the transition noted by Roland Barthes in the last part of “From Work to Text”: “Text is that social space which leaves no language safe, outside, nor any subject of the enunciation in position as judge, master, analyst, confessor, decoder. The theory of the Text can coincide only with a practice of writing.”



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surveyor, logician, and Pragmatist philosopher.20 Howe pairs on the same page with Pierce’s comment that he is “a mere table of contents . . . a very snarl of twine” (21) the remark that her poetics are informed by chance encounters with manuscripts: “In research libraries and collections, we may capture the portrait of history in so-​called insignificant visual and verbal textualities and textiles” (21). Both statements face a page of “Caricatures, Doodles, Drawings, Pen Trials” from an undated “manuscript number 60” from the Peirce papers held at Harvard’s Houghton Library (72). As with her transgendered affinity to male Modernist “field” composition and feminist folk art in the form of embroidery, we observe the way Howe juxtaposes the consummate High Cult male (notwithstanding queer) novelist, Henry James, and an obscure anonymous lace fragment as comparable illustrations of her awareness that textuality precludes closure. Howe reflects on her spatial-​oriented poetics, which privileges uncanny associational logistics, by rehearsing James’s comments from the “Preface” to the Scribner’s New York edition of novels (1907): “Where, for the complete expression of one’s subject does a particular relation stop—​giving way to some other not concerned in that expression?”  (22). James illustrates his comment about a text’s rich ongoingness with an allegorical anecdote about “a young embroiderer of the canvas of life”  (22). In the desire to perforate a surface with a needle to create “his many-​coloured flowers and figures to cover and consume as many as possible of the little holes,” the embroiderer undergoes sublime terror. For the needlepoint artist, developing the image multiplies at a geometric ratio the “boundless number of its distinct perforations for the needle.” The narrative speaks to James’s fastidiousness amidst “a thousand lures and deceits,” and to Howe’s mind-​boggling struggle to reunite present and past by refashioning bits and pieces from cavernous archival resources into a meaningful design. In her materialist approach and feminist manner, Howe pairs on a facing page with James’s comments, a sliver of a mottled with age and anonymously made lace 20   It is intriguing to note that Peirce was the primary research subject of Howe’s late second husband, Peter Hare, who, like Howe, taught at SUNY Buffalo. “What treasures of knowledge we cluster around,” she writes in That This (2010), regarding Howe’s associations of leftover papers with Hare (17). She especially remembers Hare’s writing desk: “A large dilapidated desk that his father, a modern architect, designed and constructed during the 1930s, was littered with old syllabi, letters and journals” (18). Like the “old syllabi, letters and journals” she finds in Hare’s desk in That This, Howe in Spontaneous Particulars detects in the archives of Williams, Dickinson, Edwards, Peirce, and other precursors a conduit for a séance that may speak to her mourning for her late husband.

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fabric, titled “PRICKED PATTERN” (23), identified as “British, 19th century,” which Howe came across at The Antonio Ratti Textual Center at the Met. Howe’s research-​based writings are animated by her perception of representation as based in absence, separation, and vanishing. “Perception of an object means loosing and losing it” she writes in My Emily Dickinson (23). An especially complex example in Spontaneous Particulars of Howe’s compositional strategy, which requires actively engaged readers to, as it were, co-​create meaning, by collating and then interpreting intertextual resonances between the disparate pieces of text Howe puts in spatial relation to each other, occurs on two facing pages that include authorial commentary on the Beinecke, a reproduction of a page with a tiny amount of writing by Jonathan Edwards, and a passage from a famous story by Nathaniel Hawthorne. In remarks on the Beinecke, Howe addresses her passionate, if deeply ambivalent, commitment to archival research, in this instance by focusing on the origins of American philosophy through her work on Edwards. She writes: Previous work I have done in terms of manuscripts and archives led me to the massive collection of the papers of the 18th-​century New England theologian—​ some say our first American philosopher—​Jonathan Edwards, in New Haven at Yale’s Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, one of the largest buildings in the world devoted entirely to rare books and manuscripts. The Beinecke was constructed from Vermont marble and granite, bronze and glass, during the early 1960s. The structure displays and contains acquisitive violence, the rapacious “fetching” involved in collecting, and, on the other hand, it radiates a sense of peace. Downstairs, in the Modernist reading room I hear the purr of the air filtration system, the rippling sound of pages turning, singular out of tune melodies of computers re-​booting. Scholars are seated at wide worktables bent in devotion over some particular material object. They could be copying out a manuscript or deciphering a pattern. Here is deep memory’s lure, and sheltering. In this room I experience relations and connections between what was and what is. (43)

She conducts research in a traditional onsite format that, paradoxically, takes place in a postmodern facility built in the 1960s, and assisted by computers and state-​of-​the-​art air filtration system, the sounds of which occasionally disturbing (or adding a contemporary sonic buzz and hum to) the monastic silence. Howe interprets her manuscript research as an expression of desire—​a



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“lure”—​for relationships: between present and past, between secular and sacred endeavor, between self and other, between the living and the dead, between text and flesh-​and-​blood human being, between acts of reading and writing, between objective scholarship and subjective creative endeavor. And yet the process is solitary and performed in silence. Surrounded by other scholars engaged in their lonesome tasks of textual discovery, which Howe compares to a religious ritual through her use of the term “devotion,” she is nonetheless isolated. Idiosyncratic speculations are her only firm companions. Not quite an example of Hannah Arendt’s “banal evil,” Howe does suggest unsavory motivations for her endeavor, describing her work as occurring in an environment that radiates “peace,” but that “displays and contains acquisitive violence, the rapacious ‘fetching’ involved in collecting.” Howe’s meditation on research as repetition in textual form of an American history characterized by Western European colonial desire to order native territory through boundary marking faces the mysterious page, mentioned above, containing only two words written by Edwards in an elegant hand. Edwards’s page consists of a reproduction of an undated notebook, but one whose light brown, mottled cardboard surface appears to be centuries’ old. What is peculiarly notable about Howe’s dedication of significant space in her book to the cardboard page, however, is that it is void of text, except for one word, “Faith,” carefully written—​twice—​in standard block letters, but with calligraphic flair. Edwards centers one “Faith” in the middle of the page, a second version about one inch to the right of center. Edwards writes the second “Faith” in the same artistic style, but upside down, as if a mirror image reflecting the centered version.21 Readers, left to grapple with the doubled “Faith” reference, must ponder how the term pertains to Howe’s commentary, which appears on the facing page, concerning her Edwards research in the Beinecke.22 Opposite the double “Faith” page by Edwards, Howe also includes a passage from Hawthorne’s short 21   Howe does not directly comment on the source of the old cardboard page or her reason for reproducing the old page with “Faith,” but an endnote states that it was inscribed by Jonathan Edwards in Miscellaneous Observations Concerning Faith (74). 22   We know Howe enjoys working with coincidences (such as the fact that her first name is Susan and one of Dickinson’s interlocutors shared the same name) and that she likes to play with puns between personal names of persons closely associated with herself (her father and son are both named Mark) and her conception of her writings based in archival work as “markings” that Howe associates with her genealogical connection to Early American colonialism.

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story, “Young Goodman Brown” (1835), that might provide a clue:  “ ‘Faith!’ shouted Goodman Brown, in a voice of agony and desperation; and the echoes of the forest mocked him, crying, ‘Faith! Faith!’ as if bewildered wretches were seeking her, all through the wilderness” (43).23 Hawthorne’s passage concerns his titular character’s spiritual crisis during a quite literal moment in which “Faith” is repeated as an echo. Leaving his newlywed bride in Salem, whose first name happens to be Faith, to follow a demonic figure at night into the forest, a disoriented and frightened Young Goodman Brown shouts his wife’s evocative name, but instead of the call bringing his bride to his side, he only hears an echoed version of his voice resounding in what Hawthorne describes as a mocking cry from a “wilderness.”24 In a nod to Hawthorne’s belief that leading clergy and honored citizens in Salem denied their attraction to female desire and desiring females through scapegoating women as witches, Young Goodman Brown’s wilderness errand leads him not, as Perry Miller would have it for seventeenth-​century New England Puritans, into a quest for Christian salvation in an unfamiliar terrain, but to witness a Witches’ Sabbath where, to his shock and dismay, Salem’s leading male and female citizens have congregated for nefarious instruction.25 As James Mellow and Michael McCabe

  Young Goodman Brown is engaged in his own subversive conversion journey, “leaving him in the heart of the dark wilderness, still rushing onward, with the instinct that guides mortal man to evil” (101). Aware of an apparition that Salem’s minister and deacon, too, are “journeying, so deep into the heathen wilderness” (100), he nonetheless asserts, “ ‘With Heaven above, and Faith below, I  will yet stand firm against the devil!’ ” (101). After hearing “a confused and doubtful sound of voices” (101), which Brown interprets as “accents of townspeople of his own, men and women, both pious and ungodly, many of whom he had met at the communion table, and had seen others rioting at the tavern” (101), he then hears “one voice, of a young woman, tittering lamentations, yet with an uncertain sorry, and entreating for some favor, which, perhaps, it would grieve her to obtain. And all the unseen multitude, both saints and sinners, seemed to encourage her onward” (101). It is at this moment that Hawthorne puts forward the passage, reproduced by Howe, in which Brown shouts his new bride Faith’s name “in a voice of agony and desperation” (101). His panicked cry is then met with the ghostlike sonic echoes resounding from the forest, which “mocked him, as if bewildered wretches were seeking her, all through the wilderness” (101). 24   The quotation from “Young Goodman Brown” appears about two-​thirds of the way through Hawthorne’s peculiar tale, which eventually appeared in the author’s collection Mosses from an Old Manse (1846). As is the case with other critics, I find the tale peculiar because of its mysterious, even comically surrealistic, texture, and because of tonal ambiguities, genre uncertainties, and questions surrounding Hawthorne’s intent in creating a stylized dream narrative in the first half of the nineteenth century that is nonetheless based in a historiographical reflection on seventeenth-​ century Salem Puritanism. 25   Howe does not quote what happens next, but Young Goodman Brown seizes a “pink ribbon” associated with the fact that for him “My Faith is gone!” (101). The pink ribbon, we could say, becomes a literal textual reminder that his wife is a spectral figure to him at this point in his journey. 23



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have argued, Hawthorne’s tale, which concludes with Young Goodman Brown’s disillusioned return from witnessing the Witches’ Sabbath in the forest, reflects the author’s repetition of traumatic guilt based in a fictionalized genealogical reflection on seventeenth-​century ancestors who were implicated in the Salem Witch Trials.26 Howe, I  have suggested, relies on her readers’ willingness to collate disparate materials in a spatial “field” poetics to relay the significance, in this case, of Hawthorne’s passage to Edwards’s “Faith” inscriptions to the author’s reflections on the Beinecke. My speculation here is that, for Howe, Hawthorne’s historical allegory doubles her own guilt-​fi lled, but faith-​based, relation to archival work as a forum to imagine her relation to Early American ancestry and her fascination with Edwards. Howe’s reproduction of Edwards’s “Faith” page speaks to her mixed interpretation of the strenuous research efforts into the Edwards archive as an act of desire to recover, as in a séance, the spirit of a crucial theological precursor (“Faith” rightside up), but also as a potentially fruitless error in the wilderness that does not produce spiritual communion, but merely the resounding of her voice and vision through the archival echo chamber (“Faith” upside down). Scholars have noted that Hawthorne’s representation of Young Goodman Brown’s dreamlike journey may be read as an upside down, or subverted, version of “Faith.” From this point of view, we can read “Young Goodman Brown” as an upside down version of a Great Awakening style event comparable to a conversion narrative as imagined by Jonathan Edwards in Northampton in the 1720s. It would be absurd to place Symbolically he has given up hope of salvation, leading to his characterization at the end of the story as a bitter and jaded misanthrope. The pink ribbon reminds us of Howe’s own associations with material remnants of persons who have vanished or fallen out of or to the edge of the preserved archives. We think of the garment bits Howe lovingly associates with Jonathan Edwards’s sisters. 26   The narrator mentions “the council-​board of the province” (102), “the lady of the governor” (102), and a “score of the church members of Salem village, famous for their especial sanctity” including “Good old Deacon Gookin” who “waited at the skirts of that venerable saint, his reverend pastor” (102) behaving as if they were in fact “men of dissolute lives and women of spotted fame” (102) and who were “given over to all mean and filty vice, and suspected even of horrid crimes” (102). Also mentioned is his newlywed spouse Faith, whom “the wretched man” sees “by the blaze of the hell-​k indled torches” (103). Young Goodman Brown returns to Salem as a “bewildered man”—​a “stern, a sad, a darkly meditative, a distrustful, if not a desperate man did he become, from the night of that fearful dream” (104). Michael McCabe reports: “In looking into the history of Salem and especially early Puritan society Hawthorne is able to discuss the merits and consequences of such zeal, especially the zeal of the Half-​Way Covenant of 1662, the Puritan Catechism of John Cotton, and the repercussions of The Salem Witch trials. Hawthorne sets ‘Young Goodman Brown’ into a context of Puritan rigidity and self-​doubt to allow his contemporary readers to see the consequences of such a system of belief.”

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Howe closer to the “confessional” poetics of fellow New England authors who emphasized colonial history such as Ann Sexton and Robert Lowell than to the Language-​oriented authors to whom she is linked because of her antiabsorptive poetics, her concern with the sonic and physical features of her often inscrutable texts, and her focus on absence, silence, gaps, and deconstruction of linear narrative conceptions of the authorial self as whole. And yet, as with reading “confessionalists” such as Lowell and Sexton, we are made aware of the process through which Howe wrestles with her situation as a subjective historiographer in relation to her New England colonial ancestry. I have emphasized Howe’s interest in Edwards and Dickinson, Peirce, James, and Hawthorne, but in form and content Spontaneous Particulars is above all else an homage to Williams’s Paterson Book Three, The Library (1949). Howe devotes about ten percent of her book to reproductions of handwritten notes and typed manuscripts related to his modernist epic, which Howe found in the Williams collection at SUNY Buffalo. A master of coincidence, Howe connects her fascination with Paterson, New Jersey, and its Passaic Falls to her location for many years in Buffalo, New  York, famous for its Niagara Falls, but also, like Northeast New Jersey, a “hard up” and “rust-​belt” city (39). After quoting Williams: “The search is a poet for his language—​to collate with the language of the noise of the Falls, which seems in itself to be a language which we were, and are still seeking—​,” she states: “Once he had fixed on the city he needed to gather and collect facts in relation to the place, especially to the Passaic River and its Falls, from libraries, local and otherwise. The first sentence of the preface to Paterson: ‘Rigor of beauty is the quest’ ” (33).27 In our critical period, which emphasizes demystifying historicist approaches and interrogations of writing based on identity politics or challenges to it in forms such as queer studies, Howe asks readers if we adequately attend to “the rigors of beauty” as an esteemed quality sought after, not only by Williams in Paterson, but also by other authors of Howe’s special affection. In a Chicago Review essay on Jonathan   In the same passage, Howe includes the following information and analysis of Paterson: “Between 1946 and 1958, William Carlos Williams labored over Paterson, a work he conceived as ‘a long poem in four parts’ (he eventually completed five, and at the end of his life had started on a sixth). The five were published by New Directions in separate limited editions—​my favorite, Book III, The Library, in 1949. He later said that in Paterson he wanted to use the ‘multiple facets which a city presented as representatives for comparable facets of contemporary thought thus to be able to objectify the man himself as we know him and love him and hate him. This seemed to me to be what a poem was for, to speak for us in a language we can understand . . . Thus the city I wanted as my object had to be one that I knew in its most intimate details . . . I deliberately selected Paterson as my reality’ ” (33).

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Edwards and Wallace Stevens, for example, she writes, “[b]‌eauty’s simultaneity with the pure fire of living poetry is outside contemporary critical interest.” Citing Robert Duncan’s 1961 comment, “the Romantic spirit and back of that the Spirit of Romance . . . under boycott” (16), Howe perceives a prohibition against a life of reading, writing, and researching devoted to spiritual questing and aesthetic inquiry: “The taboo is even more severe now. But I believe, this currently exiled spirit (Keats’s ‘Beauty is truth, truth beauty—​,’ Stevens’s ‘The giant body the meanings of its folds,/​The weaving and the crinkling and the vex,’ WCW’s ‘beautiful Thing/​—​a dark flame,’ and ‘beauty is/​a defiance of authority’), this visionary spirit, a deposit from a future yet to come, is gathered and guarded in the domain of research libraries and special collections” (17). In Spontaneous Particulars, Howe encourages readers to consider Paterson The Library as a deeply uncertain quest for beauty, which Williams states is “feared/​more than death, more than they fear death” (Paterson, 106). Howe’s reflections on libraries as traditional depositories of cultural preservation prompt readers to regard Paterson Book Three as itself an ambivalent meditation on archival memory. In Paterson Book Three and in Spontaneous Particulars, Williams and Howe regard libraries as a repository for lost beauty (as well as a storehouse for news about history’s violence and erasures) that might enervate the poet to engage with his or her relation to place, time, history, community, and memory.28 The quest for beauty, however, comes attached with warning labels. In an opening passage from Book Three, for example, which Howe quotes in her book (p. 11), Williams describes “love” for the “sweet white locus” tree in flower as costly. Costly, yes, but in what sense(s)? Williams views the archival quest as expensive because it represents “escape,” a cooling respite from the city on a hot day when his mind is in turmoil (the rushing Passaic Falls is the natural symbol), and an indication that he feels detached from fellow citizens who lack connection to living language. At its most depleting of creative powers, Williams imagines library research as an expenditure of energy on reviving   Williams includes a prose passage concerning how early French and Dutch settlers “accused” “The Indians” of “killing two or three pigs”—​a nd proceeded to capture, degrade, murder, and desecrate and steal from the grave sites of their prisoners (102). He recalls historical accounts of tight rope walkers who performed dangerous stunts over the Passaic Falls such as cooking and eating an omelet while crossing the falls on a tightrope. We may read the feat of tightrope walking over the falls as Williams’s metaphor for his precarious attempt to negotiate a relation between present and past that requires skill, and a balance between confronting the falls—​t he figure of the imagination—​a nd maintaining his identity. 28

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voices comparable to an Odyssean journey to Hades:  “loaning blood/​to the past, amazed. risking life” (Paterson, 101). Williams’s persona compares books in a library to headstones in a cemetery:  “The Library is desolation, it has a smell of its own/​of stagnation and death” (Paterson, 100). The Library may liberate the creative spirit, but it is also a repressive space of imposed silence. As in his example of sand transformed through fire into glass, the library is a paradoxical—​ because potentially constructive—​ site of destruction that Williams imagines through apocalyptic imagery of fires, cyclones, tornados, and floods. The modernist epic represents a disturbing montage of Williams’s excavation of newspaper and other historical material relevant to his search for a noncommodified beauty in Paterson. Questing for lost beauty at times pushes him to champion a feudal aesthetic that, he claims, was destroyed by economic progressives. In one segment, for example, Williams bemoans the destruction of a “Castle” built, in a rags-​to-​riches manner, by “Lambert, the poor English boy,/​the immigrant” who “was the first/​to oppose the unions” (99). It is “to be razed” (98) because it is “of no USE!” (98). Critiquing the garment manufacturing union that “broke [Lambert] all right” (99), Williams remembers Lambert as a figure of monumental creative imagination with a “head full of castles” (99). Williams views Lambert’s aristocratic vision and its architectural manifestation, compromised by unionization, as an exemplary illustration of lost “beautiful things.” Howe’s mixed response to library research—​including her efforts in the Williams archive at Buffalo—​resonates with Williams’s admixture of doubt and hope. In confident moments, Howe counter-​intuitively imagines what she calls the “[s]‌ pontaneous sound particulars” she hears in Williams’s inscription of “old newspapers and local histories with their genteel accounts of celebrations, picnics, suicides—​”(34) in Paterson with the resuscitation of living voices. (In That This, Howe writes: “More and more I have the sense of being present at a point of absence where crossing centuries may prove to be like crossing languages. Soundwaves. It’s the difference between one stillness and another stillness”) [31]. Howe contends the sonic dimension of projective verse infuses “wadded up” (Williams’s term) artifacts with spirit. Musical writing may transmit into “things” (as emblems of “names” rather than the other way around) not so much Williams’s “ideas” (not “ideas but in things”), but rather of an afterlife. Sonically charged language enables things to “materialize into posthumous vowel notes whipped up with shifting consonantal impact” (40).



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Spontaneous Particulars is Howe’s bittersweet love letter to her life as a creative reader and lyric scholar. As books ranging from Pierce-​Arrow (1999) to Souls of Labadie Tract (2007) to That This (2010), as well as Spontaneous Particulars, demonstrate, Howe, who was born in 1937, has spent much of her adult life responding to manuscripts by noted and unsung American authors. She is aware that digitalization of archives will not only bring heightened access to hard-​to-​fi nd materials, but will also deprive researchers of synaesthetic experience. To that end, Howe comments on a recent trip to Buffalo at which time she returned to the Williams collection at SUNY: “I took time to look at (and touch) some of the many typed and re-​t yped drafts, notes scribbled on prescription forms, stories cut from newspapers and pamphlets that Dr. Williams used as fuel for the fire of poetic artifice” (39). I would emphasize her comment about her ability to “touch” the manuscripts that Williams inscribed and cut up in his historicist endeavor to locate beauty. It is evident that she follows Williams’s belief in Paterson The Library that archival research might produce a kind of séance, a reblooding of ghosts comparable to the Odyssean journey to the underworld to commune with the dead.

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Bad Company, Meet Sonic Youth: On Noah Eli Gordon’s inbox: Social Media, Post Language Conceptual Poetics, and the Ethics of Online Appropriation

This chapter on Noah Eli Gordon’s inbox [a reverse memoir] (2006) addresses the ethics of appropriating electronic mail into self-​consciously oppositional (and what Charles Bernstein in “The Artifice of Absorption” refers to as “anti-​ absorptive” or Brechtian) literary projects. My reading of inbox will also speak to the “reception studies” issue of how readers may interpret a conceptual work indebted to Wittgenstein’s association of meaning with context when that undertaking consists of social media transmissions related to what critic Alan Golding calls the “compromises and contradictions” of “professional avant-​ gardism” (37).1 This chapter thus takes into a new media context Golding’s

 In The American Avant-​Garde Tradition:  William Carlos Williams, Postmodern Poetry, and the Politics of Cultural Memory, John Lowney summarizes how theorists of postmodernism have, like Bernstein, addressed the ironic problem of modernist and avant gardist literature’s institutionalization—​ a nd thus cooptation—​ w ithin the academy:  “As critical theories of postmodernism have variously explained, the decline of the modernist avant-​garde coincided with its academic institutionalization as a tradition, especially in the New Critical canon. In one of the most incisive studies of postmodernism, Andreas Huyssen underscores the importance of the reception and institutionalization of modernism—​in the academy, as well as in the ‘burgeoning museum, gallery, concert, record and paperback culture’—​for defining the adversarial stance of 1960s postmodernism. Pointing out the irony of the exemplary appeal of the European avant-​garde’s subversion of high art, he argues that when ‘for the first time the U.S. had something resembling an “institution art” in the emphatic sense, it was modernism itself, the kind of art whose purpose had always been to resist institutionalization.’ ” Similarly, Fredric Jameson writes: “One cannot too often symbolically underscore the moment (in most US universities, the late 1950s or 1960s) in which the modern ‘classics’ entered the school system and the reading lists . . . This was a kind of revolution in its way, with unexpected consequences, forcing the recognition of the modern texts at the same time that it defused them, like former radicals appointed to the cabinet” (15). 1

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nuanced challenge to dualistic thinking about the relation between avant-​ garde contemporary poetics and the academy. Golding leaves undecided the question of whether Bernstein has been absorbed or, to use Whitman’s terms from the “Preface” to Leaves of Grass (1855), been affectionately absorbed by the academy via his role in establishing the Language (and, later, new media via the Poetics listserv) oriented, but state-​supported Buffalo poetics program in the 1990s, and then as an endowed chair at the University of Pennsylvania (with leading West Coast avant-​ gardist Bob Perelman as fellow—​ now 2 emeriti—​tenured colleague) in the 2000s. My reading of Gordon’s inbox follows in the wake of Golding’s assessment of Bernstein’s deconstructive capability to “move between communities that are stereotypically represented as incompatible or incommensurate—​a stereotype collapsed in many locales by the active presence of local college and university graduates as publishers, editors, arts organizers, and so forth” (30). As with Bernstein, who in “The Academy in Peril:  William Carlos Williams Meets the MLA” (1983) interrogated the significance of inserting previously marginalized authors into the curriculum—​“ in the end Williams may be a token inclusion in a canon that excludes what he stands for”—​, we notice how inbox collapses apparently incompatible communities of reception. Another liminal author who practices “dirty conceptualism” in my study of poets who hold an ambivalent relation to new media, as well as an ambivalence toward absorptive and anti-​absorptive conceptions of language in poems, Gordon is in inbox engaged in a paradoxical struggle to, in Golding’s terms, continue the avant-​garde approach to writing and art as part of “an oppositional cultural politics” (29). This “oppositional cultural politics” occurs in Gordon’s case through the application of what Birmingham School Cultural Studies theorist Dick Hebdige would regard as a punk subculture. Gordon displays a punk rock sensibility. As with seminal Midwestern US punk rockers such as Bob Mould, front man for Minnesota’s Hüsker Dü, whose memoir See a Little Light:  The Trail of Rage and Melody (2011) I will discuss below, Gordon, born in Cleveland in 1975, and his affiliates in inbox create an underground and yet digitalized network as a paradoxically   Using a discursive, even pedantic, scholarly lecture-​essay “voice” for his speaker, Bernstein in “The Artifice of Absorption” explores the theoretical issue of whether poetic language is a transparent “window” into meaning-​bearing utterances (language that absorbs the reader in such a way that we look beyond the artificial/​material nature of writing) and/​or if poetic language is (also) what repels the intelligibility associated with realism. 2



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a-​topical and yet locally invested political activity. Media theorist Henry Jenkins would refer to inbox as part of a “new knowledge culture [that] has arisen as our ties to older forms of social community are breaking down, our rooting in physical geography is diminished, our bonds to the extended and even the nuclear family are disintegrating, and our allegiances to nation-​states are being redefined” (27). Their efforts are animated by respect for the work, lives, and feelings of other subcultural colleagues in the development of an oppositional micro-​community in the wake of a post-​9/​11 War on Terror that, as Judith Butler in Precarious Life (2004) and Bernstein in Girly Man (2006) assert, created a false binary in which a person or a nation is either “with” the United States in its decision to invade Iraq or “with” the Terrorists who attacked the World Trade Center.3 G2 poets such as Gordon and his affiliates are skeptical about the association First Generation Language poets such as Ron Silliman made between linguistic disturbance and political disruption. We realize the strategy of “an oppositional cultural politics” for Gordon’s affiliates—​Vanessa Place and Robert Fitterman in Notes on Conceptualisms (2009) refer to such a set as members of the “pre-​text” community from whose verbal interactions inbox as “post-​text” composition derives—​is not overtly hostile to academic, commercial, or normative political culture in a period characterized by restrictions on privacy rights via the Patriot Act and an implicit censorship of dissent in mainstream media.4 Rather, online creative work for the In(box) Crowd (to riff on the 1964 hit tune by Billy Page) is a social networking activity tolerant of antiabsorptive techniques, but open to the use of language as a communicative vehicle to pursue a communitarian endeavor that Jenkins would describe as being “held together through common intellectual enterprises and emotional investments” that foreground

3   In an essay on Bernstein, Tim Peterson has written: “In the months and years following the 9/​ 11 attacks, a certain critical function of journalists toward our government was suspended, and for a significant period of time there was less toleration of public dissent. A  ‘with-​us-​or-​against-​ us’ mentality developed in which disagreeing with President Bush’s ideas was translated as ‘Bush-​bashing.’  ” 4   By younger generation, I refer to poets born in the late 1970s. Gordon, born in Cleveland in 1975, is regarded already by one correspondent as something of an elder statesmen in the Generation X company as he establishes himself among the poetry community in his late twenties. One correspondent writes: “She may tell you that you’re too old to fall under the banner of the younger crowd. I  mean, you’re 28? That’s only 6  years behind Ange. I  think she means people in their early 20s, people who two years ago would have said to you as you entered a poetry reading at the bookstore on Main Street, ‘hey, Mr., can you buy us some beer?’ ”(23).

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“the mutual production and reciprocal exchange of knowledge” (27). inbox members are comfortable, one might say, “squatting,” “poaching,”—​or, in conceptualist terms, “repurposing”—​in whatever platforms (emails, Amazon, the web, academia, commercial publishers, book stores, the US mail) might be available to facilitate the network, support personal well-​being, and promote the professional advancement of its scrappy, ambitious, if underemployed, participants. In Notes On Conceptualisms, Place and Fitterman implicitly engage with a reception studies issue when they remark, “by virtue or device, conceptual writing that needs a narrative frame [. . .] elevates the role of the artist-​author as first interpreter” (33). As was the case in my challenge to how Kenneth Goldsmith interpreted his own books as boring and nutritionless, in this chapter I  will ask if readers must abide by Gordon’s hermeneutic advice to read inbox as if it were a book-​length conceptual and antiabsorptive prose poem simply because, in Place and Fitterman’s terms, he is the text’s “first interpreter”? Must we regard Gordon’s reframed emails as vertical walls of ambient sound: think Gertrude Stein’s “Picasso” (1909) spliced together with Brian Eno’s electronica Music for Films (1978) in digital format? May we take the liberty to eschew authorial instruction to read such conceptual projects as reflections on language with special attention to the text’s literal surface? Place and Fitterman define as an example of “pure conceptualism” a text that “negates the need for reading in the traditional textual sense” (25). They leave wiggle room, however, for plain language interpretation of procedural works that fall into a category they refer to as “impure,” “Baroque,” or “post-​ conceptual” works (25).5 Is there an interpretive system open enough to receive inbox mimetically? I  will be asking if inbox is an “impure” postconceptual text. Does it, as “impure” text, invite readers to consider the sociological implications and ethical conundrums associated with publicizing the private transmissions of a literary subculture, a local and yet a-​topical example of a Gen X social movement? Can we read inbox holistically, that is, through multiple lenses:  as self-​reflexive examination of aesthetic formalism, as a Whitmanian/​Steinian experiment in multitudinous voicing of a corporate

5   Leaving space for reader reception, Place and Fitterman state “[c]‌onceptual writing is open if it does not limit its possible readings” (36). To what degree, they also ask, may “the authorial framing of text as art remove[. . .] aesthetic control from the reader”? (29).



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self, as well as a memoir of hungry young authors on the edge of renown in a period that Patrick Durgin regards as postambition?6

I. Notes on punk subcultural community building: Bob Mould’s See a Little Light In my reading of Soliloquy I  likened Goldsmith to Warhol. Both regard the work of artists in the age of postmodernist late capitalism as much about building networks, self-​celebrating, and branding as about the making of art products when conceived as autonomous objects separated from the maker’s persona (in Warhol’s case) or body and voice (in Goldsmith’s). I also compared Goldsmith’s relation to computers to televisual pioneers Ernie Kovacs and Naim Jun Paik in his revisioning of an innovative electronic technology in a subversive, self-​consciously conceptual manner. In preparing to write on Gordon’s inbox, I found myself reflecting on the punk squatter community as described in Bob Mould’s memoir, See A Little Light. Gordon is heavily tattooed and cut his performative teeth jamming in high school punk bands, but it is not so much the mosh pits, leather jackets, amphetamines, safety pins, walls of ear-​ splitting sound, and nihilistic lyrics of that subculture that calls to mind how he applies to the alternative poetry scene Hebdige’s classic understanding in Subculture: The Meaning of Style of how punk appropriates common objects to carry “meanings which express, in code, a form of resistance to the order which guarantees their continued subordination” (18). I suggest that for Gordon, the “humble object” (18) that he subverts to, in Hebdige’s terms, challenge “the principle of unity and cohesion, which contradicts the myth of consensus” (18), is the ubiquitous email “inbox.” In inbox [a reverse memoir] Gordon  Many inbox correspondents represent themselves as interested in access to an academy poised to admit them into certain graduate programs such as SUNY Buffalo, UMASS Amherst, and Brown. Certainly the heirs to Duchamp, Cage, Warhol, Ashbery, Bernstein, and Hejinian are savvy enough to know (and to pass on to other members of the underground company) that a standardized test-​ certified knowledge of English literary history is unnecessary for admission, as one former Bay Area resident, now current Buffalo grad student, reminds Gordon: 6

The GRE’s ain’t bad, especially the standard. And you don’t have to take the subject for BFLO, so you have nothing to worry about (the subject test will kick you ass, unless of course you have been studying since you were four! I studied straight for four-​five months, took the thing, did pretty well, and then went to the ONLY school that didn’t need them! Arrgh. (71)

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implicitly reflects his persona as subcultural community activist through the re-​presentation of “pages of uninterrupted prose that constitutes a kind of temporal autobiography” (4).7 Hebdige has written, “no subculture has sought with more grim determination than the punks to detach itself from the taken-​for-​granted landscape of normalized forms, not to bring down upon itself such vehement disapproval” (19). Is it a stretch to connect Gordon’s online activism on behalf of a post Language (G2) poetics scene to punk subculture? It is the subculture from which Gordon, born in Cleveland, rock and roll epicenter of northeastern Ohio, and thus home to seminal US punk and gritty new wave acts such as Devo, Pere Ubu, and The Pretenders via Chrissie Hynde’s upbringing in nearby Akron. Gordon was himself a teen punk rocker in Ohio and Florida before turning to poetry. He reflects on his music roots in the following passage from “Dysgraphia”: I’m seventeen. It’s a few weeks before our first show, the first Bingomut show. I can’t sing, but that’s what I do. I’ve been practicing in my room, practicing along with an Iron Maiden tape, not because we’re a metal band, but because their singer, Bruce Dickinson, is nearly operatic, and I think it might help me learn to push sound out from somewhere deeper than my mouth. I don’t tell anyone I’ve been doing this. We’re a punk band, a punk-​ska band, and such an admission would no doubt be followed by gratuitous teenage ridicule. The guy at the tattoo shop asks me how old I am. Eighteen, I say. After he tattoos the griffin on my calf, he asks me how old I really am. Eighteen, I say, again lying. The griffin is done in black ink, and so irritates my body that for weeks it looks red. We share our warehouse with Marcus’s brother’s band. A few days before our show together, they’ll name themselves Puddle, but for now they’re called Fudgie the Whale, a kind of ice cream cake and also a joke about the FTW tattooed on my shoulder. What I can’t figure out is why my mouth is filling with sores. They’re lumpy and irritating, covering the inner skin of my lips. I know there will be hundreds of people at our first show—​and there are. The next day the sores are gone. When another band forms at our high school, they decide to call themselves Noah’s Red Tattoo.   Based on emails that arrived in the author’s e-​mail inbox on September 11, 2004, Gordon appears (by not appearing) to be a sensitive reader of work by other members of the poetry underground. He is clearly respected by his peers as a rising star in the alt lit world in which he travels. One correspondent, for example, gushes about a special bread he or she has prepared for Gordon when he visits that uses a recipe with a nut oil as a replacement for butter to respect Gordon’s vegetarianism. And no wonder. He is prolific, diligent, optimistic, and punctual in returning emails. 7



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In the passage above, Gordon desires to express himself aesthetically through an iconoclastic punk/​ska idiom informed by the “operatic” stylings of a heavy metal band’s lead singer. We also detect shame as his fashionable attempts to look the part of a punk rocker via tattoos has backfired. Another band creates a name to parody Gordon’s misshapen and discolored bodily embroidery. Aware of Gordon’s punk background, but unaware of his associations of punk’s visual aesthetic with teenaged embarrassment and the desire to conform within a counterculture, one inbox correspondent poses the following question to Gordon: “How did your time in the trenches of music making inform the work? In what ways do you see the music community [with the aforementioned ‘wrong crowd’] as differing from pobiz—​any parallels to the scenes?” (27). Gordon left hardcore music for poetry, but traces of his affection for his time as an alternative music practitioner remain in writings contemporaneous with inbox. He reflects on the life of a DJ in The Frequencies (2003), an elegiac love letter to the disintegrating realm of FM radio. The Frequencies is composed as a series of elliptical prose poems in which the radio is configured into a living, but endangered, being. Each prose poem is entitled with numbers representing the frequencies of radio stations. Here are a sampling of sound-​bytes from The Frequencies in which Gordon casts his speaker as a passionate DJ facing the threat of his beloved medium’s extinction: “The radio was running on ghost currents & I  could hear music afterwards” (90.7, p.  65), “We were getting as close to silence as possible, saturating the space of no thinking, remembering the sound of the radio once removed” and “life with radio is remembering sound” (100.9, p.  69); “Because part of air is threaded voices, part between fingers, I thought we’d feel the idea of radio as an afterthought” (92.5, p. 16); reference to “preprogrammed stations still working in a different city, city on fire, ash coming out of the radio” (91.1, p. 11); “The dial was full of dead air” (91.3, p. 28); “The radio was set in the sidewalk/​Someone had left it to dry in the cement overnight/​It was still playing” (101.9, p. 45); and “I can’t walk away from radio. Trust me, I’ve tried” (96.1, p. 24). Like Hüsker Dü’s Mould, Gordon, through digital transmissions that, in media theorist Pierre Levy’s terms, cultivates “collective discussion, negotiation, and development” beneficial to a fragile community in the face of economic insecurity (217). Gordon, I  am proposing, transfers his awareness of DIY community building from the punk scene and applies it to the new poetry environment as it confronts a-​topical forms of social mediation. We notice resonances of punk’s paradoxical focus on exclusivity and inclusivity in the constitution of the inbox affiliations.

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Mould’s See A  Little Light:  The Trail of Rage and Melody informs my understanding of punk subculture in the United States in the late 1970s and 1980s. In his memoir, Mould recounts the story of an ambitious Midwestern punk activist whose band, Hüsker Dü, became a seminal group of the period. A  queer, pudgy, academically gifted misfit from a working-​class family with an alcoholic and physically abusive father in rural upstate Malone New York, Mould channeled rage and anxiety into his slashing attack on the Ibanez Rocker Roll Flying V guitar. Hailing from a family characterized by an enraged father, one could argue Mould’s fascination with creating a band, and especially his embrace of the punk subculture, were creative reactions to a traumatic upbringing, a way for him to reframe community, home, and even the terms of family belonging in the context of aesthetic choice. Compared to his Animal House behaviors at Macalester College in Minnesota, Mould remembers a “healthier (and more civilized) ​way of finding community was by immersing myself in new music” (25). Shortly after arriving in the Minneapolis area, he investigated the punk scene’s centers of activity including Oar Folkjokeopus record store and Cheapo Records, the Longhorn Bar, and “scenester Jody Kurilla’s house” where “all these out-​of-​town bands went after their shows” (39). He scoured “the UK music magazines and weeklies like NME, Melody Maker, and Sounds, as well as free local papers and flyers for shows” (26), and poured through bins for “the latest import singles” (26). Mould would then endure the hour-​long bus ride back to Macalester to chug cheap cans of beer and share his sonic discoveries with open-​eared comrades. From their first gig at Jay’s Longhorn in May 1979, Mould built Hüsker Dü’s reputation, but also, in his terms, gave back to the punk community through engagement with the emerging US punk subculture. With Stefan Hammond, a University of Minnesota student, he published a fanzine dedicated to an English industrial punk group named Throbbing Gristle (36). In the fall of 1979 he “became the late-​night Saturday DJ at WMCN-​FM” where he spun alternative music ranging from Sun Ra to Steve Reich to hardcore, often collaging different music genres together by “mixing and overlaying disparate records together at different speeds” (38). Mould’s attention to other bands became an asset to Hüsker Dü’s ability to land gigs and build a fan base:  “Through persistence, stubbornness, and a better-​t han-​average knowledge of the touring acts of the moment, Hüsker Dü became the willing and able opening band for many of the punk/​rock/​new wave acts that toured through Minnesota from DNA to



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Discharge to the Ramones (42).”8 Hüsker Dü implemented free or inexpensive media for group exposure. Platforms included the underground rock press, college radio, record shops, and punk clubs, and, perhaps most prominently, touring the United States and Canada, at first when “Grant persuaded a car dealer in South St. Paul to let him ‘test drive’ a vehicle [. . .] I don’t think he told the dealer that it would be one thousand miles of test drive” (45) and later in a self-​styled “pimpmobile” van—​“a tricked-​out van done up with rust-​colored shag carpeting and a collapsible purple velour platform bed” (88) donated by Mould’s father, skeptical about punk as a career path but wanting his son to reach gigs in safety. On the road at first with nothing to peddle except 2,500 copies of a self-​produced (via Reflex Records) hand-​packaged single, touring became a quintessential illustration of Hebdige’s subcultural rebellion against common sense meanings. This is so even as Mould, ironically, dropped out of Macalester where he planned to write an honors thesis on “punk rock as a subculture, based on [Howard] Becker’s writing on jazz musicians” (45). Mould’s recollection of touring in the first half of the 1980s reads as if it were his subversive transformation of the ritualistic family vacation in a chock-​f ull van to, in Paul Simon’s phrase, “look for America”: Album or not, I led a minimalist existence: I had a sleeping bag, a duffel bag of clothes, a guitar, an amp, and not much else. I put my stuff in the van and I went on the road. All my other belongings were in a wooden crate in someone’s basement. It was a very Spartan life, and it’s not for everyone, but there were a lot of people who chose to live this way. (69)

Citing Beat icon William Burroughs as inspiration, he transfigures the family journey of discovery, memory-​making, and bonding into a queer, post-​Beat coalition-​building adventure fueled by amphetamines and cheap beer.9 8   Mould continues on the theme of developing a fan base: “As 1980 went on, we started building our own following, commonly referred to as ‘the Veggies.’[. . .] Most of the guys wore leather jackets, and once the music fired up, the good-​natured pogo dancing/​mock wrestling would begin. It was a bonding experience for all of us. The Veggies eventually morphed into a fine band themselves, called Man Sized Action” (43). 9   He recalls stealing Naked Lunch from the college library, as well as his collaborative friendship with John Giorno. In May 1985 Giorno asked “Husker Du to be part of a compilation album called A Diamond Hidden in the Mouth of a Corpse, which also featured Cabaret Voltaire, Sonic Youth, and Diamonda Galas” for his Giorno Poetry Systems record label [107]):

“I think back to something else that John [Giorno] once told me. He and Ferlinghetti and Ginsberg used to get into leather jackets and pants and go running for hours through these huge marijuana fields in the Midwest. When they came back, they’d be covered with resin

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Mould captures the anti-​ establishment (anticapitalist, antiself-​ interest and yet pro-​ individualist, antiproperty ownership, DIY—​ do it yourself—​ , antihomophobic) collectivist philosophy of punk’s early days: Most people are passive consumers, the ones who hear something all over the radio and then buy the record or see the band at Madison Square Garden. Then there’s the questioning, investigative type of person, the type who seeks out the new music—​a nd that was us. There was a subculture that was making up its own rules, codes, and signifiers, regionally. We developed an eye for it when we visited other towns. You learn to spot it, just like in the gay community where a business might put a rainbow flag on the door. You learn the different signifiers. You could ask somebody where the record store is, and if they told you Sam Goody, they didn’t know. But if they said, “Oh, Skull and Bones is out in the abandoned strip mall,” you knew it was the right kind of store. On tour, even visiting places you’ve never been before, you could figure out where to go within an hour. It was the people in those towns. (69)

Mould’s commentary on the anticorporate bent of US punk foreshadows a conflict his band faced around 1985 when they discovered an appealing blend of melody and rage. After releasing their epic multidisc and critically acclaimed Zen Arcade concept album, Mould mellowed somewhat in outlook as he entered his mid-​twenties.10 In subsequent albums such as New Day Rising and Candy Apple Grey he explored a lyrical pop sensibility. Mould states that his radio-​ friendly singles were influenced by the theme music from The Monkees 1960s television sitcom. In the mid-​1980s mega music corporations such as SONY and Warner Brothers as well as MTV (Music Television) realized that 1970s glam from the plants. They’d scrape the resin off the leather with knives and end up with this sticky substance that was stronger than hashish. As different as our backgrounds, ages, and art forms were, we shared similar experiences. They’re the same crazy stories, with different names and places. I’d never run through fields to gather hashish resin, but I had fled from Dobermans who were chasing me out of abandoned beer vats in San Francisco. It was all part of the same tradition, the same sensibility. I never would have said it at the time, but in some strange, cosmic way, as an American outsider/​storyteller, I was in the same lineage as those guys.” (108) 10   Mould recalls:  “Zen Arcade started like all albums do:  a few songs here, a few general ideas there. But at some point we realized that it could be so much more and ambition kicked in. We didn’t sit down and say, ‘Let’s write a semiautobiographical opera; let’s amalgamate the fact that Greg’s parents are divorced, Grant’s situation is this, and Bob’s conundrum is that, and weave it all together.’ There wasn’t a conscious effort to construct a composite character, but that seems to be the end result of the writing for Zen Arcade” (86).



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rock and disco had lost steam. At the same time, the once-​underground punk scene had begun producing New Wave crossover bands with hit songs on their hands such as The Police, The Cars, The Knack, U2, REM, and Pat Benatar. In response, media corporations developed “alternative music” divisions under labels such as Sire. Inevitably, as Hüsker Dü became a tighter band with catchy, hit-​worthy numbers such as “Sorry somehow” to their credit, and, as a leading punk band with street cred, a tight live set, and a willingness to grind out multi city tours to promote albums on the cheap, it was no surprise that by the mid-​ 1980s Hüsker Dü had to confront a paradoxical and ironic outcome to their success at attaining a premiere role in the punk underground subculture: the temptation to expand their fan base by breaking ties with the legendary, if somewhat dysfunctional, West Coast SST label. Besides conflicts over royalty payments, SST, for example, failed to print enough copies of Zen Arcade to meet demand after critics deemed it an important record and a first printing quickly sold out. Hüsker Dü in 1985 left SST for Warner Brothers. The band was convinced that their A&R staffer, the well-​respected Karin Berg, would not interfere with their music. Mould reflects on his anxiety about moving to a major label that offered the potential to reach a larger audience, but, he feared, imperil the band’s credibility within an underground subculture in which street cred served as coin of the realm: Jumping to a major label had huge political repercussions in our community. We were acutely aware of it, that we were the band  .  .  .  /​We kept our plan to move to Warner under wraps for as long as possible. It was easier to keep a secret back then, pre-​internet. With an important career move like that, it’s best not to tell people until the ink is dry. And we had to prepare for a backlash not just from SST but from the staunch anticorporate factions of the underground community. (110)

Self-​proclaimed “good soldiers,” Hüsker Dü offered a final album, Flip Your Wig, to SST, before releasing Candy Apple Grey with Warner in March 1986 (110). Mould’s concern about the band’s reputation within the punk subculture was such, however, that he wrote an essay in the fanzine Maximumrocknroll defending the move to Warner. Assuring readers that, “[n]‌obody at Warner has asked us to tone down,” he also addressed “other sensitive issues, like why the band had abandoned political lyrics after Metal Circus. Basically,

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we didn’t feel qualified to speak about politics and we weren’t comfortable with hardcore’s knee-​jerk embrace of anarchism. I also talked about why we strongly discouraged stage diving at our shows” (113). Inevitably, Warner did meddle with the music:  “Warner had tried to get us to replace our booking agent and failed. Then they tried to get us to replace our management, and they mostly failed there too. Now they wanted us to get a producer” (14). By 1987, Hüsker Dü “finally conceded to Warner’s request” and brought in outside management (141); by 1988, after being in the band had now become “a job” with “financial compensation [as] the main motive for keeping the band intact” (138), Hüsker Dü was history.

II. Punk subculture in inbox I have taken a detour from Gordon’s inbox to emphasize Mould’s conflicted reaction to leaving SST, a label that produced seminal West Coast punk acts such as The Minutemen and Henry Rollins’s Black Flag. Mould’s struggle to develop a literary subculture antagonistic to the corporate values represented by Warner mirrors conflicts faced by Gordon, and a prior generation of poets such as Perelman and Bernstein, in establishing a destabilizing poetics from within the academy. What especially links Gordon’s inbox to Mould’s narration of his time with Hüsker Dü in See a Little Light is their mutual attraction to subcultures that are, simultaneously, inclusive and exclusive. Like Mould, Gordon grapples with tensions inherent in an oppositional movement that inevitably implicates itself in corporate activities, marketing strategies, and communication technologies in line with institutional values and practices the movement was designed to challenge. Gordon in inbox imagines the development of the infrastructure to support a poetry subculture that uncannily mirrors Mould’s punk community. At the same time, Gordon, working in the tradition of Gertrude Stein’s reverse memoir, The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas (1933), disrupts associations between his persona’s interiority (inbox), writing, relation to other persons, and to what a postmodern psychoanalytic theorist such as Julia Kristeva would regard as the otherness of the self. Gordon challenges how subjectivity is composed, established, and transmitted via the postmodern and arguably posthuman (or cyborg) epistle format of electronic mail messages, reframed from one busy day’s (September 11, 2004) worth of 200 “saved” files. As print-​oriented



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conceptualist, professionally ambitious book poet, editor, small press publisher, reviewer, and anti-​identity author, Gordon has morphed a series of emails by multiple correspondents into one vertical stream. In so doing, he has created a Whitman-​like sense of collective identity through dialogic re-​collection of how interlocutors quite literally have responded to his online persona. We receive a sense of the authorial character—​Noah Eli Gordon—​as a spectral figure. An absent and yet magnetic presence, Gordon manifests selfhood through how he knits together words of interlocutors. His situation within the alternative poetry community has animated other poets to imagine themselves for (and to) himself. By treating the detritus of the avant-​garde poetry scene—​setting up reading tours, publishing information about online ’zines, editorial advice—​ as poetry, Gordon engages in a defamiliarizing process. A progressive social activist working in a small press environment, his exchanges often have the flavor of a Digital Media version of a primitive barter economy: “If you really want to do that split ½ page ad for Fulcrum for Braincase and Anchorite that I discussed earlier, please send a print-​ready PDF to: . . . it should be 5.5”X4” (23). Such a passage refers to a trade negotiation in which no money changes hands between representatives of the small presses, but it is also a sign of a technical precisionist aesthetic that animates many parts of the inbox transcript. Given Gordon’s stated interest in the “Dear Friends” preface in encouraging readers to shun mimetic interpretations in favor of antiabsorptive reception by enjoying ambient and graphic features, we read the wording of the passage above as a funky rhythmic assemblage of sounds and out of the ordinary terms—​“to do that slit ½ page ad for Fulcrum for Braincase and Anchorite” has to my ear a jazzy driving rhythm to it with the repetition of the preposition “for.”11 We pause to notice unusual words—​Fulcrum, Braincase, and Anchorite—​without quite being sure of the semantic meaning of these book and small press titles. We are drawn to the technical, publisher/​editorial lingo of “do that slit ½ page ad” less for what it connotes than for how it looks and sounds on the page. His conceptual project emphasizes graphic, design, sonic, and other nonmimetic language features. As Whitman did explicitly in Song of Myself—​“And what I assume you shall assume,/​For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you”—​Gordon

  In the preface to inbox, Gordon includes a “Dear Friends” email letter he sent on September 12, 2004 to interlocutors whose missives he planned to include in what he refers to as the “reverse memoir” that appeared as inbox in 2006.

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renders implicit the authorial self as a corporate entity (Whitman, 4). Corporate in two senses of the term. Like Whitman, his self is multitudinous (and thus corporate), although, unlike Whitman, the self is postnational. As Ed Folsom has argued, Whitman turned to other media besides poetry to, in Whitman’s terms, “celebrate himself,” and to cast a memorable persona through etchings, lithographs, and daguerreotypes in part to advertise projects such as the first edition of Leaves of Grass (1855), which famously identified the image of everyman farmer with come hither gaze and rakishly angled hat as an embodied authorial signifier. Similarly, the substance of inbox reflects a corporate (in the sense of business marketing) mindset. As was the case in Goldsmith’s Soliloquy, creative endeavors are as much about constructing distribution networks and performance infrastructures as they are about crafting poems. The entrepreneurial aspect of inbox’s corporate spirit emerges, for example, when one anonymous correspondent pivots effortlessly between excitement that a small press publisher’s materials are now being distributed “on Amazon” and can accept credit cards for online purchases to an expression of pleasure that the correspondent’s review of Gordon’s newest poetry volume will appear in the edgy online poetics journal Jacket: “We’re on Amazon now, in case your prefer to pay by credit card. I’m very pleased that you liked the review. Within 24 hours, John Tranter accepted it for JACKET 25 and already put it up on 25 (even though the current issue is, technically, 23).” Gordon affiliates labor at what they describe as “McJobs”—​adjunct writing courses, clerking in malls and at auto parts stores—​so they can put bread on the table while pursuing writing, publishing, and “on the road” style reading tours. By no means, however, do they romanticize poverty or court professional obscurity as commensurate with a romanticized modernist (Pollock, Van Gogh) myth of suffering for one’s art or of a masculinist narrative of individual genius. They eschew the persona of outsider even as they dramatize their misfit status in self-​effacingly humorous passages: I was working for Murray’s Discount Auto Stores and then Autozone, but I got fired from both for embezzlement and thievery respectively (and to think I  thought the days of Randall Mall were behind me). Since then, I  went to Kent State for about a semester, about the same time that Jon was almost done with it, as an English major. Drinking and partying caught up with me and I dropped out. My brother gave me his landscaping business to run and I have been doing that for the last three years. I live in Little Italy in Cleveland in a



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crappy one bedroom apartment. About the coolest thing I  have done in the past year is apply for a job at WMMS as a morning show DJ. I was in the top ten but I did not make it all the way. (12–​13)

The semantic content of such passages focuses on the life struggles of a correspondent, but other transmissions invoke formalist issues typical among mainstream lyric page poets such as where to break lines or to avoid repeating the indefinite pronoun “all” excessively to create a tighter emotional expression. Correspondents, however, also convey uneasiness about how to handle technical problems especially relevant to poets in a new media age. They worry over how certain font sizes will or won’t translate when represented on an electronic screen. Besides frank discussions about poetics and word choice, they refer to the slipperiness of poetic language. They ask questions of each other—​relevant to my inquiry into the relation of reception and meaning of a purportedly nonmimetic project—​such as whether or not odd spellings are intentional. Acknowledging that “mistakes may be fortuitous,” one correspondent “wondered whether you meant ‘just clause clause’ or ‘just cause clause’ right on page one . . . either OK of course, but you play a lot with both repetition & rhyme in that poem that I thought I’d check” (42). In a contribution to the SUNY Buffalo listserv, later republished by Roof Books in 1997 as part of poetics@, material selected from the online project’s early days by Joel Kuszai, founder Charles Bernstein reflects on the association of place and alternative literary movements in an entry labeled (after Eliot’s famous essay) “Community and the Individual Talent”: Literary communities have often been understood in terms of place—​the “local”—​ as Michael Davidson writes about the emergence of a literary community on the West Coast in his book on the SF Renaissance, or in terms of scene (a local hub within a place or group). Black Mountain remains crucial because it forged an arts community from writers and artists from many places. Most recently, the connections of writers within ethnic, gender, or racial groups have been designated as communities. (40)

An author in the tradition of Kafka, who, when asked if he had anything in common with the Jews, quipped he had nothing in common with himself, Bernstein has been instrumental in imagining communities of radical poets in unlikely spaces such as the university and on the web. At the same time, he is anxiously aware of contradictions associated with forging an in-​group

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that defines itself in opposition to institutions of power such as multinational corporate capitalism and the research university. “To have a community is to make an imaginary inscription against what is outside the community & outside is where some poetry will want to be,” he writes (41). Stating “the access and protocols of this community are predetermined by the institutions that give us entry into them,” Bernstein is also troubled that group formations may inevitably be exclusive because—​at least in the web’s early days—​access to electronic mail communications was limited to persons with academic credentials or military affiliations (41). As I will note later in this chapter, at least one Gordon interlocutor follows Bernstein in attending to the politics of an out-​group forming itself into a virtual community. For the most part, however, inbox functions as an informal company’s unselfconscious and a-​topical meeting place. inbox is a site of interpersonal negotiation, close reading of new work, editorial inquiry, small press deal making, and cheerleading in hard economic times for a peripatetic troop that spans the coasts and even extends into Alaska and remote cabins in the Pacific Northwest where group members hang out for months at a time, offline, trying to find time and carving out space to write. Especially in the period of common personal computer usage prior to smartphones that allow consumers to check email from obscure locations—​t he first-​generation iPhone was released in 2007—​e-​mail, counterintuitively, draws together affiliates for face-​to-​face encounters, rather than, as skeptics of electronic media might assume, transforms participants into disembodied cyborgs who lack social etiquette in cyberspace: Just getting back on-​line after our trip today, so I’m only receiving this e-​mail from you now, August 9. It was great to see you at our reading and to hang out in Northampton. Thanks for taking us around and giving us the lowdown on what’s going on around there. I’m still trying to resign myself to being back at work today, but I’m not managing it yet. I appreciate your kind comments about my books. (21)

Later in the transcript, Google, the multinational enterprise associated with market needs founded in 1998, enables an anonymous fan to track Gordon down to praise his newly released volume, Frequencies, thus using a nonhuman search engine technology to cultivate the subgroup. inbox poses questions about the relation of personal names, to identity, to originality that resonate with Gordon’s experimentation in inbox with a Whitmanic (or corporate)



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notion of “voice” and communal personality as the authorial self is known in relation to how other subcultural affiliates in effect read and interpret him: I was searching the web hoping to come across a way to contact you. And as I’m writing this, I’m only hoping that you are in fact the author of “The Frequencies.” If not, my deepest apologies. But if you are in fact the Noah Gordon that I’m hoping to find, I just want to say that I came across your book the other day and it has completely floored me. (36)

Within missives on the economics of independent presses—​d iscussions of the potential for Print on Demand (POD), simultaneous printing of book covers for multiple titles to reduce costs, and deal making between small presses cast in terms of trading advertising space—​Gordon’s inbox—​like the letters of Dickinson, Keats, Stevens, and Olson—​reveals formalistic concerns12: Thanks for the response. If you aren’t candid, what good would that do; in fact I find your thoughts compelling and very considered. I’ll think about the line breaks . . . there are antecedents to this work that influenced this choice, but frankly I’m not quite comfortable with it as is just yet. I’ve gotten very interesting responses to this piece, some very enthusiastic, others not so much. A rhythmic litany is spot on. Did you read it aloud? Part of the condensary is to kick out any extraneous, keep it skin tight and sonic above all. Perhaps I should end the second part of the piece Ex[in]teriors and you will see those longer breaths. The first part of the piece is consciously that kind of jarring jabs, and the second longer pulls or more traditional? (17)

Like Bernstein, such passages suggest that for Gordon’s group the crafting of poems, poetics, and the economics of poetic production, are of a piece. Unlike Bernstein (and, in this sense, unlike Mould), one does not sense in inbox a sense of shame among Gordon’s affiliates over political incorrectness as email participants effortlessly cross borders between commercial, academic, consumerist/​competitive, new media, and alternative social communities and literary communications. Bernstein comes to terms with his anxiety about being that paradoxical thing—​a careerist alternative poet—​through parody, 12  A Gordon affiliate, Brian Henry, weighs the advantages and disadvantages of alternative publishing in the following exchange: “I don’t think Ahsahta books could be POD with that piece of paper on the inside covers—​POD can’t do that. And I think the format is too square for POD. The good thing about POD, though, is that books never go out of print. I doubt Carnegie Mellon will reprint Astronaut, which is almost sold out of its first run, so I’ll have to figure out what to do when it goes out of print [I actually never signed a contract with them—​I tried to negotiate different terms re: the right of first refusal and the editor freaked out on me, and we never signed it]” (18).

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zany word play, and what Golding calls Bernstein’s “critique of the conventions of academic style and logic and performance of alternatives in his critical writing” about institutionalization or academic cooption (31). In an early (circa 1993) intervention into the SUNY Buffalo listserv, for example, Bernstein uses disarming humor to deal with discomfort about his leadership position by sending a missive featuring silly rules such as: “You have to sound 30 or show ID,” “no irony,” and “cut down on those repulsive smile icons.” In such ironic directives, Bernstein simultaneously addresses and mocks his role as “founding father” of an electronic discussion forum designed to be open-​minded about poetics, but that is inevitably rule-​bound and exclusive because by invitation only (52).13 inbox’s correspondents, by contrast to Bernstein, rarely express alarm about media, corporate, or academic cooptation. In fact they actively seek absorption into all of the above. Why so little stress on (or about?) mainstream affiliation that animates Bernstein’s Mel Brooks-​style antidictatorial/​dictatorial mandates in poetics@? I  can speculate. It is so in no small measure because Gordon and company are entering the academy as experimental stylists within an environment stocked with influential senior figures such as Bernstein, (sisters Fanny and Marie) Howe, Barbara Guest, Perelman, Donald Revell, John Ashbery, Marjorie Perloff, Jerome Rothenberg, Jackson Mac Low, John Yau, Lyn Hejinian, and Barrett Watten.14 One does not sense apprehension in Gordon’s company that they will lose credibility in the inbox subculture if they are lucky enough to score an academic job in a brutal market, gain admission into a grad program such as Buffalo’s or Brown’s, publish with a commercial press, compete successfully against countless other hungry poets in book prize   As John Lowney notes, John Guillory has “argued that the question of literacy underlies the current debate on canon formation. Principles of exclusion are meaningless without considering how institutional structures regulate access to literacy” (23). 14   An antiestablishment experimentalist who has, paradoxically, like Ginsberg and Ashbery before him, achieved high visibility in academia, Bernstein is a fellow of the American Academy of the Arts and Sciences and holds an endowed chair at an Ivy League university. He regularly publishes with elite university presses such as Chicago. Bernstein has also found a degree of commercial success. He has appeared in a television advertisement for the Yellow Pages, in at least one movie, and has had a libretto, Shadowtime, related to the life of Walter Benjamin, performed at Lincoln Center. Born in Manhattan in 1950, he holds only a BA degree (admittedly from Harvard in 1972 where he studied with the language-​oriented philosopher Stanley Cavell). His writings often represent an irreverent relation to academic discourse as a form of business writing. He writes in Dark City that he “decided to go back/​to school after fifteen years in/​community poetry because I felt/​I did not know enough to navigate/​t hrough the rocky waters that/​lie ahead for all of us in this field.” He has fostered what Golding calls “extra-​academic literary activity that he has used his professional position to foster—​I’m thinking here of the presses, magazines, reading series, talk series, web sites and listserves associated with or enabled by the Buffalo program” (11). 13



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competitions, receive a public grant, or, in the following example, tweak font sizes for a book jacket to ensure room for blurbs—​in this case from Yau and Claudia Rankine, a National Book Critics Circle Award winner who holds an endowed chair at Pomona College and is a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets—​from hip multicultural elders who, like Bernstein, have negotiated professional notoriety with street cred among the Gen Xers: Hope the big file didn’t clog your e-​mail; I forgot I was replying to the Hotmail account. It’s now at Yahoo. I’m attaching the PDF of the cover, complete with Rankine quote & UPC symbol. The type size is a bit smaller than I’d originally planned, but I didn’t want to cut the Yau quote and it was the only way to fit everything in. I’d be happy to look at the new manuscript next spring after we’re through with the Sawtooth contest. (16)15

The fact that an earlier generation of experimentalists has transformed itself into what William Carlos Williams would refer to as a “usable past” by entering the academy—​transforming the research university into a site of desire rather than the agonistic opponent it was for contributors to Donald Allen’s counter-​ cultural anthology, The New American Poetry: 1945–​1960 (1960)—​may be one reason the inbox (or Generation 2)  crowd doesn’t chafe against professional absorption. But I would submit that it is the G2 crowd’s differing attitude toward the political consequences of Language-​oriented poetics when compared to the earlier generation that at once reduces G2 concerns with the revolutionary nature of their project, and that also confirms the value of Language-​oriented poetics as an aesthetically inflected political gesture in a local sense as a nexus for their paradoxical counter-​culture community formation via the atopic virtual site. Here is what I am getting at. East Coast experimentalists such as Bernstein and Yau (both born in 1950)  and West Coasters such as Hejinian, Watten, Michael Palmer, and Perelman came of age in the late 1960s and early 1970s, when linguistic defamiliarization was associated—​as was the case among cultural theorists such as Kristeva, Derrida, Foucault, and Barthes in Paris—​ with a Student Movement opposed to Vietnam, Chicago Mayor Richard Daley’s Gestapo-​like tactics to suppress protests in Grant Park during the 1968 Democratic National Convention, the murder of student protestors by   This is perhaps a message to Gordon from Janet Holmes, director of Ahsahta Press, funded by Boise State University, which in 2004 selected a Gordon volume for the Sawtooth contest judged by Claudia Rankine.

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National Guardsman at Kent State and Morehouse, political assassinations, the draft, abuse of the environment, and the administrations of Presidents Johnson and Nixon, who escalated the conflict in Southeast Asia to include carpet bombings in Cambodia. By contrast, if we turn now to a testy debate between first-​generation Language poet Ron Silliman and G2 poet and theorist Steve Evans, who was born in 1965 and received his PhD from Brown in 2000, that took place on the Buffalo listserv as reproduced in poetics@, the contributions from the site’s early years selected by Joel Kurzai, we notice a skepticism on the part of G2 members—​here represented by Evans, now a tenured Professor of Poetics affiliated with the National Poetry Foundation along with his partner, the poet Jennifer Moxley, and Bernstein student Ben Friedlander at the University of Maine—​that linguistic disruptions may be commensurate with large-​scale political sabotage. In the thread I am citing from poetics@, a rather pedantic discussion on the etymology of key words such as “fury,” “motivation,” and “experiment” morphs into a debate between Language elder Ron Silliman and Evans on generational differences in motivation for experimental writing (p. 57). Centering around the relation of politics to aesthetics in the Silliman-​ edited anthology of Language writings In the American Tree (1986) versus more recent key poetics statements by G2 poets in O-​blek 12 and New Coast, Silliman claims o-​blek 12, offered a “return to the lyric” that “represents precisely the draining of the ‘social’ from the concerns of G2.” Provoking Evans’s response, Silliman asserts, “there are no literary devices in [New Coast] that you cannot already find in The New American Poetry, In the American Tree, or The Art of Practice” (Evans quoting Silliman, 58). Silliman speculates that the lack of new technical means among G2 authors to find a poetics that is critical of “existing social relations and evoking potentials for social transformation,” “may actually represent a much more complex ensemble of social phenomena, that may well include grave doubt over the possibilities of collective action” (59). Evans, in turn, is skeptical about how the “ ‘tyranny of the signifier’ (a phrase that is laughable today but which articulated aspirations for social change for some people in the 70s–​80s)” may relate “to anti-​capitalist struggle.” He is, in short, unconvinced about the move from “linguistic to social action” (60).16   Silliman, who in poetics@ acknowledges that he works “on ads that have appeared in the Wall Street Journal, NY Times, Forbes, Fortune, and other bastions of liberal thought” (71), argues that there is “no Out” to implication in United States and multinational imperialism: “Obviously it would be nice to think that you and I are not implicated in the atrocities that occur in Bosnia or Rwanda or East Timor. But we are. We are directly and personally responsible. Each one of us”  (71). He

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The emails that would constitute the inbox transcript were submitted to Gordon on September 11, 2004, during the initial stages of the US-​led invasion of Iraq as well as in the wake of the 9/​11 attacks on the World Trade Center and initiation of a George W. Bush administration-​led Global War on Terror and commensurate restriction on constitutional rights to privacy and protection against unreasonable search and seizure in the United States via the Patriot Act. Correspondents, however, express little concern about cooption by a state-​ supported academy or consumerist brand-​oriented culture in the midst of a national and international political crisis. Instead, the inbox crowd regards eccentric communal development, maintenance of the punk-​ like poetry underground, and nurturance of the esoteric formal sensibilities of affiliates as itself counter-​cultural political intervention. Political concerns do emerge in inbox. They occur when e-​mail authors perceive attachments within the subcultural polis to be confusing or imprecise because of the fuzzy borders that surround listservs and web sites. “One of the things that drives me crazy about listservs is that even tho it’s a kind of community, most of the time it feels to me like throwing darts into a tornado,” complains one correspondent (61). In his forward to poetics@, Bernstein already addressed the problem of the listserv as a closed site for open-​ended discussion of experimental poetics: “The Poetics List, while committed to openness, has always been a private list with an articulated editorial focus and a restricted format,” he states (6).17 Sensing Gordon’s concerns about the restrictive nature of the Buffalo listserv after, as Bernstein has noted, “it became impossible to continue with unrestricted posting” in the later 1990s, eventually leading to the selection of Christopher Alexander as “moderator and editor; under a new format, subscribers were no longer able to post messages directly to the list” (poetics@, 7), one inbox correspondent defends the implementation of rules and restrictions, assuring Gordon, it is “less Skull&Bones than you think” (64). Describing the later 1990s, continues in poetics@: “Ultimately, the problem of opposition is not one of how to avoid becoming a commercial. You can’t. Trying to do so just wastes time. The question rather seems to be one of positioning what happens when/​as you do” (71). 17   As the listserv grew from 150 to 750 subscibers, Bernstein states in poetics@, “I tried to make the list available primarily to those for whom it would be of greatest interest, realizing that the broader and more diffuse its participants, and the more voluminous its posts, the less valuable it would be [to] a core group of poets and critics and readers who might be reluctant to stick with highly generalized or elementary discussion” (6). By 1999, he continues, “it became impossible to continue with unrestricted posting,” and so Christopher Alexander “became the list moderator and editor; under a new format, subscribers were no longer able to post messages directly to the list.[. . .] In the age of the Internet, more editing not less is required” (7).

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rule-​bound version of the Buffalo listserv in terms of sound conservation of resources and ecological development, the correspondent states: The Subpo List then is a controlled-​growth venue of Poetic talk. It has loose rules that people more or less abide by. It has no moderator or bylaws in place for disciplining participants. Some things are common-​sense email etiquette: a) don’t forward mail from the list to private or public parties without the author’s permission, b) don’t provide instructions to subscribe to people without the list’s knowledge, and so on. (64)

It is only on the last (of the 78)  page inbox transcript that a correspondent references the Iraq War and Global War on Terror. Surprisingly, however, the email’s author expresses concern about how terrorism will potentially do “damage to US economy” and then articulates a Homeland Security type panic over “mass casualties” in the United States if terrorists strike on dates of “High symbolic value” such as “Thanksgiving day” (78). No one criticizes the Bush administration for invading Iraq. The Guantanamo Bay detention camp, opened in 2002, is not mentioned.18 Only one correspondent specifically discusses the connection between poetry and politics. This conversation is cast in relation to the correspondent’s recollection of supportive messages sent to her by the politically engaged poet and anthologist, Carolyn Forché, her college mentor. Forché’s message to her student is not that the correspondent should follow her example in The Country Between Us (1982) and perform a surrealistic poetics of witness by traveling to El Salvador to interview a banana republic’s dictator, as Forché records herself doing in “The Colonel,” but merely to trust that her writing will possess a political tint because she is, in a way left unspecified, a political person. “Kaia, you can’t help but write political poetry, because your consciousness is political,” she recalls Forché telling her (20). Gordon selected the historically resonant date of 9/​11 (2004) to transcribe, “merely whatever emails happened to be in my inbox” (5). In his “Dear Friends” email letter of “12 Sep 2004” to potential correspondents that serves as preface to inbox, however, Gordon never mentions the significance of the 9/​11 date, nor is it discussed by correspondents, with the exception of the final page in which, as noted, one writer references the consequences of terror on the United States economy. What does concern Gordon in his “preface” letter to potential 18   Following words of fear about terrorism, inbox concludes on a personal note with reference to a “will [which divides everything equally by things . . . one to each of you] is in my bedroom in a drawer,” and advice to bury the body in “Lakeview Cemetery in Cleveland . . . near a tree” (78).



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correspondents is the impact his repurposing of private emails into a public if, albeit small press, document might have on the harmony of the punk/​ poetry underground. In an interview subsequent to inbox’s publication with the poet and critic Tom Fink—​whose emails appear in inbox—​Gordon states that part of his excitement in publishing inbox stemmed from the ethical risk he, Gordon, took in making public what were intended by G2 colleagues to be private missives. Gordon tells Fink that the project “does involve a certain level of transgression, even of personal discomfort. The book itself was not difficult to write but the social dimensions of its possible reception were difficult to foresee.” Gordon purports to follow Marjorie Perloff’s definition of the creative activity she calls “unoriginal genius.” In Goldsmith’s terms, such a paradoxical form of Eliotic individual talent “centers around one’s mastery of information and its dissemination” by, in Perloff’s terms, “moving information” “to signify both the act of pushing language around as well as the act of being emotionally moved in the process” (Perloff quoted in Goldsmith, and Goldsmith in Uncreative Writing, 1). As Gordon tells Fink in the interview, however, he shaped emails for aesthetic affect. To increase the ambient flow and to dissolve lyric identities he mashed entries together, removing traditional opening salutations and closing gestures. To limit the damage to group harmony, he removed at least one email as the book was about to go to press because he was uncertain if a correspondent had approved the appearance of its critical commentary on the work of another author.19   Fink: First, when you say “take the body-​text,” do you mean that you preserved each email from start to finish—​you didn’t edit them?

19

Noah Eli Gordon:  That’s correct. Although I  did remove everyone’s name, along with whatever particular language was used to open and close each email, which allowed all of the text to merge. There are points where the shift from email to email is obvious, but the more compelling moments occur when it’s somewhat uncertain. After sending out that initial email, which, as you note, acts as a preface for the book, I did go back and excise several things from the project, mostly notes from those who expressed a little hostility toward the idea. Of course, such hostility is wholly warranted, as there’s something inherently exploitive about publicly airing what folks considered to be intimate correspondence. The only other instance of editing took place right before the book was published. There was a bit of text in there that signified strongly the opinion of one individual involved in the poetry community about that of another. I punted this person a note just prior to publication asking if it was okay to include the material. Interestingly, although not necessarily surprising, this person had forgotten the email I’d sent, the one which acts as the book’s preface, as it had been a few years since I’d gotten the okay. Honestly, I felt really bad about it, and so removed the mention. I suppose, in a way, this is what makes the project in my mind successful, in that it does involve a certain level of transgression, even of personal discomfort. The book itself was not difficult to write but the social dimensions of its possible reception were difficult to foresee.

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In Soliloquy, Goldsmith only discusses the ethical issue of recording his voice when facing resistance from his wife, Cheryl, concerning his desire to include their sexual noises in bed at night. By contrast to Goldsmith, Gordon is, quite literally, up front about the tensions between his aesthetic orientation as a post Wittgenstein/​post Duchamp conceptualist and what I  regard as Gordon’s punk activist sensibility. His ethical conundrum stems from his deploying the web to foster a subculture as creative resistance to common sense culture as well as the potential for digital media to be imagined as a platform for producing subversive art. Gordon’s “Dear Friends” letter speaks to the contradictions and tensions in his sensibility. On the one hand, Gordon the Conceptualist is self-​consciously working in the style of Tan Lin, author of the far wilder and often mimetically impenetrable Heath Course Pak (2012). Like Gordon’s inbox, Lin recasts into a small press volume (published by Gordon’s Colorado University colleague Julie Carr’s Counterpath Press) digital materials for conceptual/​ contextual/​ appropriative ends.20 Blacked-​ out sentences, blank Post-​It passages concealing segments, and a disjointed, collage-​like splattering of disparate materials challenge in Lin’s work the desires for coherence from meaning-​oriented readers who approach even unruly conceptual projects such as Goldsmith’s and Gordon’s mimetically—​ reading for narrative, plot, and character development. Like Lin, Gordon encourages readers to suppress desire for linearity and semantic meaning, and to enjoy compositional features of the text such as typefaces, images, colors,   In Lin’s case, digital material in Heath Course Pak amounts to a zany pastiche that includes Amazon.com purchasing information for The Theory of the Novel by Marxist critic Georg Lukacs, purchasing information from iHerb.com for containers of “Jackie Chan’s XTRA Green Green Tea Beverage Mix,” J Crew and Blimpie sandwich ads, PDFs of pictures of the party drug Ecstasy, a Critical Inquiry online definition of “The Arts of Contingency,” material found online related to the diary of Samuel Pepys, online reports, emails, and other information related to the legal (copyright/​ plagiarism) implications concerning the Project Gutenberg initiative that intended to “Give Away One Trillion Etext Files [. . .]This is ten thousand titles each to one hundred million readers, which is only about 4% of the present number of computer users” (unpaginated) and, among much else, ample fanzine and news media type reports about the death of actor Heath Ledger. Lin combines the digital media fragments in an apparently slapdash manner with hand-​scribbled lists, notes, sections in Chinese, and autobiographical and biographical fragments, signed fan photographs from Ledger and Chan as well as documents vouching for the authenticity of these publicity still images as souvenir collectibles. What makes Lin’s experimental project especially impenetrable on a semantic level—​which riffs on the Heath Anthology of Literature known for its sensitivity to multiculturalism, and penchant many cost-​conscious instructors may have of Xeroxing copyrighted segments from such an anthology in a course pack—​is Lin’s frequent use of blank pale yellow Post-​It type notes that are pasted over a significant portion of the digital text. 20



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and icon-​like designs. In league with Lin, but less disruptive of typical reading strategies than is Lin, Gordon nonetheless imagines his project as a display of sonic textures and pleasurable graphic features. He creates an email version of a punk wall of sound that upsets common sense ideas of individual identity and private correspondence.21 Following John Cage, he also emphasizes the aesthetic value of silences in between the words:  “I thought it would be interesting to see what would happen if I were to take the body-​text of every email that was addressed specifically to me” and “let all of the voices collide into one continuous text” (4). One correspondent, however, addresses the issue of how to receive an aspect of transmissions—​silence—​t hat can be viewed from a post Cagean perspective as of aesthetic or even spiritual significance within the contextual frame of an art world project, but that can also, in terms of the punk/​poetry subcultural social movement, be viewed as a mildly offensive sign of group rejection: Hey, your opinion would be greatly appreciated here—​is Sara not interested in doing CANT? I’m just wondering because she hasn’t sent me anything and a couple of weeks ago I sent her an email that she didn’t respond to . . . I guess I just kind of want to know if I should expect anything from her. I don’t mind waiting a few more weeks, but if I need to find another poet I kind of have to get on that. (22)

The correspondent’s reading of silence in terms of interpersonal relations, rather than in aesthetic terms, points to a conundrum Gordon faces with a project that asks readers to regard private email disclosures as fodder for conceptual verbal art. Gordon, the subcultural community builder, in the only email of his own included in inbox, expresses concern to participants whose emails might become part of “the voices [that] dissolve into one another 21   On the Foundation for the Contemporary Arts website, Lin (b. 1957) writes: “My principal aim in the past fifteen years has been to produce an ‘ambient’ literature, really a mode of literature rather than a recognizable genre, that would be permeable and could disable the rigid categorization of work into such categories as poetry, fiction and literary criticism/​poetics. This project is grounded in relaxing certain parameters and engaging a set of (generic) practices that I see functioning in the culture at large, but that are not normally regarded as productive for the making of serious literature or literary criticism. Those practices center around but are not confined to sampling, communal production and social networks. They link to issues as diverse as relaxed copyright, boredom, plagiarism and the commodification of attention. Working against avant-​garde notions of difficulty, the work takes its cue from various popular cultural forms, including yoga, disco, the decorative arts, television, twentieth century sound poetry and electronica. I am presently working to complete a sampled novel, Our Feelings Were Made by Hand.”

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without any transition” (5) so that he “sculpts the space between the everyday detritus of dinner plans to discussions of fonts and notes from long lost friends” (4), will break trust with colleagues: [I]‌f it seems like there’s a lot of uncertainty from folks about the nature of the project, I’m wholly willing to kill it, I don’t want this to negatively impact any friendships or friendly acquaintanceships [. . .]I’m fine with a straight up “No” and don’t think anyone should have to defend such a response. (5)

Gordon worries about the relation between an electronic version of the art for art’s sake attitude and an ethical concern for the safety of friendships when repurposing correspondences senders intended as private contacts. inbox thus looks backward not only to Soliloquy, but also to challenges faced by twentieth-​ c entury American poets who, controversially, appropriated private mail correspondences. Examples include letters sent to William Carlos Williams by Marcia Nardi and Allen Ginsberg for inclusion as “found” material for the collage-​l ike long poem Paterson and Robert Lowell in 1973’s The Dolphin, which contained letters from ex-​w ife Elizabeth Hardwick. In “The Eye of the Beholder: Voyeurism and Surveillance in Williams’s Speaker/​R eader Matrix,” Irena Praitis discusses Williams’s inclusion in Book II of Paterson selections from personal letters sent to the author by Nardi, an aspiring poet and economically distressed woman, whom Williams refers to in the poem as Cress (9). 22 Praitis explores the “dynamics of surveillance,” which she describes as functioning via a “dynamics closely associated with voyeurism” (2–​3). She is concerned with representations in which we as readers or viewers are positioned as spies. We overhear conversations, view bodies in vulnerable or awkward positions, read letters (or, in Gordon’s case) emails, which the correspondent had assumed were private, not intended for publication communications. Gordon’s repurposing of emails for inbox differs in several respects from the Williams/​Nardi example. Besides the sheer number of correspondents implicated in inbox, email senders generally do not expect the same level of   Williams biographer Paul Mariani has argued the poet attempted to reach Nardi for permission to excerpt her correspondences for his collage-​like epic, but failed to do so when facing deadline pressure with New Directions press. Praitis compares Williams’s relation to Nardi’s letters to Degas’s “keyhole” paintings of the backside of naked women bathing who (although professional models) are portrayed as ordinary women unaware they are being observed in works such as “Le Bain Matinal.”

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privacy and thus the same degree of confidentiality as would be the case for most letter writers. Cybersecurity experts regard emails as providing about the level of concealment as would a personal note on a postcard sent through the US mails. Gordon also greatly reduces the breach of privacy in inbox by seeking permission from correspondents whose writings he planned to include in inbox. Further, Gordon repurposes emails from “in group” affiliates, whereas Williams enables readers to overhear “interpersonal relationship difficulties” between an established poet and physician, and Nardi, self-​described in the letters as “completely in exile socially” and as one who “wanted your friendship more than I  ever wanted anything else” (Nardi quoted by Praitis,  12). Does Gordon’s interpretation of emails as less of mimetic and sociological import than of Language-​ oriented linguistic play adequately mitigate ethical concerns a critic such as Praitis brings to her reading of Paterson? Is Gordon’s reconceptualization of their emails, I am asking, less of a power play in relation to affiliates than was the case for Williams in relation to Nardi? As Praitis asks of Nardi after the Paterson experience, I do wonder what attitude to their own communications, past and future, will inbox correspondents bring to interactions with Gordon and other writers after experiencing their private writings becoming public in unexpected ways? It is true that correspondents granted Gordon permission to publish their transmissions, but isn’t the concept of permission compromised—​overdetermined—​in this case? I ask the question because Gordon has put affiliates in a kind of interpretive box other than an inbox. Gordon is, in effect, strongly encouraging them to regard their writings according to his aesthetic of conceptual defamiliarization. Otherwise, why would they consent to have their materials published as part of his long poem? If they demure, they are implicitly suggesting their discomfort with publication of their communications because they maintain a distinction between private and public expressions and because they emphasize the semantic meaning of their writings. They are suggesting unease with demonstrating in public their vulnerabilities, financial frustrations, careerism, and apparent lack of sensitivity to (or at least commentary on) Bush’s invasive War on Terror. Following Praitis, are correspondents who demure acknowledging that their personal communication to Gordon, a colleague in the poetry subculture, has “fail[ed] to perform” appropriately in the social register? inbox engages readers to explore these issues while looking forward to the politically charged contemporary ethical and legal topics of governmental, educational, and private corporate access to email records of individual citizens in an electronic era in

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which the border between public versus private platforms for communication has become upset.23 Correspondents in inbox address in metacritical fashion reception issues comparable to those I have considered in this essay. inbox includes an extended commentary at the end of the text regarding a book review by Travis Nichols that treats The Red Bird, an example of a post-​Clark Coolidge serial poem by Joyelle McSweeney, from the critical perspective of a traditional voice lyric. Gordon’s inclusion of Nichols’s critical review of McSweeney’s book, occurring as it does within a few pages of inbox’s conclusion, serves as a reflection on reception issues relevant to Gordon’s volume. Can readers choose, as the correspondent accuses Nichols of doing in relation to McSweeney, to ignore authorial intentionality (one had assumed that theories of intentionality were already discredited as a fallacy by the New Critics!) and evaluate an experimental text by what the correspondent calls “conventional” standards?24 Like Goldsmith’s Soliloquy, Gordon’s inbox is a self-​consciously conceptual project. But I  am demonstrating that one may read it against Wittgenstein’s “meaning-​ is-​ context” grain—​ and thus contra to the author’s intentions—​ as a mimesis with dialogical significance, and literary sociological import. Both books transform into an independent press text a transcription of

23  As USA Today (6.26.14) reported when I was drafting this chapter on inbox, the United States Supreme Court ruled 9–​0 that “Cellphones and smartphones generally cannot be searched by police without a warrant during arrests. (USA Today—​Lafayette Journal and Courier, Section B page 1). “Today’s decision is itself revolutionary and will help to protect the privacy rights of all Americans,” stated Steven Shapiro, the National legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union. As Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the court:  “Modern cellphones, as a category, implicate privacy concerns far beyond those implicated by the search for a cigarette pack, a wallet or a purse” (3B USA Today). As Richard Wolf reported:  “The Justices struck down an extensive smartphone search in California that had been upheld by the state Court of Appeals, as well as a more limited probe of an old flip-​top cellphone in Massachusetts that a federal judge already had thrown out.” 24   The correspondent writes: “What strikes me immediately about Travis’ review is the surprisingly conventional criteria being applied to an unconventional book:  i.e. Travis prefers ‘depth’ over ‘surface complexity,’ ‘full thoughts’ rather than ‘elliptic’ or ‘stunted thoughts’ [the notion of a full thought is too complicated to really get into here, but to borrow Wittgenstein’s notion of use, I take the phrase to mean ‘polished thought’ or ‘rhetorical thought’]. Plus Travis has a clear preference for ‘representation,’ ‘precise imagery,’ as well as for ‘lyricism and personality.’ Not that these are bad criteria! Not at all, it’s just that they seem ill-​suited for coming to terms with the concerns of McSweeney’s book. I think this might be taken as a sign of the times. It seems as if folks have less tolerance nowadays for ambiguity or for speculation as to the tenuous and shifting conditions for ‘meaning,’ as if to say ‘these are crucial and dangerous times; so you need to say what you mean and be clear about it!’ In other words, the tenets of L=A=N poetry might be less viable in a time in which uncertainty seems so dangerous to so many” (75).



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communications that took place over an arbitrarily defined time span (one day for Gordon, one week for Goldsmith). The earlier work, Soliloquy (published in 2001, but based in a recording from 1996), very much concerns the potential for the World Wide Web, web sites, and Social Media to expand Goldsmith’s emphasis on networks and postmodern conceptualism. The transcript itself, however, is based on a modernist recording device, the hidden audio recorder cassette attached to Goldsmith’s body for one week in 1996. The later work, inbox (published in 2006, but based in email communications sent to Gordon from 2004), by contrast, extends Goldsmith’s prescient understanding of the impact Social Media will have on contemporary poetics. He makes manifest the usually unsung process of community building of a G2 poetics subculture using electronic media and by defamiliarizing and conceptualizing the messages sent to him from other poetry activists that “happened to be in my inbox on 9/​11/​04” as itself a material site for a web-​influenced alternative poetry print project (5). In “After Language Poetry” (2001), an essay concerned with what she calls the “conventional Aristotelian/​dramatic model,” which in Bernstein’s terms would correspond to “absorptive” and “epiphanic” realist lyrics, and Brechtian “epic theater,” which would correspond in Bernstein’s terms to an “anti-​ absorptive” aesthetics that asks readers to pay special attention to literary materiality, Jena Osman, a poet who took her PhD in poetics at Buffalo, has begun to unravel the distinction between the two apparently contradictory models of representation: What interests me in the Brechtian model is how it depends on a constant oscillation between empathy and alienation. It sets both opacity and transparency in dialogue. This seems to me to be the “next step” and it’s evident in a growing array of hybridizing writing practices that make use of visual, sound, performance, and cyber media in order to bring the materiality of language (and thus the reader) into a more activist position. It’s also evident in the number of works that are being created through the use of cultural and documentary materials—​and it seems inevitable that in light of recent events, the detached eye of the “language poem” must share the textual stage with connective, collective, and absorptive forms. These are the directions in which I see my own work turning.

It is significant for my reception of inbox to notice Osman alludes in the passage above to the collectively disruptive trauma of 9/​11. She acknowledges that her call for a rapprochement between the Brechtian/​Aristotelian modes that

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animated Language poetics occurs to her “in light of recent events.” Osman expresses her felt need to create what I have been calling a “liminal” poetics. She engages with a long history of conceptualist and constructivist poetics in appropriating, repurposing, and defamiliarizing prior mediations of the real as found in “cultural and documentary materials.” In the wake of punctures to the coherence of the national imaginary, however, Osman argues that making further linguistic incursions into the status quo via alienating effects has become moot. While by no means advocating a return to the epiphanic lyric, which Osman in her essay associates with the poetry of James Wright, upon whom she wrote an undergraduate thesis at Oberlin College, we hear in her comments a call for a new generation of Language-​oriented writers to “share the textual stage with connective, collective, and absorptive forms.”25 My mixed reading of inbox, which pivots between moments of reception in which I become engrossed with antiabsorptive properties, such as when I noted my attention to funky rhythmic assemblage of sounds and out of the ordinary terms—​“to do that slit ½ page ad for Fulcrum for Braincase and Anchorite”—​ and my “absorptive” reading of Gordon and affiliates as subcultural grouping, corresponds to Osman’s ambivalent conceptualization.

CODA: inbox and the Patriot Act While writing on inbox in September 2014, the Second Circuit of Appeals Court in New York City was hearing arguments for the case of American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) vs. Clapper. The case concerned the constitutionality of the NSA (National Security Administration) Phone Records Program, with special emphasis on the constitutional (Fourth Amendment) issue of unreasonable search and seizures in the wake of the NSA’s warrantless mass collection of phone records for counter-​terrorism purposes and revelations in June 2013 of the extent of the NSA’s program. The question the court addressed hinged on interpretations of the controversial section 215 (or “library records

25   Osman recalls: “As I graduated from college, I was feeling more than a little coerced by poetry. Was it really just a game of manipulation? Was it really just about hammering the point home in a gorgeous leap toward closure? Could subjectivity in poems be expressed only in this homogenized cadence? I graduated and I was dejected.”



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provision”) of the Patriot Act. According to a prior Supreme Court Decision in “Smith vs. Maryland” (1979)—​a case that involved a telephone company’s “pen registers,” which record and store the phone numbers patrons have dialed—​t he court had ruled a Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable search and seizure could be considered to be a relevant factor only if a defendant could prove a “reasonable” expectation of privacy had been breached by the state. In “Smith vs. Maryland,” however, the court ruled patrons had no “reasonable” expectation that phone companies would not maintain “pen registers” as a record of their calls. The question of what constitutes “reasonable” expectation animated court hearings in ACLU vs. Clapper. Further, the court had ruled under a “third party doctrine” that information loses Fourth Amendment protection when knowingly revealed to a third party. Gordon’s decision to publish the 200 private emails he received on September 11, 2004 for a book he published with BlazeVox in 2006 occurs in the midst of heated congressional debate throughout 2005 concerning reauthorizing the Patriot Act beyond the “sunset” expiration date of its original authorization in the late fall of 2001. In his “preface” to inbox, Gordon expresses concern about the impact his project will have on his relation to his subcultural community. In his interview with Fink he describes the frisson of transgression he experienced in taking “the body-text of every email [that] was addressed specifically to me”  (inbox, 4), and repurposing them for his conceptual project and “temporal autobiography” (4). Following the “ACLU vs. Clapper” hearings on C-​Span, I  found myself wondering about how to regard Gordon’s act of mass collection and use of private emails for the purpose of offering them to audiences the sender had not intended, and the contemporaneous context of the Patriot Act. My point is certainly not to lump Gordon’s intent at reconceptualization of private business emails to him as antiabsorptive poetry together with the NSA’s information gathering project in the name of counter-​terrorism and “Homeland” protection. Rather, I speculate about Gordon’s commitment to defamiliarize the mimetic content of the emails in part by mashing them together to “let all of the voices collide into one continuous text” (4) as a subversive commentary upon the efficacy, if not the constitutional legality, of the Patriot Act. From this line of thought, Gordon’s encouragement to readers to regard the emails he has published from an antiabsorptive perspective may be understood as a critique of the NSA procedure of collecting massive data for the purposes of information

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detection. From Gordon’s point of view, inbox, which pivots uncontrollably between absorptive and antiabsorptive modes, demonstrates the folly of the government’s confidence that analyzing private communications could produce a legible narrative of value in deflecting a national threat to security. From Gordon’s point of view, the Patriot Act would serve merely as a fiction of security via unwarranted mass surveillance.

8

A Tonalism, Synaesthesia, Translation, and Post-​Ableism in The Route

Like Noah Eli Gordon’s inbox (2006), The Route (2008) is an experiment in digital citizenship. Patrick Durgin’s and Jen Hofer’s text adheres to media theorist Henry Jenkins’s definition of a “new knowledge culture” in which “rooting in physical geography is diminished” and, therefore, in which communities are defined “through voluntary, temporary, and tactical affiliations, reaffirmed through common intellectual enterprises and emotional investments” (27). Following what critic Peter Middleton, writing on L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E magazine, refers to as an “experiment in distributed or collaborative authorship,” Durgin and Hofer trouble the establishment of communitarianism based on exclusivity—​a form of independence from the influence of tradition—​one finds in inbox (Middleton, 88).1 The Route’s overall challenge to interlocution as based in distinguishing the discursive authority between self and other through pronounced styles and clearly delineated subject positions is influenced by Hofer’s practices as a creative translator of poetry by contemporary female Mexican authors. The text’s mash up of sender and receiver, author and reader, also reflects Durgin’s aesthetic commitment to what Bay Area author and curator Laura Moriarity refers to as “A Tonalism.” In an essay on Moriarty in relation to a post-​ableist intervention in disability studies, Durgin refers to “A Tonalism” as a “disjointed phenomenology of temporary presence” (“Post-​Language Poetries,” 9). The Route’s interpersonal 1  Writing on themes of language, authorship, and equality in the influential American poetry magazine L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E (1978–​1981), edited by Charles Bernstein and Bruce Andrews with layout designed by Susan B.  Laufer (Susan Bee), Middleton contends that “an unexpected consequence of this distributed authorship is a fractalization of identity, especially gendered identity, because the identity ascribed to a named ‘author’ frequently has to be shared across a range of other ‘authors,’ including the editors and other participants in the discussion (whose status varies from intended contributor, to the outsider status of a writer of a ‘letter to the editors,’ to a co-​opted author such as Roland Barthes or Fredric Jameson” (88–​89).

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disturbances, in which word, world, and human body manifest “without embodying the intangible affects and percepts of the bourgeois lyric ‘I,’ ” also reflect Durgin’s perspective on identity evident in his scholarship on another proto Language poet, Hannah Weiner, the subject of Chapter 1, whose peculiar psychological tendency was, synaesthetically, to see words on human bodies, foreheads, and inanimate objects (Durgin on Moriarity, 9). In thirteen lengthy emails to each other drafted between 2001 and 2006 followed by thirteen conventional mailings in which they collaborate on “Open Letters” addressed to other experimental cultural workers, Durgin and Hofer question the premise (while ironically performing the act) of interlocution by interrupting how we typically define markers of identity such as self, other, subjectivity, witness, encounter, difference, authorship, and readership. In part because of its liminal mode and the transformational mood of its peripatetic authors, The Route (2008), however unruly its texture and ambivalent its moods, conforms to Moriarty’s loose definition of “A Tonality” as embracing “the thing it is resisting” (Moriarity, 134).2 According to Moriarity in A Tonalist (2010), such writing tends to be paradoxically doubtful as well as hopeful, lyrical and elegiac, as well as anti-​or post-​humanist. “Some people write lyric poetry because they just want to and think it is great. Some write it though they think it is impossible. The latter are A Tonalists,” writes Moriarity  (121). Further notable paradoxes found within A  Tonalist texts such as The Route include a coincidental affection for communitarianism and an embrace of iconoclasm, a situation of authorship as contradictorily nonfoundational and yet grounded in place, and a taste for writing that displays a supple willingness to compromise in arguments rather than to hold fast to a hard line in debate: “a realization that much that seemed forbidden is in fact required” (Moriarity, 15).3 Simultaneously informed by first-​generation Language poetry’s emphasis on the materiality of the signifier and yet defiantly 2   Moriarity’s poetry volume, Symmetry, is cited by Durgin and Hofer in a letter to Jesse Seldess’s of June 8, 2006, included in The Route, as an exemplary (if ironically titled) instance of “synaesthetic and intermedial affinities” (135). 3  In The Route, Durgin defines the term “Synaesthesis:  A  secular admission of difference under a univocity of being; not an obverse Cartesian doctrine. The latter since the multiplicity of perception is dependent on the particularity (difference) of the perceived; and so without God, at least in those moments, we never did or will distinguish between thought and extension, mind and body. A synaesthetic poetics because when authority is not self-​evident, but evidently or therefore multiple, the writing (process and product) materializes, as it were. Writing becomes the perceiving, without ceasing to be either. The writer is only thinkable/​imaginable as particular, while the writing is composite—​composing and composition” (35).



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emotive and topical in their exchange, Durgin and Hofer enact Moriarity’s creed in A Tonalist of maintaining the “indefinite” as a “kind of discipline” (Moriarity, 14). Durgin and Hofer regard identity as nonexclusive, or as what Moriarity refers to as a “bastardization” (Moriarity, 125). In the preceding chapter, I  read inbox as an email-​generated conceptual text by a G2 poet, Noah Eli Gordon, informed by authorial desire to foster an alternative literary community via appropriation of new media. But I also said that inbox repeated the exclusionary logic its punk sensibility was designed to oppose. Gordon and company, I  argued, defined their online community via a critique of a plank within the G1 politico/​poetics playbook that, in the writings of Ron Silliman, perceived disruptive syntax as a relevant intervention in disestablishing hegemony. By contrast to inbox, I explore The Route’s form and tone (as well as its atonality, or resistance to tonal stylings as an indicator of authorial presence) as self-​conscious dimensions of Durgin’s and Hofer’s intent to imagine nonexclusive communities via new media. As Moriarity’s theory of “A Tonality” would predict, Durgin and Hofer’s version of community favors what they refer to in a coauthored letter to Jesse Seldess, included in the volume, as “a certain elasticity with respect to gathering company, but an elasticity that is only possible when editorial practice is a matter of elective affinities rather than selection (exclusion)” [136]. As noted in my chapter on inbox, it is far from clear whether or not Gordon’s correspondents were adequately informed of their self-​elective status. I do not associate The Route with “A Tonality” because I have the urge to place Durgin and Hofer—​who come across in The Route as post just about every way of labeling contemporary authors I  can think of—​post-​ableist; post-​ language; post-​ humanist; post postmodernist; post ambitiousness; post identity politics—​within an exclusive group or anarchic movement; the authors’ actively resist such conjoining. My goal instead is to emphasize their embrace of A Tonality to gesture toward my appreciation of The Route’s status as a text with a poesis—​a form, a tone, a relationship to language, a sensibility that pivots between (or concurrently announces) irony and sincerity—​based in dependent relations between authors and readers. An aspect of A Tonality, a poetics of dependency (or mutual constitution) speaks to Durgin and Hofer’s intent to facilitate communities that avoid clubbiness while simultaneously challenging how we imagine authorship within a collaborative exchange: “We are ourselves exactly, an imprecise not-​sameness we seek in our wandering writings,” announce Patrick and Jen in an email they composed in tandem to

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Moriarity, included in The Route (160). “We are selfishly endeavoring to omit ‘the self’ from the space of culpability that permits ‘us’ to write. Yet we wander along our tether. And may be illusory when culpability is replaced by response-​ ability” (160). Their poetics thus also becomes a social creed. Durgin and Hofer are dedicated to establishing varieties of difference (including an imagination of the self as in part an effect of language; a self that is different to itself or from itself depending on the frame of reception) as the paradoxically groundless field upon which the epistles stem and to which they are directed: “If a synaesthetic poetics obliterates the singular (‘lyric’) voice, and (as Jen wrote) ‘perception (experience) enters through the ‘I’ and flies right past the ‘I’—​isn’t that ‘me’ that the word ‘I’ makes ‘mine’ downright ‘ineffable’?” ponders Durgin in an email “Open Letter” to Sonic Youth’s bassist and lyricist Kim Gordon, whose dissonant noise punk song “Ineffable Me” speaks to the “endlessly reiterated” and “chimeric” quality of personhood that Hofer and Durgin articulate in many other passages from The Route (109).4 Advocating for a culture of dependency as a sign of caring, Durgin and Hofer strive to restore value to an often-​disparaged emphasis within the US imaginary, including within much current discourse on disability studies that encourages independent living arrangements. They rely upon others for the constitution of identity. In essays on Moriarity and Weiner, whose selected writings he has edited as Hannah Weiner’s Open House in the list of Kenning Editions he publishes from Chicago, Durgin intervenes in conversations on disability in the context of an advocacy for “A Tonalist” and, in his terms, “synaesthetic”—​Durgin’s “trope swerving in that direction of multiplicity” (2)—​poetics associated with experimental writers.5 In valuing dependency, synaesthesia, and A  Tonalism, Durgin and Hofer challenge an ideology of independence. They regard the self as neither abled nor disabled, thus neither whole nor broken. Rather, they construe the post-​ableist self as constituting a biomorphic mode of being that temporarily occupies and inevitably transitions away from various states of awareness, 4   Whereas I  nominated Hüsker Dü’s Bob Mould as a precursor in the punk world to Gordon’s composition of a significant personage within the literary subculture around which other ephebes gravitate, I  turn to Sonic Youth’s Gordon as Durgin and Hofer’s punk antecedent. I  do so not because of Gordon’s community-​building efforts, but rather because of her synaesthetic sensibility, genre-​crossings, collaborative aesthetic, and ineffable relation to identity. 5   In the “Foreward” to The Route, Durgin further glosses “synaesthesia” as a term “in psychology [that] refers to the displaced sense-​impression, in linguistics to the more or less discordant synthesis, or modes of representing and ascertaining, sensation and spectacle. Now, impression and ascertaining are not distinct or dissociable . . .” (4).



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activity, and interactivity. Comparable to how Durgin and Hofer cast personae in The Route as chimeric and yet as provisionally established bodies that occupy subject positions within specific places and times, Durgin’s post-​ableist being multiplies and reforms itself in relation to other mutable selves. “Until recently, theories of subjectivity harnessed and propagated within disability studies have given priority to figures of physical embodiment and independence. Dependency theory, however, envisions a more complex notion of the modern subject’s identity with its innate freedom, autonomy, and reason,” writes Durgin in “Psychosocial Disability and Post-​Ableist Poetics:  The ‘Case’ of Hannah Weiner’s Clairvoyant Journals” (5). In terms of its media networking, The Route is a liminal text. Its correspondents quite literally travel across national borders. (In July 2006, Hofer occupied a border position as she lectured on “Writing When Writing is Impossible” in Tijuana “as part of the Lab oratorio Fronterizo de Escritores” [Border Lab for Writers]) [3; Hofer, Suspension of Belief]. Durgin and Hofer draft missives, reframed under the sign of poetry in 2008, in multiple time zones. Emails originate from Mexico City, Ontario, Berkeley, Chicago, and Buffalo, among other North American cities. Without assuming solutions to problems will be found through their extensive inquiry—​“A true problem stays that way. To nullify it is to nullify it as such,” write Durgin and Hofer in a letter to Adam Marnie (113)—​The Route’s topical and thematic foci gravitate around working through issues of liminality. The Route plays at the border between the self as essential biological fact and/​or as linguistic construct. Further, The Route resists readings that neatly distinguish practice from theory. Ethics and/​as (syn) aesthetics, interrogatory and declaratory rhetorical modes, composition and reception, localism and globalism, the present and the past, despair and hope; all of these contradictory terms uneasily coexist in The Route. Durgin and Hofer write about writing as what Lyn Hejinian, in a comparable text in part set up in epistle format with Carla Harryman, The Wide Road (2011), refers to as “the aesthetic triumph of referent over reference” as well as “the danger inherent in the drift of signifiers out of context” (55). Troubling traditional documentary realist models, The Route regards mediation as a crucial dimension to our reception of historical event. “A truly contemporary poetics of witness must resonate with the radical modernist project of actively producing an experience of the contemporary,” Durgin argues in his essay on Moriarity and post-​ableist poetics (2). “[T]‌hat is, as a mode of temporal presence rather than personal-​ historical ‘evidence’ ” (2). Antiquated in its employment of the epistle as a genre

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in which poets such as John Keats, Emily Dickinson, Wallace Stevens, and Charles Olson have worked through their poetics and yet forward looking in their annexation of new media for a conceptual project, The Route is facilitated by electronic transmissions, but appears between the covers of a small press limited edition publication of 700 copies typeset by Durgin and featuring his interior design.6 Deleuzian in ambience, The Route is nonetheless symmetrical in organization. Poesis following poetics, The Route was itself “prompted” by Durgin’s essay, “Toward a Synaesthetic Poetics,” which appeared in the journal Tripwire (Fall 1998) [“foreward,” 1]. Following Durgin’s “foreward”—​ drafted on June 1, 2006—​The Route is divided into three main sections (plus an accompanying apparatus of “Sources” and “Resources”).7 The main body starts with a long poem titled “Routine Knew.” Then follows “Correspondence,” the thirteen email exchanges between Durgin and Hofer dated between May 31, 2001 and January 5, 2005. “Correspondence” includes a serial poem, “Coda (Encode).” A  metamorphic text, “Coda (Encode)” is coauthored by Durgin and Hofer, each of whom adds stanzas as the poem expands from a six-​line effort by Hofer in her first response to Durgin from Mexico City in 2001 to a text that spans three pages by the end of 2004. In early 2005, Durgin concludes the final letter in the “Correspondence” segment with the comment, “What I  can’t figure out is why I  believe that ‘Coda’ (Encode) is done” (97). A  third main section, “Correspondences,” similarly interweaves a series of poems, each titled “Parable,” with coauthored “Open Letter” emails from Durgin and Hofer to thirteen addressees. These letters speak to the ambiguous relation of poetics and poesis characteristic of A Tonal texts because the messages to other experimental cultural workers

6   The twenty-​six emails, repurposed “under the sign of poetry” for The Route was published in a small press publication book format as the thirtieth volume (of a projected fifty) as part of the Atelos project of Hip’s Road press from Berkeley, California, with project directors Lyn Hejinian and Travis Ortiz. The Route is an exemplary example of the series’ emphasis on publishing works “involved in some way with crossing traditional genre boundaries, including, for example, those that would separate theory from practice, poetry from prose, essay from drama, the visual image from the verbal, the literary from the non literary” (194). 7   Durgin’s “foreward” expresses concern with carving out time to write in a commodity culture, as well as speaks to the value of content and form in poetry: “A poem must say something, but what a poem says matters less than how” (4). Durgin also offers psychological and linguistic definitions of his power term “synaesthetic” as a politically inflected relationship to language, author, and figure of address that “champions the delirious divergence of witness and encounter over ideational authority” and in which “the state of the sign is delirium; the lie of the State is coherence” (5).



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such as Moriarity, Harryman, and Sonic Youth’s Gordon are then interwoven between elliptical poems. Like traditional poems, “Parable” poems are lineated and divided into stanzas, but they may be regarded, ironically, as commentaries upon the comparatively “non-​poetic” epistles. Moments from “Code (Encode)” that comment, in an obscure and ludic, but suggestively interpretive manner, on the texture of “Correspondence” include: “Aftermath intuit non-​/​intentional (Aporia Apathy Empathic)” [49]; “the other other face visible audible” (62); “Sentence sensational repercussive” [49]; “Benevolent adventure on two wheels (Strangers)” [73]; “And in dialogue as such/​A culture will emerge” [82]; “All this could have been a letter” [83]. Selections from the seven poems titled “Parable” interwoven between the thirteen coauthored letters to other cultural workers also serve a metacritical function in relation to “Correspondences.” Examples of “Parable” serving as poetics, rather than (or as in addition to) poesis, would include the following:  “melody erased/​our mark unmade/​to invite you in” (133); “our friends made us/​ liable responsible civil” (132); “fuck your human/​nature it//​can’t be avoided/​ a binge//​of ambivalence meant/​each scenario//​when we said/​them aloud” (131); “I am two/​w ith my//​mind that way/​it’s said//​as if in/​t he saying” (123); “disorient toward what system of circuitry” (149); “what contract endeavors/​ to witness the street among them/​or among us in dissent” (149); “concentric unfolding extensions/​organically unfounded” (161); “our thread transparent/​ as befits//​a refusal to/​stop refusing//​what’s in a/​g reeting addressed//​to a day/​ a diary” (175). Coauthored by Hofer and Durgin in the fashion of Exquisite Corpse poems, The Route aligns itself to the task of challenging the border between genres.8

  Of their thirteen coauthored “open letter” emails to other poets and experimental culture workers, which includes those to a prior generation whose influences loom large such as Moriarity (b. 1952), whose subsequent hybrid book, A Tonalist (2010), cites The Route as an exemplary text by a younger generation of authors—​Hofer, for example, was born in 1971—​that illustrates her semi-​serious theory of “a tonalism,” let me highlight their letter to Sonic Youth’s Gordon, born in 1953, every post punk ephebe’s symbolic godmother. In celebrating Gordon’s poetics in various media and cultural registers, Durgin and Hofer, in their June 8, 2006 letter from Chicago to Gordon, simultaneously write a fan letter to an alt rock heroine who has maintained her street cred since the 1980s by maintaining a dissonant sound with lyrics such as “Ineffable Me” that challenge stable ideas about the self and manifest a displaced commentary on their own ensemble poetics via celebration of an iconic female bassist and noise rocker. Gordon’s quasi-​illegible productions, like Durgin and Hofer’s, blur genres (Gordon is an accomplished visual artist trained at the Otis School of Art and fashion designer as well as underground rock star). Her regard for the self as chimeric compares to how Durgin and Hofer consider personal identity. 8

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The Route’s title is itself ironic. It predicts a legible discursive cartography to safely usher the reader from point A to point B, as in a Google Map. The title’s definite article does not begin to characterize a compositional (and geographical) mapping of interpersonal relations that favors improvisation, fissures, silences, temporality, diametrical and oppositional thinking, processual, procedural, and serial coproductions of selves, worlds, and words. “How can our exploration of synaesthesia not function as a metaphor for experience,” Hofer wonders in a long message to Durgin from late in 2004 (90). This is a rootless route for sure, troubling relations, as in art theorist Benjamin Buchloh’s reading of the conceptually driven situationist performances of a Richard Serra making his “Splash Piece” (1969) or of a Vito Acconci shadowing random urbanites in “Following Piece” (1969), between trace inscriptions, final product, curation, and interpretation.9 Durgin and Hofer explore the indeterminate relation between inscription and experience in a letter to Melinda Fries (June 9, 2006)  included in the volume: “A map of a walk records the memory of a singular experience. The map provides a route . . .” We write from within a project with no geography—​t he “walk” is either figurative or ideational. There may be separate walks (we lived in Mexico City, Los Angeles, Berkeley, Buffalo, St. Paul, and so on), recorded as anecdotes and asides in our correspondence. But in both cases, the memory is not literal—​not the walk itself. Or is it? What cognitive map becomes of a walk whose topography is a friendship? (141)

Rather than advance the route to anywhere in particular or the solution to irresolvable conflicts, the development of the book, the mapping, as it were, of its rootless route cannot be distinguished from the production of discourse we read, belatedly, in book form as remnant of the performance. Troubling relations between theory and practice, the Durgin/​ Hofer collaboration upsets the linear and temporal conception of poesis—​t hat is, the making of poems—​a s preceding poetics—​t hat is, the theorization of the genre. Further, The Route destabilizes, through metacritical scrutiny, the

9   Buchloh writes of postwar conceptual art: “Because the proposal inherent in Conceptual Art was to replace the object of spatial and perceptual experience by linguistic definition alone (the work of analytic proposition), it thus constituted the most consequential assault on the status of that object: its visuality, its commodity status, and its form of distribution” (Buchloh, 126).



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role of author whose characteristic works are assessed as belonging to him or her through identifiable “style” and recognizable “voice.” Concurrently, for Hofer, an award-​w inning translator into English of Spanish language poetry, court-​appointed interpreter in Los Angeles, and advocate for what she refers to in an interview as “language justice,” the dilemma readers’ face in distinguishing between theory and practice in The Route mirrors her reflections on translation as an examination of the role of reader as secondary (and passive) receiver of primary works.10 For Hofer, translation is a creative activity that blurs the distinction between reading and writing. Translation is simultaneously an original endeavor and indebted to a prior work, itself a mix of prior texts, in another language. “All writing is translation: from perception and experience into language. The report or signal of the object is not the object. The word ‘tree’ is not a tree, and likewise the ‘tree’ is not an ‘arbol’ (or vice versa), but is an agreement we make so as to be able to—​ at least attempt to—​communicate. Relating involves constant translation,” Hofer argues in “Suspension of Belief:  Some Thoughts on Translation as Subversive Speech” (1). Her definition of translation as “the most intimate form of reading,” and as a gesture “toward mutual understanding across difference” applies to her struggle to decode Durgin’s studious discourse in his letters to her as well as to her critique of nationalism (Hofer, Suspension of Belief, 2): “Translation transports us beyond the limitations of our own vocabularies, our own syntaxes. It is an overt and in the best of circumstances celebratory fuck you to the cultural myopia that would gag us with imperialist thinking and then force us to swallow without question, other than ‘when do I get mine and how much do I get?’ Translation gets us out of our own skin without stripping us of that skin—​we become opaquely transparent along with our language” (103). A Tonalists, Durgin and Hofer chip away at essentialist notions of identity by blurring differences between authors and audiences. “In collaboration we are our own audience and can actually listen,” they write to Adam Marnie in a June 9, 2006 letter from Chicago (113). A residual pleasure of reading The Route—​a nd more evidence of its contradictory quality—​, however, is to notice 10   In the interview, Hofer defines “language justice” as “a commitment to horizontality among the languages present in a space or culture—​t hat is, that no language should dominate over any other, and that all languages are valuable as vehicles for self-​expression, communication, and organizing” (“A Conversation with John Pluecker and Jen Hofer,” 8).

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how even as Durgin and Hofer’s erase “style” as an aesthetic category that marks “voice,” authority, and individuality, the attentive reader cannot help but notice that Durgin and Hofer exhibit quite separate, if often sympathetically related, sensibilities. Their personae merge in “Correspondences” while remaining distinctive and even at times in tension with one another.11 Undoubtedly, Durgin’s imposing rhetoric confuses Hofer, irritating her populist sensibility. Admitting to Durgin, “I struggle with your vocabulary and your syntax,” Hofer goes on to worry that her bright students at an adult education program in Los Angeles, “would find [Durgin’s discourse] utterly impenetrable on first, and perhaps even on fourth and fifth, read” (89). Sensitive to imperfections and even impossibilities of translating poetry, she ponders the limits of the interlocutor’s use of “you” as a form of address to what most evidently is a microcosmic discourse community. By contrast, Durgin claims his demanding rhetoric stems from his desire to imagine a post-​humanist conception of authorial agency that radically discounts the value of signs of individual “style” and idiosyncratically modulated tone. Influenced by Deleuze, Gertrude Stein’s “Composition as Explanation,” William Carlos Williams’s Spring and All, and, of course, Language poetics, his letters read like companion texts to, and/​or illustrations of, his critical essays on issues such as the relation of disability studies to experimental poetry, to what Durgin refers to as “new life writing,”   In an email response to my query about the friction I was perceiving in some of the exchanges between Durgin and Hofer in The Route, as well as my sense of the project’s contradictory quality of challenging authorial subjectivity in a text in which the different sensibilities of the two authors are often apparent, Durgin has commented that he was a aware of “a feeling of friction” at the “earliest stage” of the project. “I would say that our awareness of the paradox grew. First it felt like a crafted friction, then a contradiction, and then finally a paradox. But the awareness was always very strong, for me at least.” As the project came together as a book, Durgin adds, he says he found the frictions and paradoxes apparent in the text to be a compelling aspect of the experiment. “In the final phase, when Jen and I sat together for a week here in Chicago writing the open letters and other poems in the book, the contradiction finally felt like a paradox. I think of paradox as a very pleasant and accurate sensation of holding two terms in tandem. It’s important to remember that the book was created exactly coincidental to our friendship, so the two developed simultaneously. And Jen and I tend to take a comic view of my Midwestern American, and probably also boyish suppression of overt compassion, in contrast to her manifest manner of moving through and in response to the so-​called real world (and history, and between language and literary cultures!). Jen’s intellect is very sophisticated, her worldview broad and at times also intensely focused. I think we see ourselves as puzzle pieces. We were getting to know the regional and cultural ‘distinctions’ we had to finally ‘own’ and probably prioritizing the friendship while the working relationship refracted or reflected it in its own ways. You’re right to suggest that the ‘blend or mash’ is utopian but paradox is tractable and practical. I also remember some difficult discussions when formatting the book. I  don’t remember the particulars, but in hindsight I  think the less we tried to retrofit the project into a book, the more productive and sympatico we really were.” (Durgin email to the author; September 9, 2015).

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and on more recent precursors such as Rachel Blau Du Plessis and Jackson Mac Low.12 Reminiscent of Wittgenstein in his rhetoric, Durgin’s writing is rigorous, analytical, and logical, but the precision of definition is such that his writings produce the weirdly prophetic affect of wisdom literature. Even when framed in the interpersonal context of the epistle, Durgin’s persona comes across less as a chummy friend to Hofer than as a cyborg discourse machine, an oracular soothsayer generating authoritative commentary on prior texts.13 (“Language belongs to that set of things we call the world. To perceive the world is to perceive a ‘calling.’ ” [33]). Linguistic play and narrative coproduction in The Wide Road, to site a comparable ensemble work generated via an email exchange, is self-​consciously understood by Harryman and Hejinian as a same-​sex activity of displaced erotic pleasure. Even when narrating scenes of violence such as a passage involving Haitian Dictator Papa Doc Duvalier and his “Macoute” thugs, the fantasy story they put together, becomes, in Harryman’s terms, absorbed “into the erotic undertow of our imagination” (The Wide Road, 51). By contrast, Durgin steers clear of commentary on sexuality in his “Correspondence.” Hofer and Durgin do note that “trouble is erotic” in their letter to Adam Marnie, which focuses on the philosophical position of French phenomenologist Henri Bergson for whom “only questions/​problems can have truth value” (113). To the degree one finds the interrogation of problems to be a turn-​on, then one could perceive the exchanges that constitute The Route to be a displaced form of erotica. Certainly the collaborative letter, included in The Route, to Harryman (June 10, 2006, Chicago) reads more like a polemical, if off beat and ironic, manifesto, than the juicy imaginings that characterize much of the narrative Harryman and Hejinian conjure up in The Wide Road. As opposed to sensual passages from The Wide Road such as “We don’t need   It is worthwhile to note here that in strong contrast to how Gordon and his associates forge a sense of community in opposition to other discourse communities, with special attention to distinguishing themselves from G1 poets such as Silliman on issues revolving around the contested issue of the political efficacy of linguistic disorientation, Durgin and Hofer integrate the lessons of their precursors through interpretive strategies that are demonstrated in The Route. “I like to think of Creeley’s notion [a sign of permission in a way, to that group of US American poets who chose not to become a third-​wave ‘New American Poetry’]: ‘tradition is an aspect of what anyone is now thinking,—​not what someone once thought’ ” (52). 13   One senses that for Durgin, who asserts, “Language is an object. Aesthetics is the study of objects composed of and for perceiving” (34), Hofer is less a flesh-​a nd-​bone person situated in a specific location in the world, and more a convenient—​because sympathetic—​personal name to fill the syntactic space reserved for the addressee. In one letter, Durgin refers to his exploration of a “poetics of address” in which improvisational collaboration “is the solely pertinent condition for a method here” (51). 12

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to assert our autonomy. The flowers ticklings our breasts as we lie in a sunny meadow fuse us to the awakening consciousness of more-​to-​come” (The Wide Road, 6), Durgin and Hofer’s letter to Harryman uses imagery and an arguably erotic flow of language to articulate a theoretical projection of what “another language which is also ours” might, in synaesthetic terms, look like as well as sound like: “we want to say seeing is baroque, is syncretic, is sentient, is a high-​pitched squeal, is abandoned like a plan that never really came to fruition or a building that never really came to fruition or a building after a fire” (The Route, 120). The Route interrogates the role an experimental poetics may play in manifesting through linguistic ruptures an historical documentation of atrocities ranging from state-​sponsored violence against political activists in Mexico City and Argentina, to the 9/​11 attacks, and their aftermath in the Bush War on Terror, abetted by an ideology of American Exceptionalism. Durgin, for example, notices the interaction of media, ideology, witness, silence, synaesthesia, knowledge, and event, in the following reflection on coverage of the 9/​11 attacks: A friend tells me of more television testimonials by fire-​fighters, rescue workers, and eyewitnesses in Manhattan. She noticed they accepted “knowledge” of the event, at least in the form of the ideological summation being offered by the media. But thinking, they report, was out of the question. Describing their experiences, there was a prevalence of synaesthetic moments: “And all I could see was thunder”/​“I heard the black ash everywhere”—​and a segue from these to “And I just thought . . .”—​at which point, they would break down in silence or weeping. Cognition then seemed to short-​circuit, but recognition now is, as I said, circumstantial. (43, October 10–​13, 2001)

From the start, however, Durgin’s posts—​his initial correspondence to Hofer occurs on May 31, 2001, from Buffalo and Toronto, four months before the 9/​11 attacks inevitably tilts the exchange in the direction of commenting on that atrocity and its aftermath—​ seem less directed at responding to Hofer’s quotidian doings or to account for his own embodied experience and expression of moods and feelings, and more toward extending commentary on his speculative essay from Tripwire. Dispatches to Hofer thus become Durgin’s forum to refine his concept of synaesthesia while noting how he may implicate his theory in negotiating relations with interlocutors while conceiving the self as a mode of being in multiplicity in and through discourse. Durgin responds to a displaced reflection of his mind as it presses against formidable textual



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prods—​Deleuze in Difference & Repetition (“one always writes at the limits of one’s knowledge” [34]); Oppen on sympathy, curiosity, and generosity; Zukofsky, Mac Low, and Cage on “liminal composition” (34); Levinas from Totality and Infinity on “the sensing of sensation” and how a “multiplicity of sentients would be the very mode in which a becoming is possible” (57); Nietzsche from Will to Power on the relation of images, words, and concepts (53); Aristotle on metaphor as proportion (71). One senses that for Durgin, philosophy texts are more vivid, more compelling as a prompt for thought, feeling, and reflection, than are ordinary persons living in the world. He deflects Hofer’s populist critique by reminding her (reprimanding her?), “writing is a staging of the ‘real.’ ” (95). Following Edouard Glissant’s Poetics of Relation, Durgin regards linguistic opacity as a political gesture of personal freedom, a sign of liberation and celebration of difference: “We clamor for the right to opacity for everyone” (The Route, 94, quoting Glissant, 194). With notable exceptions—​such as a June 8–​9, 2004 letter from Berkeley in which he pastes a June 2, 2004 press release concerning “ARTISTS SUBPOENAED IN USA PATRIOT ACT CASE” (59)—​much content of his other letters reads as if it were part of an ongoing philosophical investigation into the indeterminate relations of aesthetics, sensation, perception, capital, and language, and of how all of these factors impact how the self relates to the world in and through words.14 Since “[p]‌erception is negotiated by language, including the language of others,” Durgin argues that “disorder” of traditional conceptions of the self as monadic are false. One cherishes the moments when Durgin shifts tone to move from assertion to inquiry, even if his interrogations are rhetorical, structural, and not directed to anyone in particular: “How to institute a becoming difference?” (35). By contrast to Durgin, Hofer’s messages are chock full of emotional responses to news of personal significance and global import. Her initial response, the first in the series that occurs post 9/​11—​October 7–​9 from Mexico City—​animated by current events, combines her lyrical sensibility with a commitment to an ethics based in curiosity as a term closely related to care: Today, as bombs continue to drop in Afghanistan and I  am sickened by knowledge of continuing (what’s the term—​infinite?) violence and sickened by polarized rhetorics that leave precious little (any?) space for thoughtful   The story centers on enlisting support for three artists, Beatriz da Costa, Steve Kurtz, and Steve Barnes, who are charged with violating a section of the US Biological Weapons Anti-​Terrorism Act of 1989 by mistaking “an art project for a biological weapons laboratory” (60).

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consideration, committed dissidence—​in a word, for a “curious” response to recent world events (though no event or response should be held to any one word), my question is how to expand the practical poetics, if you want to call it that, I’m suggesting in the first sentence of this paragraph, how to extend them to reach beyond my own small life, my own small orbits, my own small imaginative, imaginary, material universe. (38)

Her tone is, axiomatically, one of uncertainty and questioning, as well as sensitive to nuances of language, an awareness honed in her work as translator of Spanish language poetry into English. She engages with material reality in descriptive figures, displaying the sometimes uncomfortable world in which she lives and writes. She describes, for example, her difficulty getting her legs “in the narrowness between the forest green cushioned vinyl booth and the table which was a wooden black in ‘typical’ ‘Mexican’ style.” Far more often than does Durgin, she foregrounds the foundational significance of the body as site of perception and interactivity as locus for imagining the “I.” She destabilizes, while engaging with, Durgin’s authoritative statements on synaesthesia. “Questioning and questioning.//​W hat now is routine, what knew?” (36). Her approach to writing is jerkier than is Durgin’s clinically austere, methodically precise style, which often reads like a logical proof. “You see how the sentences unravel in outrage, how the mind won’t adequately ‘follow’ the syntax of events which are by nature fragmented—​aren’t they called fragmentation bombs, after all?,” she writes to Durgin (46). Expressing doubt about her ability to write in the context of what Durgin refers to as the time when the sky has fallen, she often uses dashes and parentheses to suggest her enfolded or layered thinking, intellectual uncertainty, and self-​revisionary process. Like Dickinson in this regard, it is as if her writing were closely aligned to her real-​time efforts to articulate thoughts, feelings, and perceptions. In characteristically playful tones, she enacts the pair’s desire to imagine a synaesthetic poetics: Sentences—​attempts (essays)—​more plausible somehow than the sustained thread, however unraveled, a paragraph requires. I  envy (quizzically) those who stride forth intrepid into language in the face (faces, walls, bricks, rubble, and angel?) of history as we live it making and unmaking. Comfort and unease together in an awareness of how very small we are, each. (36)

The above passage illustrates not only her stammering syntax, but also her affection for punning as a way to show how the slippery quality of words, paradoxically, suggests meaningful resonances that become common threads



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throughout the correspondence. Hofer riffs on the phrase “facing” history, for example, to call to mind a chain of significances ranging from Levinas’s philosophy of the “faces” of other persons as the ethical limit to one’s own desires and to Benjamin’s concept of the “Angel of History” that simultaneously looks forward and backward as it takes into account the ruptures and detritus of history’s violent erasures. In a letter to Taylor Brady, Durgin and Hofer note, “It’s the bony, angled or cornered places that protrude into consciousness—​ a ll form of ridges, shoulders, wrists, tips of fingers, or joints sutured not too tight. It’s the skeleton in there:  incredulity abounds:  the way a person’s body hangs on their bones or the bones declare themselves as matter through matter. Public transit is good for such seeing. Violent conflict is a preemption of such sight or precludes any understandings. What to understand if there’s nothing here” (126). As in the attribution of Lennon/​McCartney for Beatles songs that most fans could distinguish as stemming from the pen of one or the other singer-​songwriter, the letters in the “Correspondences” part of The Route are signed by Patrick and Jen, but I would venture to guess that the previous passage, with its association of the body with language, its commentary on hinged areas that “protrude into consciousness” as a figure for the surprising, even jerky, shifts in discourse, as well as the association of violence done to the vulnerable human body as a form of hermeneutic erasure, is connected to Hofer’s consciousness (126). Throughout The Route, Hofer offers reflections on newspaper stories and current events, psychological self-​ scrutiny, figurative language, imagery, registrations of quotidian annoyances such as having to pay a speeding ticket, but not being able to reach the payment bureau by telephone to do so, the dangers and pleasures of urban cycling, and celebrations of alternative Los Angeles bar bands. She advances nuanced renderings of place, including observations about her concentration on such ordinary, but when seen deeply, extraordinary, phenomena as “droplets of water, deliciously balanced inflections along the sharp edges of the yucca out my window” (84). Hofer also registers self-​effacing expressions on her vanity. In the same letter in which she admires water droplets, she frets that she worries that she doesn’t want to go biking because she fears getting her hair wet. She kicks herself in the pants for harboring such petty concerns, especially when she reads in the Los Angeles Times of a tsunami in south Asia that has claimed between 13,000 and 26,000 lives (85). By contrast to Durgin’s declaratory rhetorical mode, Hofer’s axiomatic mode is interrogatory.

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Like T. S. Eliot in this regard, Durgin, bent on reducing the role of personality in authorship, offers little in the way of intimate news in the typical sense of the letter as format to transmit “gossip,” and to share feelings. As stated, at times his erudition, puzzlingly precise opacity, and discursive clarifications of confusing themes, annoy Hofer. “And what is the singularity of writing as a practice?” she asks Durgin in a riposte she drafted over three sittings in late July and early August 2004 from LA, interrogating his opening come back in a letter to her from early July—​“But the value of writing is its singularity as a practice” (71). May we interpret her nearly month-​long delay in responding to him at this juncture in the correspondence as a significant silence, a protest to his overbearing rhetoric? When she does write him back, she riffs on his language to the point of deconstructing Durgin’s will to theorize a realm she feels has become so catastrophic as to exceed rational understanding: “Is the singularity of sensation (its singular quality) its multiplicity? (Is this phenomenon?) (Or is this ‘phenomenon’?) (Or ‘this’?)//​In what way, if any, is synaesthesia confusion? Is it rather fusion? Or replacement? Hologram? Harmonic?” (75). Modulating her tone, Hofer follows her critique with an admission that she, self-​mockingly, is upset that she does “not know something (horrors!)” (75). Reminiscent of the schoolgirl voice Emily Dickinson employed to play the submissive role in relation to Thomas Higginson, the Atlantic editor and columnist whose favor she hoped to court, Hofer demurely shifts tones once again: “could you tell me what the word ‘subtend’ means?” (75). Throughout her late July/​early August letter, Hofer positions herself as advocate for plain speaking and common sense. She presses Durgin to better define and to expand on his definitions of key terms such as “risk,” “proportion,” and “measure.”15 Expressions such as proportion, measure, and perspective, which Durgin associates with the lexicon of literary forms and narrative approaches, matter to Hofer on emotional, interpersonal, and global political levels. She concedes she can’t wrap her head around the fact that lives of US citizens are deemed, at least in the eyes of US media and politicos, to matter more than do persons from other parts of the world. Nor can she come to terms with newspaper layouts that represent, without commentary on the lurid juxtaposition, dead bodies next to bra ads (84). From Hofer’s point of view, the death of a single person, however unheralded, inevitably reverberates exponentially into the lives of survivors. At   She also brings a ludic disposition to her bilingualism, tracing the contested term of “gringo” to the phrase “green go!” (76).

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the same time, Hofer acknowledges how individual lives seem miniscule when put in relation to the context of mass death via environmental disaster and the War on Terror. One could argue that the collaboration between Durgin and Hofer merely codifies gender stereotypes. Durgin performs the role of austere and impersonal philosopher and man (made of) letters. Hofer is cast as the sensitive, embodied, frazzled, and vulnerable female. She sets her writings and her physical body in a material world of kitchen sinks, restaurant tables, and city streets, fun but hazardous to bicycle upon. On the other hand, I  find compelling the illustration of the institution of “a becoming difference” as the initially split correspondent-​selves of Jen and Patrick merge—​while, as I  note, remaining identifiable sensibilities—​in the thirteen dual-​authored correspondences to other experimental figures such as Moriarity, Gordon, and Harryman. Durgin turns to his interest in “Jamaican popular music” to imagine the musical trope of dubbing to conceive of the “voices” of self and other as at once distinct entities and as part of a mashed up composition. The performative version of the “dubbed” musical event would be incomplete without the interaction of various voices brought together. “It’s a dub technique, not a wholesale denial of the ‘I’ and ‘you’ (so, ‘we’)—​such a denial is just an arrogant elision of the entire problem of the subject—​‘voice’ is a problem; the ‘death of the author’ is metaphorical, proportionate and practical,” declares Durgin in his letter to Hofer from Berkeley on July 8, 2004 (71–​72).16 I have classified Durgin as the theoretician of the pair, but Hofer, I  need to add here, is no slouch when it comes to evaluating the post-​Language synthesis of what she calls the “given” and the “possible” in a space between the interrelated modes of being (ontology) and knowing (epistemology) (88). Taking into account “the given” and “the possible” serves Hofer as a welcome correction to what she calls a politics (and poetics) of “total opposition.” In her way of thinking about social relationships and political debate, one may   Durgin and Hofer return to the thematizing of dubbing as an ethico-​political aesthetic practice relevant to issues of translation and reception and interpretation as coordinated with creative expressivity in the coauthored letter to Chris Daniels—​June 8, 2006 from Chicago:  “What of transposition as a foil for translation—​a poet who translates is not merely a translator, as a musician and composer is not merely an author or interpreter. Do you know the early Jamaican dub records, or rather the process of dubbing? It is borne of a transpositional scenario (the dancehall/​dancer-​ selector conversation from within the euphoria of the literal dance), finally permitting various dub versions of pieces to become platforms for the composition of new pieces (either by toasters [early MCs in the hip-​hop sense] or singer songwriters)” (102).

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be “diametrically” opposed to certain policies associated with “their” control of ideology and state terror without assuming a coherent sense of “us” whose “very phonemes and forms are infected and inflected with decisions we did not make, and with which we don’t agree” (88). One may forge communities of dissent in opposition to state power, Hofer argues, even while acknowledging how one’s perspective, “voice,” and discourse are indelibly marked by what she calls the “parameters (in bodies, in nations, in the world) within which we must work, at least for now, even as we might seek to shift the parameters” (88). Hofer’s is the pragmatic voice of making do with limited knowledge and insecure bearings on the route to personal integrity. We do the best we can with provisional resources of language and partial understandings that are impure in the sense of always already bearing traces of conventional media frames that she may challenge, but may never fully overcome. Hofer’s November 9, 14–​15, 2001 letter to Durgin from Mexico City focuses on her work as translator who is also drafting an introduction to an anthology of Mexican poets. The anthology includes work by Coral Bracho, whose poetry addresses the “dense/​nocturnal tenacity/​of history. Its pressed constructions./​ Its pyramidal/​expansion//​The deep thicket of its jumbled outbreaks, of its massed branches/​tangled:  its clefts, its incisions; its spaces where light leaks out.” Bracho’s poem in translation serves as a proof text through which Hofer speculates on the challenges of historiography. The phrase “light leaks out” stands out as a figure for how the disclosure of previously silenced aspects of the past may resurface in the labyrinthine constructions of how the past is imagined historiographically. Hofer’s exegesis troubles linear and temporal conceptions of poetics as following poesis. We may regard Bracho’s poesis as a poetics via Hofer’s translation, itself an act of empathetic curiosity and political recovery of an unacknowledged voice. Durgin focuses on the “synaesthetic” confusions of 9/​11 witness and the blockage of thought in the aftermath of the attacks as ideological explanations replace independent critical inquiry. Hofer, by contrast, focuses on the theme of memory as she lends her skill at translation to lyric testimonials of historical amnesia such as Bracho’s through the translation of “Pyramidal Expansion” (44). Observing that death is an emblem for the silence of difference, Hofer conveys desire for connection in the face of state-​sponsored acts of violent death. Wondering if there has “been a day without bombs since October 7” (44), she nonetheless wants to “enter history” by disturbing conceptions of time and space: “ ‘here’ and ‘there’ (now and then) crowd simultaneously into the middle space of nowhere” (45). Revising



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“nowhere” as “now here” (45), she recounts to Durgin images and official stories of ethnic cleansing sponsored by the Mexican state on October 2, 1968 when “special forces from the Mexican army opened fire in Plaza Tlatelolco” (46) to put down demonstrations “for a more participatory democracy and a more equitable distribution of the country’s wealth” (46). More than 380 demonstrators were killed (46). Illustrating her focus on history, memory, and its erasures, Hofer notes that, in Mexico City, October 2 has since become a day of commemoration to acknowledge “events denied” by the government.17 Hofer’s lucid description, not only of the 1968 massacre in Mexico City, but of the site of that event, which combined “three cultures”—​a “pre-​Columbian ruins,” a “16th century cathedral,” and a “concretely utilitarian block of public housing”—​now accompanied by “a very large Blockbuster Video store,” speak to her interpretation of the jumbled relations of “massed branches/​tangled” of history spoken of in Bracho’s poem (46). Her translation of Bracho’s poem, as well as her geographical mapping of the site of the Mexico City massacre, resonate, on an emotional level, with her own working through of the trauma of 9/​11 and its aftermath as a US citizen who nonetheless is situated internationally and in opposition to US interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq. What is equally notable to me about Hofer’s perspective on history, memory, and violence is that while she is critical of US power and the ideology of American Exceptionalism, she nonetheless finds to be obnoxious a photograph of graffiti in Mexico that states, “Osama is our hero” (47). True to A Tonalism’s advice to embrace “the thing it is resisting,” Hofer occupies a position of complex pacifism (134). She refuses to abide by a logic of “misdirected hatred” that she regards as a “false syllogism: A hates X, B hates X, therefore A loves B” (47). Hofer expresses a self-​ questioning desire to extend the limit of selfhood without engaging in lock-​step views that “innate” qualities are a fictive construct or that sympathy with a Mexican graffiti artist in support of 9/​11 violence is a vote against American Exceptionalism. Durgin presses upon philosophical resources from Aristotle to Wittgenstein to Marx to Levinas and Deleuze in search of an explanation for how to come to terms with contemporary crises as well as how to think about such ontological, epistemological, and hermeneutic issues. Hofer is “drawn to the idea that there is some explanation in no explanation” (48). In  Hofer:  “Every October 2, thousands of people march from Plaza Tlatelolco to the Zócalo, celebrating the martyrs of ’68, demanding that the government release their documents about the massacre and calling for a stronger national commitment to human rights; this year, many people carried signs urging the U.S. not to wage war on Afghanistan” (46–​47). 17

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a letter responding to her commentary on history and disappearance, Durgin will appropriate Hofer’s language and, from his point of view, correct it, by pushing history closer to his interest in linguistic structures: “history does not disappear but is disappeared. History threatens to divulge the syntax of events and is therefore repressed, methodically” (51). By December, 2001, Hofer has moved from Mexico City to Los Angeles, but she remains engaged—​even haunted—​with history, memory, death, silence, translation as an act of reading, media, current events, and representations of catastrophe. At the same time, she attends to reflections on individualized struggles and annoyances that are part of ordinary first-​world privileged lives. In Los Angeles, her life not under direct threat of war, she nonetheless endures unethical and even illegal practices. She captures the peculiar situation of the politically committed first-​world cultural worker who struggles to reconcile the personal and the political, the local and the global, the activist and the creative respondent to world news. A  US citizen, but also an experimental writer, teacher, and translator of limited financial means, Hofer tries to get around the city in her bicycle, make a home, and pay bills. At the same time, she reads a Los Angeles Times article “about the Mexican government’s ‘dirty war’ against radical activists in ’60s and ’70s.” One might assume that the article merely represents a serendipitous coincidence, given Hofer’s prior examination of the massacres in her letter from Mexico City, but Hofer goes on to critique the Times story. Noting how it is, “History rewritten in play it safe mode,” Hofer asserts that the story grossly understates the number of Mexican activists murdered in October, 1968 (54). Her report to Durgin that she is reading the Times article on the Mexico City massacre while “on hold with the complaints department of the contractors’ board (have wretchedly found myself involved with a contractor who’s also a scam artist)” (54) speaks to the paradoxes she endures as a US citizen sensitive to global crises. One aspect of an A Tonalist sensibility that I have not yet mentioned involves elegy. Moriarity writes: The Bay Area attributes I have identified from [Jack] Spicer’s time that seem to me to relate to A Tonalist today are a sense of elegy and of utopianism (or more usually dystopianism). Elegy was claimed by Kenneth Rexroth and others as being characteristic of the Bay Area in particular. In his book, San Francisco Renaissance, Michael Davidson quotes [Robert] Duncan’s letter to Rexroth agreeing that elegy is the thing that could connect such different poets as himself and William Everson. (A Tonalist, 120)



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I mention the elegiac aspect of A Tonalism as I conclude this chapter because in her June 22, 2004 letter to Durgin from Los Angeles, we find Hofer once more struggling to discover a language, an emotional reservoir, as well as a perspective and sense of proportion, to comment upon what she calls “a global politics of preemptive homicide melodrama” while mourning individual deaths related to her literary heritage and dissident political commitments. Painfully aware of state-​sponsored massacres, tsunamis, terror attacks, and terrorizing responses to those attacks, Hofer wonders how to work through the “different deaths” of Carl Rakosi and “my friend Aura’s brother,” a social justice activist murdered by Argentinean police (62.) “I am devastated by both these losses, though only one of them [Rakosi’s] touches my life in what you could call a concretely ‘personal’ way,” she writes at age thirty-​three about her feelings toward the loss of the 100-​year-​old poet and the Argentine social activist, 20, who leaves behind a baby. As is typical, her reaction to the deaths of the poet and the activist are cast in what Durgin would refer to as a synaesthethetic composition. Her mixed feelings and varied tones range from existential self-​questioning (“how then do I proceed, how then do I navigate?)” (64), to reframing loss as inspiration to make “my life a model and an enactment of a living alternative” to evil (64), to an acceptance that insecurity, ambivalence, and uncertainty may be regarded with gratitude as “lovely” (65)—​“the idea that a life’s work is, at least in some measure, to work through the same questions again and again, from different contexts and different vantage points” (65). At turns lyrical and analytical, Durgin and Hofer’s discussion is elegiac because the fundamental condition of their discursive relationship is based in absence. In his “foreward” (ironically drafted in 2006, after the email exchange between him and Hofer was completed), Durgin acknowledges that he and Hofer “would never again live in the same area” after 1998, when they “met at a supermarket in Iowa City” (The Route, back cover). Perhaps Durgin puts his finger on the fundamental paradox of The Route when he also notes how the pair “would quickly grow closer” via the electronic transmissions that enabled the collaborative experiment in non-​territorialized citizenship to occur (1). The seriousness of purpose, experimentation with imagining identity in ways that disturb Cartesian conceptions of the self, and romantic views on literary authority, indicates the extent to which their email correspondence served to produce a critical/​creative (poesis/​poetics) collaboration that also serves as testimony to an investigation in displaced friendship.

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What Makes Poetry Happen: The Erotics of Literary Activism in an Age of Internet Virus

Alluding to comments by Ron Silliman from The New Sentence (1987) such as “Let us undermine the bourgeoisie” and “Writing itself is a form of action” while wrestling, in the wake of 9/​11, with W. H. Auden’s observation in “In Memory of W.B. Yeats” (1939) that poetry “makes nothing happen” (799), G2 (second generation, Post-​Language) author, editor, Mills College professor, and activist Juliana Spahr recalls:  “The question [of what poetry makes happen] led us somewhere, it led us to think that we could fracture English’s power by fracturing its syntaxes, by stuttering through its words but then it stranded us there. It didn’t lead us to alliance. It let us think that we could do it alone, just with words.” In spite of her skepticism about the political project of Language poetry—​Spahr and her Bay Area colleague David Buuck in An Army of Lovers (2013) imagine literary activism in ways more sanguine than one hears in comments by Steve Evans on behalf of G2 poets in the testy debate with Silliman in poetics@ that I outlined in Chapter 7 on Noah Eli Gordon’s inbox. In spite of abject failure to manifest social change through a ludic poetic act in “A Picturesque Story About The Border Between Two Cities,” Spahr and Buuck in “An Army of Lovers,” the title work to their collection, represent their avatars—​self-​styled “card-​carrying Bay Area poets”—​expressing hope after hopelessness about the potential to reimagine poetry as a progressive social genre (125). As was the case with Spahr’s “Poetry in a Time of Crisis” (2002), the pair are consciously writing in the midst of a US-​led “War on Terror” typified for the text’s main characters by an internet littered with images of military interrogations and sounds of incarcerations that foretell “the coming crackdowns” (132). Unquestionably, Spahr and Buuck are influenced by a contemporary political world characterized by what Spahr, in her 2002 essay, describes as a time of perpetual crisis in which the United States was bombing

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someone somewhere throughout her stint in graduate school at SUNY Buffalo in the 1990s and during the composition of her scholarly work, Everybody’s Autonomy (2001), in the early twenty-​first century.1 But An Army of Lovers is also implicitly in conversation with Cold War social-​ psychoanalytic theories put forward in what the poet Robert Lowell in “Memories of West Street and Lepke” (2007) from Life Studies (1959) termed “the tranquillized fifties” by authors such as Herbert Marcuse in Eros and Civilization (1955) and Norman O.  Brown in Life Against Death (1959). Marcuse and Brown combined Freud and Marx to indicate the efficacy of libidinal release as agent of social transformation, as well as explicitly influenced by the queer liberation movement of the 1970s—​in an interview Buuck comments that the book’s title stems from that movement’s phrase: “an army of lovers cannot fail.” Decade-​ long friends, Spahr and Buuck follow the psychoanalytically oriented Leftist cultural critics from the 1950s and radical sexual liberation movements from the  1970s listed above as part of a cross-​decade long distance call for a noncommodified, polymorphically perverse release of energy to create the structure of feeling necessary to contest political repression. Cast in hypnotic prose reminiscent of Ginsberg’s incantations and Whitman’s parataxis, Spahr and Buuck advocate for nonnormative sexual practices as expressions of social protest in ways imagined by liberation theorists such as Marcuse and Brown. The task is to challenge the commodification of desire via corporate sponsorship of entertainments that eroticize militarized behavior such as the notorious extravaganza that takes place during half time of NFL’s Super Bowl, an example of Bread and Circus type eroticism referenced in An Army of Lovers. An Army of Lovers is a series of five interrelated (even overlapping) experimental fictions coauthored over a three-​year period by Spahr, a SUNY   Spahr recalls: “I began the book [Everybody’s Autonomy] during the Gulf War because I remember watching the coverage to avoid beginning writing. I finished rewriting it while we were bombing Belgrade. When I  realized this, I  felt a momentary hope that I  had been writing during unique times, that I was writing in a time of crisis. But as I thought it over, I realized I had done no writing at any point in my career when the U.S. was not bombing someone. I wrote this paper, for instance, during the bombing of Afghanistan and the continued bombing of Iraq. Even my sometimes home was being bombed: as I wrote this as the U.S. military was practicing their bombing skills on the Makua valley on the North Shore of Oahu. I could go on. I’m living in New York City this year. Somewhere around 3,000 people died in the World Trade Center while I  watched from a street corner in Brooklyn. But that is nothing. Some 72,000 have died from AIDS in New York City since 1981. There is, thus, constantly crisis. We cannot say that unique, or interesting, times arrived on September 11.” 1



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Buffalo Poetics Program graduate and Berkeley-​ based author, theorist, anthologist, and tenured professor at Mills College and Buuck (b. 1969), an Oakland-​based poet and editor who has served as an adjunct professor at Mills, and who is perhaps best known for his extraordinary multimedia collaborative efforts to archive and excavate Bay Area sites such as Treasure Island, an island in the San Francisco Bay that was constructed in the mid-​1930s that Buuck writes in “Buried Treasure Island” “has a long and complex history as an artificial staging ground for world’s fairs, military bases, television shoots, and real estate speculation, as well as being an enormous landfill of dangerous and toxic substances” through his work with BARGE, the Bay Area Research Group in Enviro-​aesthetics that he founded in 2003.2 Born in 1966 in the Southern Ohio town of Chillicothe that she has described as “in the middle of nowhere” and “dirty because it had a barely regulated papermill because nothing else was in the town,” Spahr coedited with Peter Gizzi the “Technique” section of the two-​volume twelfth issue of O-​Blek, Writing from the New Coast, a published outcome to the “First Festival of New Poetry” held at SUNY Buffalo in the Spring of 1993 which Silliman, in the heated exchange with Evans I  cited above from poetics@, claims lacks new prosodic stylings (Rankine and Sewell, 132). She has also edited and authored books concerning radical pedagogy as communal endeavor—​Poetry and Pedagogy:  The Challenge of the Contemporary (with Joan Retallack) [2006] and Everybody’s Autonomy:  Collective Reading and Connective Identity (2001). In such books she critiques the potential “complicity between normative reading and passivity of thought” (159) and also imagines the literature classroom as “a communal act of resistance, a utopian dissident space” (110) that Alan Golding suggests may be a forum “of metaphorical anarchism in which ‘decentralized self-​governance is the norm’ ” (Golding, “ ‘Isn’t the Avant-​Garde Always Pedagogical’,” 24). “Once reading is recognized as dependent on community, and on the relationship between readers and works as a form of community itself, reading turns into a force that can be manipulated and used as a tool of resistance to respond to the inhumanity of slavery,” she states in a part of Connective Reading and Collective Identity concerned with the writings of Frederick Douglass (3). In   In “Buried Treasure Island: A Detour of the Future,” an online text connected to an installation that took place at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts: July 20–​October 18, 2008, Buuck comments, “This BARGE project attempts to unearth the secret histories of the site, and explore how the landscape is transformed not only by how it is used, but also by what is elided from public view” (1). 2

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the first story in An Army of Lovers, the lengthy “A Picturesque Story About The Border Between Two Cities,” two “mediocre poets” and metamorphic Bay Area figures, one called Demented Panda (the male who lives in the comparatively underprivileged Oakland with his dogs, and thus loosely the avatar for Buuck), and Koki (a female bird-​like character and mother who lives in the toney city of San Francisco, and thus loosely the mask for Spahr), convene regularly one summer at a mass transit station park-​l ike area. They meet on a public space located equidistant between two cities known—​i n a nod to Gertrude’s Stein’s infamous comment that there is no “there there” in her home town of Oakland—​a s “Here” and “There”—​to perform one such “communal act of resistance.” Self-​consciously referencing Buuck BARGE projects such as “Buried Treasure Island:  A  Detour of the Future” (2008), Panda and Koki plan to collaborate on a creative project concerning the relation of politics to art in a time when poetry “was an art form that had lost most, if not all, of its reasons for being” (9). 3 “A Picturesque Story” is told in a droll, ironically detached voice that remains sympathetic to the main characters’ struggle to create representations that could help bridge differences in Bay Area communities that border each other and yet appear far apart in terms of economic profile and racial makeup. Speaking as members of an in-​g roup to other affiliates, the narrators’ poke fun at their characters’ procrastination stemming from a hypersensitive awareness concerning motives, tendency to gossip about other poets, fear of potential exclusions of disenfranchised persons, and a frustrating predilection for saying “to themselves what they did not want to do” even while repeating the ironically comforting mantra that they struggle against doubt to establish “that through the collaboration they might figure   In an email (October 2, 2015), Buuck responded to my query about his sense of the relationships between An Army of Lovers and Buried Treasure Island: 3

So yes, there’s definitely an overlap in concerns with Army. The 4th chapter, where the male character is dealing with the “leaking face,” originates from an illness I was dealing with in the summer of 09 (the year after the BARGE project on Treasure Island), which though never diagnosed definitively may likely have been the result of extensive mold in my basement. And/​or I’m just allergic to capitalism, as we suggest in the book! Of course in that chapter the illness is linked to his “performance art” project in response to the Abu G photos, and the “raw spillage” is at least in some ways an attempt to actualize both the toxicity of the era as well as a burlesqued imagining of the unintended consequences of a kind of political art praxis that desires full embodied relation w the facts of the world. Ugly content ugly form?



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out what it meant to be a poet in a time and a culture where poetry had lost most if not all of its reasons for being” (14). The narrators also report that the duo’s project, eventually brought forth through the Demented Panda’s trancelike incantations, turns into “a right proper big final mess” (26). Instead of his spell converting the “picturesque story into poetry” with sensitive renderings of the homeless population that now inhabit the transit space and a rehearsal of the area’s prehistory, when human tribes and animals shared the ground for 3,000  years, Demented Panda literally conjures up a massive outpouring of shit that bubbles up and out onto the park area from the subway’s underground tunnel (26–​27). In an essay in Poets and Writers Magazine (2000), Spahr expressed a hopeful view of nonsponsored collaborative poetry projects as a genre ripe for anarchic social interventions. In “Metromania:  Poetry, Academy, and Anarchy,” she argued that because US poets “are not economically indebted to a governmental or to a non-​governmental organizational structure, they are free to write a poetry that is politically engaged (that poetry has a political as well as an aesthetic role is assumed by the majority of these grassroots schools of poetry)” [25]. We must remember the story under discussion is composed in the aftermath to the 9/​11 attacks and about a decade into the resulting War on Terror that has animated Spahr lyrics such as “poem written after September 11, 2001” (2005) in which she encourages a deconstruction of dualistic thinking based on her perception that all human beings quite literally share the airy space that surrounds our bodies. A  parodic version of Buuck’s multimedia remediation of polluted sites such as Treasure Island, which, he writes in “Buried Treasure Island: A Detour of the Future,” continue to bear “residues of previous military experiments” conducted on the Bay Area site during the Cold War era to the point that today Treasure Island may be considered “an enormous landfill of dangerous and toxic substances” in which he, Buuck, has consumed “the poisoned land into my body and bloodstream, the lungs and the eyes, if only as a small gesture of solidarity and tactical magic” (5), the raw sewage Demented Panza has brought forth thus manifests Spahr and Buuck’s pessimistic appraisal of the relation between poetry and political action in a present moment in which, as Spahr and Joshua Clover have stated, “more poets were arrested in California this year [2012] than in any year in recent memory (if not ever)” (Red, White, and Blue). Even the well-​intentioned collaboration of two post-​Steinian/​post-​Language-​oriented Bay Area avant-​garde poets’ has

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Figure 9.1  David Buuck. Photograph by Maizie Gilbert.

become implicated within a degraded and degrading American imaginary characterized by greed, pollution, violence, and exploitation. In “A Picturesque Story About The Border Between Two Cities,” raw sewage symbolizes the radical poets’ desublimation of the environmentally destructive and interpersonally repressive political unconscious characteristic of a late capitalist surveillance state (Figure  9.1).4 Spahr 4   In a comparable segment from “Buried Treasure Island,” “Remediation Seed-​beds” (2008), Buuck discusses how he and other BARGE enviro-​a rchival culture workers plan to explore the Treasure Island’s polluted soils by employing “a series of ‘(re)tuning forks’ around the island, to ‘score’ a series of field re-​codings, drawing ground-​sound up and into a constellation of pathogeographies, strung in measures yet to be charted.” Buuck continues:  “The night-​soil agents will use their bodies as conducting vessels for vibroflotation, augering the land-​wounds for historical fissures, lateral spreading, compostable tissue and bone, riprap for body-​w raps. Pulling prosody from the earthworks:  the island’s unconscious is structured like a language. Signs singing that. Tactical magic will have become the method by which such futural gambits might be flung into the not-​yet horizon, chance-​chants against the ever-​constricted lung capacity and faultlines of other possible tomorrows. The divining rods might still draw out such ground-​sores, producing a series of speech-​ act balloons that narrate the island’s buried histories in the form of off-​gas and gassed-​up offal, effluvial fluids for feeding the seed-​beds. Reharvesting, then, as an archeology of the future, drawing the toxins through the skin and bloodstream as sacrifice towards what new species will yet have had to evolve.” (“Buried Treasure Island,” 19).



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and Buuck indicate that Demented Panda’s conjuring of shit is also a way for them to address how social relations have become eroticized and how erotics have become commodified when Demented Panda’s performance morphs from shit into a big budget dystopia comparable to a Super Bowl celebration, or to the Bay Area’s “Treasure Island” celebrations that Buuck in his environmentally oriented archival work “Buried Treasure Island” has shown were on display in “The Gayway (1939),” the most popular and profitable aspect of the “Golden Gate International Expositions of 1939 and 1940” held at Treasure Island (4): Despite the attention lavished on the architecture and the sculptures, the landscaping and the lighting, the towers and the pavilions meant to represent other nations and cultures, it was the forty-​acre “Gayway” that brought what little money the Expositions made. “Theme Girl” Zoe Dell Lantis pranced around in a kind of pixie pirate outfit, while nearby Sally Rand’s Nude Ranch fused the pioneer spirit with the carnivalesque, as cowgirls cavorted for the thrill-​seekers, who might also sample the Elephant Train, or Esther Williams and Johnny Weissmuller at the “Aquacade,” or the premature babies on display in incubators, or the cigarette-​smoking robot, or the 1000-​pound fruitcake, or the replica of Mark Twain’s newspaper office, or the Greenwich Village ladies’ revue, or the Candid Camera peep show, or the “Cavalcade of the Golden West,” or rides on the Clipper sea-​planes, or monkey auto-​races, or Diego Rivera working on a mural, or the “Folies Bergére,” or “Pedro the Voder,” or . . . (Buuck, 5)

In “A Picturesque Story About The Border Between Two Cities,” after the raw sewage burns, the transit site, bordering the city of haves and the city of have nots, metamorphoses into a “Gayway” amusement park complete with Ferris wheel, skimpily clad dancers, a sugar and fat laden food court, and a dj spinning musical discs repurposed from military hardware. Understandably frustrated, Demented Panda interprets his conjuring as merely in service of a terrorist police state. He considers his creative act to be a late capitalist version of a Roman Bread and Circus theater complicit with “the swiping of debit cards and tapping of persona identification numbers, the cash registers ca-​chinging, the barking and the breaking, the whimpering, the crying, the screaming” (36). The site then morphs into displays of US power during the Bush (and, later, Obama) War on Terror including interrogation rooms and holding cells “funded by the Department of Homeland Security for counterterrorist efforts, holding 2,438 protestors in a nearby warehouse rented

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for this very purpose” (33). Once more, however, Spahr and Buuck perceive no critical space outside the consumerist-​military-​big media nexus from which to protest abuses of human rights as the site morphs into an academic conference “on politics and aesthetics” (33) and then “a boardroom meeting on tax-​deductible philanthropic donations to nonprofit arts organizations” (33): “[T]‌here’s no audience, since all this was happening now and everyone was knee deep in it, not just watching but as embedded participants. Even pointing and gaping was participation. Even taking cellphone photos for documentation was participation. Even standing perfectly still and doing nothing was participation” (34). We may read the story as a sobering indictment of creative spasticity in a period characterized by governmental clampdown on civil rights, media surveillance, and an octopus-​like culture industry that absorbs dissidence and repackages rebellion into fashionable neo-​bohemian stylings characteristic of James Dean’s, Jack Kerouac’s, and Miles Davis’s appearances in Gap advertisements for khaki pants. Progressivist constructive intent undoubtedly has produced destructive outcomes in this story, but the narrative may be read more productively as a contemporary expression of the anarchic tendency found in modernist avant-​garde movements such as Italian Futurism and English Vorticism in which energy, violence, and deck-​ clearing new creation are yoked together. (In “Metromania: Poetry, Academy, and Anarchy,” Spahr argued that because of its “do-​it-​yourself attitude [. . .] [p]oetry is currently our most anarchist of art forms. By anarchist I mean self-​ governing and decentralized” [24].) In the collection’s fifth and final story, the titular “An Army of Lovers,” Spahr and Buuck return to the polluted transit center to check in on Demented Panda and Koki in the aftermath to their creative debacle. In spite of their desire to make art together in the spirit of “collective possibility,” each acknowledges the obvious problem:  “Their collaboration was clearly not working and had not been working from the very beginning” (123). The first part of the story is, then, as one might expect, characterized by expressions of self-​lacerating guilt, futility, and anger. Even counter-​cultural artists invested in collaborative resistance are part of the ecological problem rather than spokespersons for the solution to what Spahr, in her essay on poetry and politics with Clover, calls “changes in how society is arranged regarding things like jobs and debts and jails.” Each admits their environmental footprints “require 24.5 acres” to “sustain their first-​world lifestyles” (124).



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To our surprise, however, the last movement of the story shifts in tone from abject despair to prophetic hope as the speakers’ rally-​t he-​troops of lovers with exuberant speech acts: So let’s put to it and clear the streets of cars and billboards and ATMs and past-​due bill notices, discovering in every intersection a dance floor, pulsing with unleashed beats and feedback loops of crooked laughter, in harmony or disharmony, from each according to their skillz and to each according to their booty. All this with hunger in our hips, such palpable lust not for bodies but for togetherness and whatever might yet quiver beyond the law. (133)

What prompts the sea change from shit-​ producing despair to sexy carnivalesque prophetic hope? In a word, breathing. For Buuck and Spahr, author of This Connection of Everyone With Lungs, breathing is imagined, not as a sign of inspiration to prompt the announcement of a Post Romantic lyric speaker’s “voice,” but rather as a decidedly Non-​Western and Non-​MFA program-​sponsored meditative practice that transports the main characters into a quite literally refreshing experience of being part of (rather than a part from) the ebb and flow of life that is shared by humans, animals, plants, and, in a metaphoric sense, the cosmos.5 Demented Panda and Koki attend to breath as an expression of an intuitive connection to ecological rhythms that indicates a post-​humanist perspective on the potential for community building and resistance in the face of “the coming crackdowns” (132).6   As Kimberly Lamm argues in “All Together/​Now: Writing the Space of Collectivities in the Poetry of Juliana Spahr,” this connection of everyone with lungs thematizes the undoing of the “spatial and imaginative impasse of ‘both sides’ [in a political struggle] by following the rhythm of the breath’s migrations as it links the interior of the body to ever-​w ider layers of space.[. . .] In unpunctuated lines that render the world’s continuous, quiet, but incantatory rhythms, Spahr builds an argument for recognizing the collectivity of spaces we already inhabit and the connections already threaded by the body’s necessary breath” (134). 6   As Jon Kabat-​Zinn, physician and founder of (MBSR) the mindfulness-​based stress reduction program at the University of Massachusetts, writes in “The Power of Breathing: Your Unsuspected Ally in the Healing Process,” a section of Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness has written: 5

Poets and scientists alike are aware that our organism pulsates with the rhythms of its ancestry. Rhythm and pulsation are intrinsic to all life, from the beating of bacterial cilia to the alternating cycles of photosynthesis and respiration in plants, to the circadian rhythms of our own body and its biochemistry. These rhythms of the living world are embedded within the larger rhythms of the planet itself, the ebb and flow of the tides, the carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen cycles of the biosphere, the cycles of night and day, the seasons. Our very bodies are joined with the planet in a continual rhythmic exchange as matter and energy flow back and forth between our bodies and what we call “the environment.” [. . .]//​One way this exchange

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After literally “brush[ing] themselves off” and “breathing deeply,” the half human–​half animal pair shrugs off despair at imagining themselves, as did early and mid-​twentieth-​century bohemian avant-​gardists, as standing outside the culture they loathed. “Ready now to move through the world with a tenfold increase in interest in it” (128), the pair resolve, in the words of William Carlos Williams, to “begin to begin again” through improvisational speech acts. Reviewing their prior acts of destructive composition as a necessary, even therapeutic, creative cleansing of a bankrupt cultural imaginary, they come to regard their prior activities as if they had performed an exorcism (or, more literally, a massive bowel movement that followed a period of creative constipation). Having hit bottom, the pair submits to a leap of faith into what Spahr in a critical study refers to as “collective autonomy” through willful speech acts in which prior associations with their culture are deemed to be null and void: [A]‌midst the glitter and ash, they spoke as one and declared, with tenfold determination together and to each other, let us come together now, let’s now let’s, let’s call out the animal inside us that bucks for peace and fucking, and then let’s brandish our pirate flags and set to it. Let’s clear the fields of all that hinders and hounds us, declare all contracts made in our name but without our consent null and void, and then charter illicit transport for all those who crave elsewhere and otherwise. What comes out of you or me comes out of all of us, which is why we want to dance with you in common sluice without shame or hesitation[.] (129)

One hears in the above passage echoes of Whitman (“what I  shall assume you shall assume”), as well as the zany Eastern energy of Allen Ginsberg that animated the oral antiwar protest poem “Wichita Vortex Sutra” (1966) via reference to the yogic practice of chakras, the Haight Ashbery hopefulness of a Freak Flag Nation from the Woodstock era as well as the 1983 heavy metal phallic call of Quiet Riot to “cum on feel the noize,” and the destabilizing repetitions and hypnotic rhythms of Gertrude Stein’s cubistic verbal portraits of Picasso. Involved participants in a corrupt society, the pair, now working under the sign of Freudian sexual liberation as neo-​Marxist historical intervention, call for a quite literal (in a sexual sense) coming together of currently factionalized of matter and energy happens is through breathing. With each breath, we exchange carbon dioxide molecules from inside our bodies for oxygen molecules from the surrounding air. Waste disposal with each outbreath, renewal with each in breath. (39)



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poetry  tribes ranging from pricey “Masters of Flatulent Arts Programs” to “those that collect the thick idiolects of Internet” culture (131). Writing in a frenzied rush of expanding breath groups reminiscent of definitions of the poem as action field in what Charles Olson, in his 1950 essay on projective verse, described as a “high energy construct,” the authors call for a quite literal inspirational action.7 Deeply embodied participants are encouraged to ingest shreds of the currently factionalized and disempowered poetry world to produce a fertilized heap, not of broken images, as T. S. Eliot would have it in “The Waste Land,” but rather of a generative composted composition. And then, in a revision of the expulsion of shit in the first story I addressed, to take “from our excrement making new poems or anti-​poems” (131). How is the transformation from abject defeat to prophetic hope against hope possible? It must be said that Spahr and Buuck are by no means blind to the contradictions and paradoxes implicit in a representative of a tenured avant-​garde such as Spahr attempting to rupture the cultural imaginary from within the academy. In September 2014, Spahr has, for example, been embroiled in a well-​publicized protest against Mills College, her tenure home, for firing adjuncts in the English department who had begun to unionize—​Buuck being one of the unionizing adjuncts!8 Spahr and Buuck’s gambit is that their call for a nondiscriminatory form of sexual liberation and desublimation of ego could resist wholesale commodification as in the Demented Panda’s initial version of a sugar-​shocked strip club party. Their repurposing of wretched compositional refuse would not produce political 7   As much as I  am associating Olson with orality, he stated in “Projective Verse” (1950):  “It is the advantage of the typewriter that, due to its rigidity and its space precisions, it can, for a poet, indicate exactly the breath, the pauses, the suspensions even of syllables, the juxtapositions, even of part of phrases, which he intends. For the first time the poet has the stave and bar a musician has had. For the first time he can, without the convention of rime and meter, record the listening he has done to his own speech.” Liz Kotz and Michael Davidson have argued in their readings of Olson’s reliance on the typewriter to compose his field poetics as a technology for the display of voice in “Projective Verse,” the poet may anticipate conceptualist and proceduralist authors, artists, and musicians who rely on contemporary information technology to transcribe found language. At the same time, Olson did not go so far as poets such as Weiner and Goldsmith in challenging phonocentrism and a fiction of immediacy in poetry because he, in Kotz’s terms, “cannot address the larger conditions of the mechanical recording, reproduction, and transmission of speech—​ technologies of phonography and audiotape that are the precise historical conditions under which a poet can, ‘without the convention of rime and meter, record the listening he has done to his own speech.’ Such reproductive media, Davidson observes, would seem ‘the very antithesis to any poetics of unmediated presence’ ” (Davidson quoted by Kotz, 114). 8   The Mills Adjunct Union (SEIU 1021) did in fact achieve the first labor contract of its kind in the Bay Area in 2016.

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change by itself, but rather they might create through incantatory speech acts the interpersonal conditions, embodied environment, and energetic mindset necessary to rally the troops—​t he army of lovers—​to enter a frame of mind, body, and spirit capable of mustering the sheer chutzpah to resist enchainment: [W]e will feel equally loved and replenished by acts of care, wit, and the soft caressing of skin and pelt, just as we will have to have found new words for cumming as we rewire our erogenous circuits such that we find sexual bliss with works of art. That’s right, we want art that makes us wet and driven, driven to flail and whelp and court failure in our impulse to action, again and again, failing with ever more grace and cunning, until futility becomes the magic that when dissolved beneath the tongue of all those ready to bark leads to ever more fruitful inquiries, for our bodies are bored by answers, which is why we wish to striate and rejuvenate the questions, even if in our questioning some of us are led to then ask how might we refuse this, refuse all of this. (139)

Critiquing America as a site comparable to a Treasure Island “Gayway” or Super Bowl Half Time Show that commodifies and sexualizes a violent and competitive behavior such as professional football, Spahr and Buuck take a page from Cold War Era twentieth-​century liberation social theorists such as the Eros and Civilization of Herbert Marcuse and the Norman O. Brown of Life Against Death.9 They reconfigure the, in Marxist terms, alienated labor of expressing desire as it appears as a re-​presentation of excrement and revision it in the passage above as a performance of libidinal energies that could, in the future, produce a community with potential to resist repressive regimes. All five stories in An Army of Lovers reflect tensions felt by G2 authors between creative representation as antiabsorptive conceptualism and as 9  In a preface to Eros and Civilization, reviewer Robert Young notes that Marcuse assures us that: “Their protest will continue because it is a biological necessity. ‘By nature’ the young are in the forefront of those who live and fight for Eros against Death . . . ‘Today the fight for life, the fight for Eros, is the political fight.’ ” Young continues: “Marcuse argues that ‘the irreconcilable conflict is not between work—​(reality principle—​life without leisure) and Eros (pleasure principle—​leisure and pleasure), but between alienated labour (performance principle—​economic stratification) and Eros.’ Sex is allowed for ‘the betters’ (capitalists . . .), and for workers only when not disturbing performance. Marcuse believes that a socialist society could be a society without needing the performance of the ‘poor’ and without as strong a suppression of our sexual drives: it could replace ‘alienated labor’ with ‘non-​a lienated libidinal work’ resulting in ‘a non-​repressive civilization’ based on ‘non-​repressive sublimation’.”



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meaning-​bearing commentary on a US imaginary characterized by the War on Terror. “What We Talk About When We Talk About Poetry,” for example, is a straight-​out funny and yet telling parody of a Raymond Carver “dirty realist” short story. As in a typical Carver story, a tense conversation delivered in raw flat language takes place over a gin-​soaked evening at a working-​class kitchen table. Here, however, the common subjects of Carver—​infidelity, bankruptcy, alcoholism—​are recast in terms of debates among two couples—​Mel and Terri; Laura and Nicky—​Bay Area poets and creative writing instructors who dispute the potential for Leftist poetry such as Louis Zukofsky’s A and Muriel Rukeyser’s “The Book of the Dead” to perform social work by documenting injustice in esoteric verse that, Mel laments, no one reads “but a bunch of white guys in Buffalo” (72).10 While Mel “wouldn’t call [Zukofsky’s poetry] political” because “it’s all jumbled,” overly formal and abstract, and “no one knows what he did it for” (75), Terri defends the emphasis in A on love and labor: “In the poem, love is part of the resistance to capitalism. It’s about labor as well as love. Labor gets defined by love, a love that is care and attention to the processes of work” (75). Terri’s comments on how Zukofsky attempts to translate alienated labor in acts of affection resonate with Kiki’s and Demented Panda’s attempt to reimagine commodified eroticism into a form of resistance comparable to Herbert Marcuse’s and Norman O. Brown’s advocacy of Eros as a stay against civilized complacency. No story in An Army of Lovers, however, concerns the impact of new media on a G2 author engaged in online multimedia conceptual projects with political themes than one of two stories in the collection titled “The Side Effect.” Before turning to that version of “The Side Effect,” however,

  Marilyn Hacker writes: “The young Rukeyser was an enthusiastic Socialist, and it was through the magazine New Masses that she first read about the tragic situation in Gauley Bridge, West Virginia, where miners hired to dig tunnels in the mountains were falling ill and dying in large numbers of silicosis. There was considerable evidence that the mine owners knew of the danger, but had failed to provide adequate health protection, and had even widened the scope of the operation, as silica, the disease-​producing substance, was a profitable unexpected by-​product of the tunnel operation. In 1936, Rukeyser, now 22, went to West Virginia with a woman photographer friend. She conducted interviews with miners, white and black, with their wives and children, with mine employees. She collected documentary evidence—​transcripts of congressional hearings, stock market reports, medical interviews and diagnoses, and the testimony of a social worker who came on a humanitarian mission. From all of this, Rukeyser composed a book-​length poem, the multisectioned, multivoiced ‘The Book of the Dead,’ published in 1938 in her second collection, US 1 (the first, and not last, book of American poems to be named for a highway).” (Poetry Daily Prose Feature: “Marilyn Hacker profiles Muriel Rukeyser”). 10

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let me mention that the other story in the collection titled “The Side Effect” (let’s refer to it for clarity’s sake as “TSE2”) may usefully be paired with “A Picturesque Story About The Border Between Two Cities” as well as with “The Side Effect” story that I  will be commenting on in detail below. Like these other tales, “TSE2” involves the viral impact on a main character (in this case a male performance artist) of a militarized cultural imaginary. He wants his performance art to work through his lack of affect, “inability to get up and be out in the world,” and to heal a viral infection that he and a faith-​healer named Laura, who also appears in the other version of “The Side Effect,” regard as stemming from the illness of late capitalism, a diseased way of life which is said to have “leaked out of his face” (109). In performance pieces he isolates himself in a room in which he imitates the physical shapes of prisoners in tortured positions (“his source for each pose had been a series of photographs that had been found on the Internet, photographs taken in an overseas military prison called ‘The Hard Site’ ” [113]. “Not sure there could be a remedy for what ailed him, at least not as art or writing,” the outcome to his creative efforts is uncertain, but suggests emancipatory hopefulness. He plans a collaborative piece about “the small historically unimportant plot of land” reminiscent of the transit station described in “A Picturesque Story,” creates a special vegetable soup that possesses curative properties, and writes a story in which he masturbates, spits on lovers, shifts genders, becomes an international arms dealer, and, as in “An Army of Lovers,” imagines unbridled eroticism as a means through which “we could build a bottom-​up, participatory structure of society and culture, a two-​a nd three-​a nd more-​ way affair, about erect and sucking participation. [. . .] For motherhood and fucking exists as necessary paradigms of creation, ones where anyone can be an artist-​lover and anyone can succeed” (121). In the other version of “The Side Effect,” a female author, political activist, multimedia sound artist, and professor (remind anyone of Spahr!) receives a tick bite while plugged in to “the websites, blogs, status updates, voicemails, the photos and video” at her college office (41). The tick bite, and the Lyme disease it carries, are made especially infectious to humans because of Nazi-​influenced US experiments “that had been relocated after the war to an island off the coast of Lyme, Connecticut” (42). The bite, which leaves irritating nipple-​like sores that ooze puss on the main character’s body, symbolizes, in a cyborg update to William Burroughs’ theory of language as a virus—​“You will encounter a



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resisting organism that forces you to talk. That organism is the word,” he stated in The Ticket that Exploded (1962)—​her embodiment of upsetting sounds and images, which the character has downloaded from the internet to create her compositions. She has, in effect, become a conductor that carries new mediated cultural disease: [S]he felt like the circuitry of all her machines and the various websites that she had been scanning, the ones that connected the anaplasmosis, the babesiosis, the ehrlichiosis, and the Lyme disease in ticks to the militarized mycoplasma fermentans incognitus, as well as the ones that showed chilling images of the torture to which the nation in which she currently lived was subjecting citizens of other nations, were all coursing through her blood, her nerve meridians, and her intestines, until she was quivering with some sweet sick feeling. (44–​45)11

Ironically, the tick bite is a literal form of viral bugging intimately related to her embodiment of web-​based access to contemporary political trauma, but the main character, as if part of a closed circuit, consults the internet for medical information to heal her disease. From a web site, she learns of the “specialist” named Laura, a New Age-​t ype homeopathic alternative healer and, one might argue, Foucauldian critic sensitive to the relation of new media and biological warfare, who informs the main character that “what’s in you is not you. But the militarized mycoplasma fermentans incognitus is in your spirochetes and it will always adapt and mutate, will always be one step ahead of you” (50). In spite (or because) of her infection—​“Something was changing inside her, something she could not name, as if the tick bite were taking on a life of its own” (48)—​t he now quite literally girl gone viral web artist seeks to compose a sonic composition—​ repurposed from upsetting web reports concerning military incarcerations, endangered bird species, and disputes over water  Burroughs wrote:  “The ‘Other Half’ is the word. The ‘Other Half’ is an organism. Word is an organism. The presence of the ‘Other Half’ is a separate organism attached to your nervous system on an air line of words can now be demonstrated experimentally. One of the most common ‘hallucinations’ of subject during sense withdrawal is the feeling of another body sprawled through the subject’s body at an angle . . . yes quite an angle it is the ‘Other Half’ worked quite some years on a symbiotic basis. From symbiosis to parasitism is a short step. The word is now a virus. The flu virus may have once been a healthy lung cell. It is now a parasitic organism that invades and damages the central nervous system. Modern man has lost the option of silence. Try halting subvocal speech. Try to achieve even ten seconds of inner silence. You will encounter a resisting organism that forces you to talk. That organism is the word.” From: The Ticket That Exploded (1962) (Wikiquote).

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rights that have become privatized—​in which her goal is for a “digital sample cut and pasted into a sound piece” (47) to represent, as if a postmodern version of T. S. Eliot’s “Objective Correlative,” her jumbled “seeing, thinking, feeling” (47) about traumatic subjects. Recalling my commentary on Hannah Weiner’s Weeks and Andrei Codrescu’s poetry, her goal is not so much to document political crisis and environmental disaster, but to embody trauma. Fearing legibility would contain real terror, she refuses to deflect interpretations of the “music” through a theoretical or ideological lens. She does not want listeners to intellectualize the sounds they hear in her Burroughs-​like cut-​ups of web-​ based material by “thinking the right proper political thoughts in the head but not the messy ugly things that stir in the belly or resonate in the inner cavities of a right proper North American body faced with the implications” (46). As with “An Army of Lovers,” Spahr and Buuck refuse to accept representations that detach artist, viewer, or, for that matter, representation itself, from an implication in the larger cultural crisis. That larger crisis is made manifest through sounds and images she collates from the web and in the oozing, blemished body of the viral, shame-​fi lled artist who suffers from a tick bite that has mutated because of “alliances between Nazi and US military germ warfare technologies” (48). She is indelibly intertwined with the web as a form of linguistic contagion. As was the case in Gordon’s inbox and Jena Osman’s call for a poetics that mixes Bernstein’s absorptive and antiabsorptive modes, Spahr and Buuck’s character puts together her sonic collage out of digital samples that move in and out of comprehensibility. The new media composer wants to deconstruct governmental discourse that is intended to make atrocity legible. “She watched testimonies at various government hearings, listening to the cadence and lilt of each voice as much as to the details and the evasive language, the tortured syntax required to reduce what had been done by all of us to the fault of a few” (46). Spahr and Buuck’s new media sound artist is sensitive to how euphemistic language masks agency for misbehavior. From this point of view, Language poetry’s antiabsorptive, materialist ethos precludes audiences from disentanglement with atrocities found on the web through rejuvenation of feelings that exceed understanding. The new media artist also wants to develop intimacy with her audience even though the sounds of a “jail-​cell door being slammed shut” and “of keys in metal locks, of military-​issue mops beings sloshed around inside half-​fi lled buckets” are in fact “indistinguishable to the computer, just bits of data to be processed” (47). We recall William



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S. Burroughs’s decision around 1959 to follow visual artist Byron Gysin (and, implicitly, a long line of early twentieth-​century collage artists ranging from Picasso to Joseph Cornell to Gertrude Stein to Romare Bearden to T. S. Eliot and Ezra Pound) to work in cut-​ups to acknowledge how conventional language locks in limited perspectives on subjectivity. This is so even as language is viral. Like a disease, language infiltrates a body from outside the self but becomes a definitive aspect of subjectivity. Contracting a virus as she is plugging in to her machines in cyborg fashion, the new media artist embodies trauma via images and sounds in ways that, paradoxically, imply actuality through her diseased connection with an “outside” world of political violence that she internalizes via a computer screen.12 Infected by a disease interrelated with web searches at the start of “The Side Effect,” the tale’s last movement nonetheless registers a marked shift in the main character’s association with new media reports about incarceration, torture, and violent death stemming from the War on Terror and its blowback. Her perspective turns in response to news about a woman from her hometown. This other woman, a doppelgänger who traveled a path not taken by the main character, grew up in a mining town comparable to the West Virginia area about which Rukeyser in “The Book of the Dead” wrote of miners who contracted lung disease at the infamous Gauley Bridge site run by the Union Carbide Company, which hid information about the safety risks of silicate from employees. Unlike the main character, who escaped the drudgery and dangers of a mining town by entering the (until the genetically modified tick bite) comfortable life of professional culture worker, her fellow townswoman escaped by joining the military. No longer detached from world news, the diseased artist imaginatively reconstructs the townswoman’s history, tracing her life from teenaged attendance at pep rallies where, in a yearbook photo, she performed a thumbs up sign, and hanging out in the

12   Christopher Land writes on the relation of language as a virus and the fictive construction of identity in Burroughs cut-​ups: “As a theory of language the word-​v irus functions to indicate the absolute Otherness of language. Language is something that comes from outside the human whilst simultaneously being taken as a key line of demarcation that separates human beings from other animals and from machine, as evinced for example by the Turing test (Plant, 1997; cf. Searle, 1984; Fellows, 1995). In this sense language is an Other that produces human being. More importantly, it is language that produces self-​identity and the concept of the coherent self or ‘I,’ itself a linguistic construct. Without this identity, and without language, ‘one’ quite simply isn’t—​the ‘I’ does not exist.”

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school parking lot with bad boys in Motley Crue t-​shirts, through to her learning to follow orders as a “Specialist First Class,” and her pregnancy. The new media artist also wants to record “the sound of the zipper on the body bag in the photo,” presumably containing the woman’s corpse, a casualty of the War on Terror’s blowback to hooded beatings, batons crashing on bodies and walls, and prison doors slamming shut that the main character has represented through sound collages. The townswoman’s sad fate kindles in the main character a desire to create a different type of composition, one that would in its frenetic juxtapositions of sonic equivalents to the militarized woman’s thumbs up at the high school pep rally, as well as the sounds of arena rock anthems and the “flag ceremony” (presumably signaling the return of the woman’s body bag), connote a distorted repetition, and implicit critique, of a hyper-masculine society (football games, rock concerts) that transforms ordinary citizens into military agents. In an act of anarchy and sheer anger at the futility of her project, however, she chooses to “burn it all down, leaving only the sound of photographs melting into glitter and ash” (60). In “Poetry in a Time of Crisis” (2002), based on a 2001 MLA convention presentation, Spahr argues for “public declarations of collective culture and connective agency,” that is, “[m]‌ ore outward turns” (133). In an essay on her poetics, Kimberly Lamm echoes Spahr’s emphasis on public writing:  “Spahr’s own poetry is full of outward, inclusive turns, and call attention to the collectivities that emerge through connective agency” (133). Unquestionably, Spahr and Buuck continue in An Army of Lovers to advocate for a collaborative textual engagement that pushes readers in the direction of building communities and participatory culture. Whether it produces piles of shit or Dionysian delights, poetry in An Army of Lovers does indeed make stuff happen. One also notices a decidedly inward turn in “The Side Effect.” I’d argue the turn toward encouraging a rejuvenation of feeling, registered in the speakers’ desire for audiences to “come on feel the noize” is connected to Spahr’s observation in “Poetry in a Time of Crisis” that while poetry cannot by itself change everything (or even anything) through the verbal magic that unfortunately leads Demented Panda to quite literally stink up the joint, poetry can change the “brain.” Changing the “brain,” Spahr continues in her essay, might change the direction of our “feet.” She not only refers to alterations in prosodic scanning devices, but suggests how such alterations in how we move



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our prosodic feet—​say from Augustan formalism to Olsonian action fields—​ may, in ways still uncertain, but which cognitive theorists may yet explain, simultaneously manifest, enact, and encourage writers and readers to go–​go in other directions.13

  In “Poetry in a Time of Crisis,” Spahr writes: “But now to the question, is poetry enough? And the answer is of course not. Poetry is only one part of enough. The part that changes the brain. In an email the other day New York poet Allison Cobb claimed she was paraphrasing Charles Bernstein as she wrote ‘the fact that poetry won’t stop violence is not a reason not to try.’ I want to tweak her paraphrase a little to something like the fact that poetry hasn’t led all that many poets into action doesn’t mean we shouldn’t ask where our poetry leads us finally. If poetry changes our head, and I think this is irrefutable, how does it also change our feet?”

13

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248 Bibliography Orwell, George. “Politics and the English Language.” 1946. Politics and the English Language. Peterborough: Broadview Press, 2006. Osman, Jena. “After Language Poetry,” OEI 7, no. 8, 2001. Reprinted on-​line at www. ubu.com/​papers/​oei/​osman.html). Accessed September 22, 2015. Paulson, William. Literary Culture in a World Transformed: A Future For The Humanities. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2001. Perloff, Marjorie. “A Conversation with Kenneth Goldsmith.” Jacket 21. February 2003. http://​jacketmagazine.com/​21/​perl-​gold-​iv.html. Accessed online May 15, 2014. Perloff, Marjorie. “Conceptual Bridges/​Digital Tunnels: Kenneth Goldsmith’s Traffic.” Unoriginal Genius: Poetry by Other Means in the New Century. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010. Perloff, Marjorie. “Screening the Page/​Paging the Screen: Digital Poetics and The Differential Model.” New Media Poetics: Contexts, Technotexts, and Theories. Ed. Morris, Adalaide and Swiss, Thomas. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2006. 143–​164. Perloff, Marjorie. The Dance of the Intellect: Studies in the Poetry of the Pound Tradition. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1985. Perloff, Marjorie. Unoriginal Genius: Poetry by Other Means in the New Century. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010. Perloff, Marjorie. Wittgenstein’s Ladder: Poetic Language and the Strangeness of the Ordinary. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996. Peterson, Tim. “Either You’re With Us and Against Us: Charles Bernstein’s Girly Man, 9/​11, and the Brechtian Figure of the Reader.” Salt Companion to Charles Bernstein. Ed. William Allegrezza. New York: Salt, 2012. Accessed online June 13, 2015. Place, Vanessa and Fitterman, Robert. Notes on Conceptualisms. Brooklyn: Ugly Duckling Presse, 2009. Pound, Scott. “Kenneth Goldsmith and the Poetics of Information” PMLA, (2015) 130 (2): 315–​330. Praitis, Irena. “The Eye of the Beholder: Voyeurism and Surveillance in Williams’s Speaker/​Reader Matrix.” William Carlos Williams Review, 32 (1–​2). Spring 2016. Pressman, Jessica. Digital Modernism: Making It New in New Media. New York: Oxford University Press, 2014. Ramazani, Jahan, Ellmann, Richard, and O’Clair, Robert, eds. The Norton Anthology of Modern and Contemporary Poetry: Volume Two. Third edition. New York: Norton, 2003. Reed, Brian M. Nobody’s Business: Twenty-​First Century Avant-​Garde Poetics. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2013. Robinson, Paul. The Freudian Left. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1990. Rubinstein, Raphael. “A Textual Vanitas: Kenneth Goldsmith’s Day.” Art in America, November, 2004. Sanburn, Josh. “Wilson Described Being Afraid of Michael Brown.” Time Magazine online. November 25, 2014. http://​time.com/​3605346/​darren-​w ilson-​michael-​ brown-​demon. Accessed online September 12, 2015.

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Index​ “5 biblical poems” (Mac Low)  17 A (Zukofsky)  231 a: A Novel (Warhol)  48, 48n. 2 “The Academy in Peril: William Carlos Williams Meets the MLA” (Bernstein) 166 Acconci, Vito  204 “After Language Poetry” (Osman)  193 Against Expression: An Anthology of Conceptual Writings (Dworkin and Goldsmith) 49 Ahern, Tom 22 Alexander, Christopher  185, 185n. 17 Allen, Donald  183 The American Avant-​Garde Tradition: William Carlos Williams, Postmodern Poetry, and the Politics of Cultural Memory (Lowney)  165n. 1 Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues 29n. 7, 33 anchors/​a nchoring  24, 33–​4, 35, 37–​8 Andrews, Bruce  55 Andric, Ivo  127, 132–​5, 142 The Anger Scale (Degentesh)  24 antiabsorptive poetics  35, 97, 160, 165, 167, 168, 177, 193, 194, 195–​6, 230–​1, 234 “Anticipating Instability” (Goldsmith)  3 Antin, David  52–​3n. 7 Archive Fever: A Freudian Impression (Derrida) 8 archives of amnesia  130, 139 archontic power  8 Arendt, Hannah  157 An Army of Lovers (Buuck and Spahr)  10, 15, 74, 219, 220–​1, 222, 222n. 3, 226, 230–​1 Art and the Aesthetic (Dickie)  15 art of the in-​between  18 art theories  14–​16 “The Artifice of Absorption” (Bernstein)  35

Ashbery, John  17 Auden, W. H.  91, 219 The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas (Stein) 176 Back, Rachel Tyvia  146n. 4 “banal evil” (Arendt)  157 Barbu, Ion  115 Barthes, Roland  154 Bassilico, Stefano  55 bastardization 199 Baudrillard, Jean  78 Benjamin, Walter  128, 128n. 11, 149, 211 Bernstein, Charles  5, 16, 16–​17n. 11, 19, 22, 26, 27, 31, 35, 43, 45, 55, 73, 74, 86, 88, 97, 125, 166, 167, 176, 179–​81, 182n. 14, 184, 185, 185n. 17, 193, 234, 237n. 12 Bibliodeath: My Archives With Life In Footnotes (Codrescu)  8–​9, 113, 138, 146 The Big Archive: Art from Bureaucracy (Spieker) 113 Biomedia (Eugene)  123n. 8 Bishop, Elizabeth  84–​5 Blaga, Lucien  115 Blanchot, Maurice  10 Bochner, Mel 72 “The Body of Michael Brown” (Goldsmith)  103–​12 Bok, Christian  75–​6 Bonnet, Gerard  76, 76n. 11 “The Book of the Dead” (Rukeyser)  34, 34n. 13, 231, 235 Botti, Renata Pescanti  122 Bracho, Coral  214 Brautigan, Richard  123, 146 Brechtian poetics  35 The Bridge on the Drina (Andric)  127, 132–​5 Brown, Bill  9, 19, 24, 122–​3, 148–​9, 148n. 7 Brown, Michael  104

252 Index Brown, Norman O.  220, 230, 231 Bruno, Giordano  134n. 14 Buchloh, Benjamin  107–​8, 204, 204n. 9 Burgundy, Ron  29n. 7 “Buried Treasure Island: A Detour of the Future” (Buuck)  221, 222n. 3, 223, 225 Burroughs, William  232–​3, 233n. 10, 235 Burt, Stephen  48–​9, 51 Butler, Judith  167 Buuck, David  10, 15, 55, 129, 219–​21, 221n. 2, 222, 222n. 3, 223, 224n. 4, 225, 226, 227, 229, 230, 234, 236 CAConrad 104, 105 Cage, John  17, 26–​7n. 6, 55, 189 Candy Apple Grey (Mould)  174, 175 Cartier-​Bresson, Henri  77, 80–​1, 83, 94 Caruth, Cathy  84 Carver, Raymond  231 “Charles Reznikoff: Master of the Miniature” (Wagner)  34n. 14 “Cherry Picture” (Schwitter)  114n. 1 Chicago School of Media  140n. 17 “Clear Square Glass Leaning” (Kosuth)  72 Clover, Joshua  223, 226 Cobb, Allison  237n. 12 Codrescu, Andrei  5, 7, 8–​10, 18–​19, 113–​4 4, 146, 147, 149, 234 Colbert, Stephen  33–​4 Collected Poems (Yeats)  7 collective autonomy  228 Collective Intelligence: Mankind’s Emerging World in Cyberspace (Levy)  5 “The Colonel” (Forché)  186 “Community and the Individual Talent” (Bernstein) 16n. 11 “Composition as Explanation” (Stein)  206 “Conceptual Poetics” (Goldsmith)  79 conceptualism  18, 19, 54, 66, 68, 107–​8, 193, 230 Connective Reading and Collective Identity (Spahr)  221 Conrad, Bryce  150, 150nn. 9–10 The Constructivist Moment (Watten)  18 convergence culture  1, 2n. 2, 3, 5 Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide (Jenkins)  2n. 2

Cooley, Nicole  10, 26–​7 Corris, Michael  4, 72 The Country Between Us (Forché)  186 Crane, Hart  145 Damon, Maria  32 Danto, Arthur C.  14–​15 Davidson, Michael  229n. 7 Day (Goldsmith)  8, 71, 79 Day by Day (Lowell)  63–​4 “Death and Disaster” series (Warhol)  94 Death of a Salesman (Miller)  50 decisive moment  10, 71–​81, 82–​3, 85, 97 Deer Head Nation (Mohammad)  24 Degentesh, Katie  24 Deleuze, Gilles  34n. 15, 206 DeLillo, Don 79 dematerialization  9, 122, 123, 148 Derrida, Jacques  8 Dickey, Stephen  60–​1 Dickie, George  15 Dienst, Richard  143 Digital Modernism: Making It New In New Media (Pressman)  11n. 9 digitalization  12, 18–​19, 81, 115, 119n. 5, 148, 163, 166 dirty conceptualism  19, 21, 46, 68, 94–​5, 166 The Disappearance of the Outside (Codrescu)  113, 116–​17, 118 Djuric, Dubravka  16n. 11 The Dolphin (Lowell)  190 Donegan, Cheryl  48, 66 Donovan, Thom  24–​5, 33n. 12, 44 Doolittle, Hilda  145 Douglass, Frederick  221 Droitcour, Brian  104, 105n. 2 Drucker, Johanna  72n. 4, 107 Du Plessis, Rachel Blau  207 Duarte, Gustavo  40 Duchamp, Marcel  17, 18, 113 Duerfahrd, Lance  81 Duncan, Robert  161 Durgin, Patrick  5, 6, 15, 16n. 11, 18, 22, 23, 25, 26–​7n. 6, 28, 29n. 9, 169, 197–​217 Dworkin, Craig  49 “Dysgraphia” (Gordon)  170–​1

Index 253 Edmundson, Mark  74–​5n. 9 Edwards, Jonathan  148, 150–​2, 156, 159, 160–​1 electronic literature  11n. 9, 20, 74n. 7, 119n. 5 Electronic Literature: New Horizons For The Literary (Hayles)  45–​6n. 1 Electronic Poetry Center (EPC)  16, 22 Eliade, Mircea  115 Eliot, T. S.  15, 15n. 10, 212, 229, 234, 235 embodiment of knowledge  147 Emerson, Ralph Waldo  74–​5, 139 Empire (documentary)  47 Eno, Brian  168 Eros and Civilization (Marcuse) 220, 230 Evans, Steve  184 Everybody’s Autonomy: Collective Reading and Connective Identity (Spahr) 220, 221 Exquisite Corpse 127, 203 “The Eye of the Beholder: Voyeurism and Surveillance in Williams’s Speaker/​ Reader Matrix” (Praitis)  190 Ezawa, Kota  79 Faithfull, Marianne  137–​8 Fellig, Arthur (Weegee)  28 Felluga, Dino  83n. 18, 88 Fink, Tom  187, 187n. 19 “The Fish” (Bishop)  84 Fitterman, Robert  167–​8, 168n. 5 Flanagan, Mary  4n. 4 Flarf  4–​5, 4n. 4, 24, 41 “Flarf is Dionysus. Conceptual Writing in Apollo” (Goldsmith)  89n. 21 Flip Your Wig 175 Flood, Allison  104–​5 Folsom, Ed 178 Forché, Carolyn  26, 26–​7n. 6, 28, 33, 186 “Fountain” (Duchamp)  16 Fraistat, Neil  3, 4n. 3 frame lock  16, 73, 86 Franks, David  125 The Frequencies (Gordon)  171, 180 Freud, Sigmund  17, 76n. 11, 89

Friedlander, Ben  184 From Gutenberg to Google: Electronic Representations of Literary Texts (Shillingsburg) 7 “From Work to Text” (Barthes)  154 Frost, Robert  84, 136 Garcia, P. E.  104 Gatz, Jay 67 Gay, Roxanne  105 “The Gayway” (Buuck)  225 Ginsberg, Allen  26–​7n. 6, 228 Giorno, John  173–​4n. 9 Girly Man (Bernstein)  167 Gizzi, Peter  221 Glissant, Edouard  209 Godard, Jean Luc  56 “Golden Gate International Expositions of 1939 and 1940” (Buuck)  225 The Golden Notebook (Lessing)  121 Golding, Alan  73, 88n. 19, 165–​6, 182, 221 Goldman, Judith  33 Goldsmith, Kenneth  1–​8, 4n. 3, 8n. 8, 10, 11, 12–​13, 14, 17, 24, 25, 39, 45–​69, 71–​101, 103–​12, 115, 168, 169, 178, 187, 188, 192–​3 Gordon, Kim  200 Gordon, Noah Eli  5–​6, 14, 15, 16n. 11, 18, 55, 71, 165–​96, 199, 200, 200n. 4, 203n. 8, 207n. 12, 219, 234 Graham, Dan 72 The Great Gatsby (Fitzgerald)  67 Grinnel, Renee  17 Grossman, Allen  6–​7, 11, 152n. 14 Guillory, John  182n. 13 Haacke, Hans  72, 86 Hacker, Marilyn  231n. 9 Hammond, Stefan  172 Hannah Weiner’s Open House (Durgin) 22, 200 Hansen, Mark  7, 149–​50 Hare, Peter  147 Harris, Daniel Y.  119n. 5 Harryman, Carla  201, 207 Hawthorne, Nathaniel  156, 158, 159 Hayles, N. Katherine  1, 1n. 1, 10, 13–​14, 20, 45–​6n. 1, 46, 74, 149

254 Index Heath Course Pak (Lin)  188 Hebdige, Dick  166, 169–​70 Hejinian, Lyn  201, 207 Henry, William III  5n. 5 Herron, Gil Scott  143 Hofer, Jen  5, 6, 10, 15, 16n. 11, 18, 23, 25, 55, 197–​217 The Hole in the Flag: A Romanian Exile’s Story of Return and Revolution (Codrescu)  119, 138, 142–​3 “Home Burial” (Frost)  84 Howe, Irving  125 Howe, Susan  5, 7, 8, 9–​10, 19, 21, 25, 54, 125, 145–​63 Hughes, Langston  139–​40 human stain  123, 142, 147 Huyssen, Andreas  165n. 1 “Hyper and Deep Attention: The Generational Divide” (Hayles)  13–​14 I’ll Be Your Mirror (Goldsmith)  46–​7 “Images of Divine Things” (Edwards) 151n. 11 “In Memory of W.B. Yeats” (Auden)  219 In the American Grain (Williams)  145, 147, 150, 154 In the American Tree (Silliman)  184 inbox [a reverse memoir] (Gordon)  5, 16n. 11, 18, 165–​96, 219, 234 indecisive moments  10, 71–​81, 82–​3, 84, 85, 95, 97 “Information Archives” (Lin)  71 “Information Room” (Kosuth)  106–​7 infrastructural analysis  106 intermediation 46 interpretation as creative endeavor  74 interpretive codes  4n. 3 Involuntary Genius 138 An Involuntary Genius (Codrescu)  114–​16, 116n. 2, 118, 118n. 4, 119, 121, 121n. 7, 124n. 9, 126n. 10, 138 Ionesco, Eugene  115 James, Henry  155 Jameson, Fredric  72, 86, 143 Jealous Witness (Codrescu)  130–​1 Jenkins, Henry  1, 2n. 2, 3, 167–​8, 197

Jones, Radhika  46 Joyce, Elisabeth W.  154n. 17 Joyce, Michael  45 Kabat-​Zinn, Jon  227n. 6 Keats, John  110 “Kenneth Goldsmith Remixes Michael Brown Autopsy Report as Poetry” (Steinhauer) 104 “Kenneth Goldsmith Says He Is An Outlaw” (CAConrad)  105 Killian, Kevin  105 Kosuth, Joseph  72, 106–​7 Kotz, Liz  17, 48, 53–​4, 77, 229n. 7 Kovacs, Ernie  5, 169 Kristeva, Julia  176 Kundera, Milan  117 Kuszai, Joel  179 La Barbara, Joan  55 Lacan, Jacques  76, 83 Lamm, Kimberly  227n. 5, 236 Land, Christopher  235n. 11 “Language Is Not Transparent” (Bochner) 72 language justice  205, 205n. 10 The Last Avant-​Garde (Lehman)  6 Lazarus, Emma  110 Leaves of Grass (Whitman)  132, 166, 178 Led by Language: The Poetry and Poetics of Susan Howe (Back)  146n. 4 Lehman, David  6, 6n. 6 Leitch, Vincent B.  54 Lessing, Doris  121 Levinas, Emmanuel  209, 211 Levy, Pierre  5, 171 Libra (DeLillo)  79 library archives  9–​10 Life Against Death (Brown)  220, 230 Life Studies (Lowell)  220 “Lift Off” (Bernstein)  125 Lin, Tan  71, 73n. 6, 78–​9, 188–​9, 189n. 21 literary culture  11–​12, 50 Literary Culture in a World Transformed: A Future for the Humanities (Paulson) 11 Lowell, Robert  63–​4, 160, 190, 220

Index 255 Lowney, John  165n. 1, 182n. 13 Lutzkanova-​Vassileva, Albena  85 lyric confessionalism  65 Mac Low, Jackson  17, 77, 207 “Mammie Dolls” (Codrescu)  130 Mandl, Dave  74, 89 “Many Colored Objects Placed Side by Side” (Weiner)  72 Marcuse, Herbert  52, 220, 230, 230n. 8, 231 Mariani, Paul  190n. 22 “Materiality” (Brown)  9, 122, 123, 148, 148n. 7, 149 Maximus (Olson)  28 May, Todd  34n. 15, 44 McCabe, Michael  158 McKay, Adam  87 McLuhan, Marshall  78 McSweeney, Joyelle  23, 23n. 1, 192 media theory  78 Mellow, James  158 Meltzer, Eve  106 “Memories of West Street and Lepke” (Lowell) 220 “Mending Wall” (Frost)  136 metafictional commentary  35–​6, 40, 64–​6 Metahistory: The Historical Imagination in Nineteenth-​Century Europe (White) 154 methodological fetishism  9 “Metromania: Poetry, Academy, and Anarchy” (Spahr)  223, 226 Meyer, Michael  108n. 4 Middleton, Peter  197 Miles, Eileen  105 Miller, Arthur  50 Miller, Perry  151 Mlinko, Ange  75n. 10 Monson, Ander  119–20n. 6 Moriarity, Laura  18, 24, 197, 198–​9, 198n. 2, 216–​17 Morris, Adelaide  19, 74n. 7 “An Mosaic for Convergence” (Bernstein) 74, 74n. 8 Moten, Fred  105 Mould, Bob  166, 169–​76, 181, 200n. 4 Moxley, Jennifer  184

“The Muse in the Machine: Or the Poetics of Zork” (Pinsky)  45 “The Muse Is Always Half-​Dressed in New Orleans” (Codrescu)  137 “Musee des Beaux Arts” (Auden)  91 Music for Films (Eno)  168 My Emily Dickinson (Howe)  153, 156 My Mother Was a Computer: Digital Subjects and Literary Texts (Hayles)  1 Naked City (Weegee)  28 “Narrative Report of Investigations”  104 The Necessary Angel: Essays on Reality and the Imagination (Stevens)  29, 29n. 8 “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” (Hughes)  139–​40 The New American Poetry: 1945–​1960 (Allen) 183 New Art Examiner (Workman)  51n. 6 “The New Colossus” (Lazarus)  110 New Day Rising (Mould)  174 new knowledge culture  6, 197 “New Life Writing” (Durgin)  28 New Orleans, Mon Amour (Codrescu)  129, 130, 131, 137 New Philosophy for New Media (Hansen)  149–​50 The New Sentence (Silliman)  219 Nichols, Travis  192 Notes on Conceptualisms (Place and Fitterman) 167, 168 nude media  3–​4 Nufer, Doug  50n. 5 “Objective Correlative” (Eliot)  234 Of Two Minds: Hypertext Pedagogy and Poetics (Joyce)  45 The Office 53 O’Hara, Frank  6 Olson, Charles  28, 229, 229n. 7 one-​dimensional man  52 Oppen, George  26–​7n. 6 O’Reilly, Bill  34 Orwell, George  125 Osman, Jena  193–​4, 194n. 25, 234 Paik, Naim June  5, 169 Palmer, Michael  145

256 Index “Parable”  202–​3 Parfenie, Maria  121 Park Hong, Cathy  105 Parks and Recreation 53 Paterson (Williams)  28, 153, 160, 160n. 27, 161–​2, 190 Paulson, William  11–​12, 50 Peirce, Carles Sanders  154–​5 Perloff, Marjorie  19, 19n. 12, 36–​7, 43, 46, 48, 49–​50, 52n. 7, 53–​4, 55, 56–​7, 58, 63, 64, 66, 67, 68–​9, 187 personal poetry  27, 35 Peterson, Tim  167n. 3 Phaedrus (Plato)  7 Phillips, J. J.  123 Picabia, Francis  113 “Picasso” (Stein)  168 “A Picturesque Story About The Border Between Two Cities” (Spahr and Buuck)  219, 222, 223, 224–​5, 232 Pierce-​Arrow (Howe)  163 Pinsky, Robert  45 Place, Vanessa  167, 168, 168n. 5 Plan 9 From Outer Space (Ed Wood)  81 Plato 7 Poems in Their Place: The Intertextuality and Order of Poetic Collections, (Fraistat) 3 poetic effect  107 poetics@ (Kuszai)  184, 184–​5n. 16, 219 The Poetics of Information Overload: From Gertrude Stein to Conceptual Writing (Stephens)  12–​13 Poetics of Relation (Glissant)  209 Poetry: An Introduction (Meyer)  108n. 4 Poetry and Pedagogy: The Challenge of the Contemporary 221 “Poetry in a Time of Crisis” (Spahr)  219, 236–​7, 237n. 12 Poets and Writers Magazine 223 political poetry  27, 35 political unconscious  86, 88, 224 Politics and the Novel (Howe)  125 posthuman 74n. 7 The Postmodern Dada Guide: Tzara & Lenin Play Chess (Codrescu)  116 Pound, Scott  1, 2, 11, 12, 13, 50, 63 Praitis, Irena  190–​1, 190n. 22

Precarious Life (Butler)  167 Pressman, Jessica  11n. 9 pressure of reality  29n. 8 “Projective Verse” (Olson)  229n. 7 “A Prophecy or a Plea” (Riding)  10 “Psychosocial Disability and Post-​Ableist Poetics: The ‘Case’ of Hannah Weiner’s Clairvoyant Journals” (Durgin) 29n. 9, 201 pure conceptualism  168 Rain Taxi 50n. 5 Rankine, Claudia  183 “Reading and Rumor: The Problem with Kenneth Goldsmith” (Droitcour)  104 The Red Bird (McSweeney)  192 Remarkable Modernisms: Contemporary American Authors on Modern Art (Morris) 94 “The Revolution Will Not be Televised” (Herron) 143 Reznikoff, Charles  34 “Richard Feynman, the Challenger Disaster, and Software Engineering” (Duarte) 40 Riding, Laura  10, 84 “Roll On, Big River!” (Codrescu)  132 Rosenthal, Barbara  25, 26n. 5, 31, 31n. 10, 32n. 11, 37 Roth, Philip  123, 142 The Route (Hofer and Durgin)  5, 6, 16–​17n. 11, 18, 23, 24, 25, 74, 122, 133, 197–​217 Rubinstein, Raphael  59n. 10 Rukeyser, Muriel  231 Sampson, Fiona  135 “Schema” (Graham)  72 Schulberg, Budd  65 Schultz, Susan  73n. 5 Schwarz, Daniel R.  50–​1 Schwitters, Kurt  113 screen memory  11n. 11, 17 “Se Habla Dreams” (Codrescu)  130 “The Second Coming” (Yeats)  141 See A Little Light: The Trail of Rage and Melody (Mould)  169–​76 “Self-​Described and Self-​Defined” (Kosuth) 72

Index 257 Serra, Richard  204 Seven American Deaths and Disasters (Goldsmith)  4n. 3, 6, 8, 10, 12, 24, 39, 46, 49, 69, 71–​101, 108 Sexton, Ann  139, 160 Shillingsburg, Peter  7 “The Side Effect” (Spahr and Buuck)  231–​2, 235, 236 The Sighted Singer (Grossman)  6 Silem, Mohammad K.  24 Silliman, Ron  73n. 5, 167, 184, 184n. 16, 199, 219, 221 Simeunovic, Bojana  134n. 13 Simon, Paul  173 Slotkin, Richard  89 So Recently Rent A World (Codrescu)  127, 139, 144 social media  6, 16, 54, 90, 103–​4, 105, 165, 171, 193 social poetics  26–​7 Soliloquy (Goldsmith)  2, 4, 12, 14, 45–​69, 71, 75–​6, 169, 178, 188, 190, 192, 193 Song of Myself (Whitman)  177 Souls of Labadie Tract (Howe)  151, 163 Spahr, Juliana  5, 10, 15, 18, 105, 219–​20, 220n. 1, 221, 222–​7, 227n. 5, 228, 229, 230, 232, 234, 236–​7, 237n. 12 Spieker, Sven  113, 114, 114n. 1 The Spirit of Terrorism and Other Essays (Baudrillard) 78 Spontaneous Particulars (Howe)  9,  145–​63 Spring and All (Williams)  206 Stanzas for Iris Lezak (Mac Low)  77 Stefans, Brian Kim  75 Stein, Gertrude  26–​7n. 6, 145, 168, 176, 206, 228 Steinhauer, Jillian  104–​5 Stephens, Paul  6, 7n. 7, 12–​13, 23–​4n. 2 Stevens, Wallace  29, 29n. 8, 161 Stewart, Jon  33–​4 Still Life In Real Time: Theory After Television (Dienst)  143 Subculture: The Meaning of Style (Hebdige)  169–​70 “Suspension of Belief: Some Thoughts on Translation as Subversive Speech” (Hofer) 205 Sweeney, Douglas A.  150

Symmetry (Moriarity)  198n. 2 synaesthetic poetics  22, 26, 37, 163, 198, 198n. 3, 200n. 5, 202n. 7, 208, 210, 214, 217 tableaux vivant  140–​1, 140n. 17, 142, 143 Tagore, Rabindranath  77 Tapper, Gordon  71–​2 The Tennis Court Oath (Ashbery)  17 Testimony (Reznikoff)  34 Thacker, Eugene  123n. 8 That This (Howe)  146n. 5, 147, 148, 149, 155n. 20, 162, 163 “Theses on the Philosophy of History” (Benjamin) 128, 149 “Thing Theory” (Brown)  9, 19, 25 This Connection of Everyone With Lungs (Spahr) 227 “This Living Hand” (Keats)  110 The Ticket That Exploded (Burroughs)  233, 233n. 10 The Times  3–​4 A Tonalism (Moriarity)  18, 197–​217 tone jam  16, 73 “Tradition and the Individual Talent” (Eliot)  15, 15n. 10 Traffic (Goldsmith)  56–​7 traumatic writing  33 Trout Fishing in America (Brautigan)  123 TriQuarterly 152n. 14 “Twentieth Century Poetry of Witness” (Forché) 26 Tzara, Tristan  115 unarchive  8, 10, 114, 129, 130, 139n. 16, 144 uncreative writing  17, 69, 71, 84, 108 Uncreative Writing: Managing Language in the Digital Age (Goldsmith)  3, 24, 47, 49, 71, 72n. 2, 187 unoriginal genius  187 Unoriginal Genius (Perloff)  56–​7, 69 “Un-​Visual and Conceptual” (Drucker) 72n. 4 ur-​texts  98, 120, 122, 124, 152 Wagner, Linda  34, 34n. 14 “Wake Up and Smile!” (McKay )  87–​8 Waldman, Anne  105

258 Index Warhol, Andy  14, 15, 16, 45–​8, 48–​9n. 3, 48n. 2, 52, 53, 54, 58, 77, 79, 94–​5, 169 Warner, Marta  22 “The Waste Land” (Eliot)  229 Watten, Barrett  10–​11, 18, 84 Weekend (Godard)  56 Weeks (Weiner)  10, 12, 18, 21–​4 4, 78, 234 Weiner, Hannah  5, 7, 10, 12, 15, 18, 19, 21–​4 4, 78, 198, 200, 229n. 7, 234 Weiner, Lawrence  72 Werner, Marta  25, 25n. 3 Wershler, Darren  76, 77n. 13 West, Andrew  95–​7 What Makes Sammy Run? (Schulberg)  65 “What We Talk About When We Talk About Poetry”  231 White, Hayden  154 White, Rebekah  152 Whitman, Walt  98, 126, 132, 139, 166, 177, 178, 220 Why Read? (Edmundson)  74–​5n. 9 “Wichita Vortex Sutra” (Ginsberg)  228 The Wide Road (Harryman and Hejinian)  201, 207–​8

“William Butler Yeats: ‘Easter 1916’” (Mlinko) 75n. 10 Williams, William Carlos  26–​7n. 6, 28, 58, 145, 147, 150–​1, 152, 153, 153n. 15, 154, 160–​2, 161n. 28, 163, 183, 190, 191, 206, 228 Wittgenstein’s Ladder: Poetic Language and the Strangeness of the Ordinary (Perloff) 36, 37 Words to be Looked At: Language in 1960s Art (Kotz)  48 Workman, Michael  51n. 6 Wright, James  194 The Writing of the Disaster (Blanchot)  10 Wylie, Doug  109n. 7, 110 Yau, John  183 Yeats, William Butler  7, 141 Young, Geoffrey  55n. 9 Young, Robert  230n. 8 “Young Goodman Brown” (Hawthorne) 158 Zen Arcade 174, 175 Zukofsky, Louis  231