Thursday, November 18, 2010

Dusie, Gardner, & The Altered Book Post I Altered and Posted

Collaborative altered book, photos courtesy of Curtis Richardson. For more photos, click HERE.

altered book pg, from Occultations

Susana Gardner's Dusie Press was just featured in Poets & Writers as one of a handful of innovative presses--"Indie Innovators." Susana designed the cover of my new book Occultations, along with helping out quite a bit with the internal design of the thing (as noted by Kevin Killian in his review of the book at Third Factory's Attention Span, "a major headache" for designers, Mills book artist Kate Robinson the principle designer on the internals & visual elements with me). Glad to see Gardner's getting the attention she deserves for several years worth of designing, editing, and curating Dusie Kollectiv. So many fantastic chapbooks over the years, most of them available for free as pdfs online as well. Here's a short writeup regarding her work in relation to the alter(ed) book and the digital art-i-fact. Wrote this before Gardner helped with Occultations, so I suppose several months ago now. So I guess this is the expanded, updated version of that now famous post. I post this as well because now again in my current class (poetry, poetics & radical pedagogies), students have broken into groups of three and are now offering/teaching their own text arts courses, one of them centering on creating a collaborative altered book. Lucky me I got to sit in on that class yesterday. Photos of the insurrection, facilitated by Curtis Richardson, Norma Alicia Pino, and Laurel Smith, are above. Photos taken by Curtis. The insurrection also involved a taking up a collection of dictionaries for Books to Prisoners. And my older post, now updated says something like.....

After Linh Dinh went to great lengths, for his journal The Lower Half, formatting a long excerpt of my altered book, Living Rooms, a section of poems originally part of my book Occultations (and now stand-alone, i.e., dross, tho some of it ended up as the section book alter(ed)), I've been thinking about the altered book as - beyond an artist book - a performance of text, hence the performativity of reading made tangible/concrete. That the work, in this particular case, is constructed (in part) via statistical software I've been tweaking, questions emerge, not necessarily fully formed. The altered book in one sense is a killing off of that which, often enough, one either dislikes in its originally published state or loves beyond comprehension--for why otherwise alter that which one is inclined to attach "ironically (or otherwise) bad, i.e., disposable" (reason 1) , "usefully outmoded," where "useful" here means "for appropriation, " (reason 2) or "aura-laden, ripe for ritualistic and/or intertextual appropriation" (reason 3) in the first place? Such murderous retrofitting is also admittedly an erotic endeavor--this sort of impulse (or compulsion?) a poesis of collision, performed violence. Nonetheless - to take the notion of "killing off" here and situated within an erotics/and or ritualization of the book, the act seems like so much sacrifice (on the one hand) and attempted resurrection (hope for rebirth) on the other. Of course, I'm a Jew, and a secular one at that, so I'd caution the earlier sentence with this one: what non-Judeo-Christian paradigms might we think of in relation to reading practices ostensibly ritualized? Rendered visible thru (visual) art practices as ritual? Reason I hang my hat on this line of inquiry is that much has been written in regard to the artist book's status viz. commodity aesthetics, as "hybrid work" (the term so problematic in my estimation), and so viz. bricolage, collage, Duchampian & etc.

What interested me this time, in this writing--after doing a few book alterations already--was that the added use of machine meant that I turned a kind of otherness into otherness. Hell, after I wrote the program, and until I began to sculpt the thing, I simply pressed a button. Only after that did I shape and reshape the results, turning sentence into line, line into particular line, etc. And so viz. performative poetics on which I've written a great deal, the term "performance" was, through this process, complicated. Reading to self is a kind of making or doing, and a kind of performance, I'd argue, albeit of a not-so-elaborate or public sort. What kind of performance is the alteration process absent (or missing for much of the time) its author? It isn't, as in the case of much of the performative poetics on which I've written in the past, seeking the liminality between "poem" and "poem event," this anxiety the poem has of its status on the page, its book as no-longer-enoughness - or, the moment the poem becomes aware of its own discomfort as potentially obsolescent tekne. No, here is a reaching for ritual, almost a devolution back into the practices of the sacred (or sacrilegious). Or, since I am a Jew: its regression back into the room of rooms, The Book, as Jabes might have had it, the Talmudic practice of continual self-reimagining within the space it is (was) afforded.

Needs be more thought here, tho in reading and performing (now a very public version of above) Gaburo's Maledetto, doing so for the Radical Philosophy Conference last week, in response to a comment regarding Gaburo's deconstruction of commodity aesthetics I quoted LW: "I destroy, I destroy, I destroy." Which, in itself, is a religiously-inflected frustration with the impulse to masturbate, sometimes quite literally. And when the machine began to pray....

Anyway, speaking as one who likes to work with physical objects (the book in the hand, say) but has been niched as a digital composer & editor: It's certainly very difficult, if not impossible, to apprehend the altered book from the vantage point of the digital snapshot. Not to say that Drucker's repository, for instance, is not an incredible resource, doesn't provide an approximating kind of information, as well as a prompt toseek out. But artist books, as most altered books are, rely on their 3D, sometimes tactile, materiality -- that is often the necessary condition for a work's being an altered book as opposed to, say, a used and marked up book. Many examples of this exist in the world (Jenny Holzer, eg) - see Drucker's repository and seek out - but one clear example that is in my head right now, that of the necessary condition of a fuller notion of materiality than the e-book, its un-reproducibility online, is this: last year a student in my class (ours - when I teach book arts I teach this course with fantastic book artist Steven Hendricks) "scented" her book object, a handful of altered pages from Beckett's Trilogy. She did several other interesting things with the pages, as did the other students, but I pick this out out for obvious reasons: the altered book, altered by the scent of a particular flower, cannot be smelled differently online. Not yet, anyway.

Sometimes exceptions breed whole new sub-categories (noting that categories are always negotiable despite what the advertisers and snake oil salespeople may say - let's just call them "phenomena"). One phenomenon I've become increasingly interested in since delving more deeply into online work, or work that has been scanned for various purposes (kari edwards' Iduna, how one can manipulate the work differently online than in hand comes to mind) is that of the digitally altered book artifact - a form of altering via scanning, typographical erasure, warping, hyperlinking, among other things, that allows for the appearance of materiality. Or, more precisely: the digitally altered text that gives the appearance of depth. Since, in reality, the digital artifact is also sheer materiality, such that this clarification highlights the obvious fact that change in medium or materials is a change in the work, with the underlying question (or challenge) being: of what traces of the former can be retained or exploited in the later, and why may the exploitation of the trace be interesting? Susana Gardner's ruby large enow from her Dusie Press, a book that may come out as part of a full-length work later on, is the one of the best examples I've seen lately of the altered book, digitally scanned, that retains depth of field, the sensation of perforation, shadow, erasure by brute force or excision, etc., that the work-in-hand has -- an aura, of a sort. And this appearance is not simply mimetic -- if that were so, it'd be something like "an attempted copy" or akin to the "reproduction" in painting. The work's apparent tactile elements cause a direct tension with its lacks - precisely these elements. It also causes the tension between its lacks and its typographical content -- the characters, typeface, & line structure. We have what I'd call "a performance of the text" in a double sense -- the initial alteration of EBB (the work from which ruby large enow emerges) and its digital iteration of itself. Gardner, it seems, is aware of these tensions, as the poetry anti-communicates (in Herbert Brun's sense of the term) its dissolution out of surgical maneuvering and scanning...



Performed Maledetto as one of the two performances curated by the Radical Philosophy Conference, this year in Eugene OR. In many respects I had a wonderful time. Many thanks to the organizers of the conference, the workers who accommodated hoards of us making messes throughout the campus. First, tho I myself was off--flubbing several lines--the performance on the whole was pretty hot, and the discussion period after was both generative and giving. Social ecologist (among many things) Ignacio Valero (Art Institute, SF) was one of several participants who both read the piece beautifully, hitting on the politics of the Gaburo's work, its effects on an audience, its performed violences and performed complicity, and gave us ideas for interpreting the work anew. He noted, as did others in a less direct way, that he wanted to throw something at me, specifically his water bottle, during the performance. Which is superb, because that is precisely what Speaker A is meant to elicit--drawing you in only to annoy and anger you after about the first 5 minutes of his hyperbolic droning. Others at the conference--whose names I didn't catch, unfortunately--also had great insight into the work. One, for example, brought up the work's musicality (as language becomes less sense and more sound via tempo, muffling, and other conventions); another brought riffed on how Maledetto, within an academic setting (the lecture hall within the student union building at U Oregon) both fought against and went with the ambient sounds: during the silences the sounds of footsteps outside, the sounds of laughter out the window in the distance, etc. That observation wasn't something I particularly considered, at least not as something Gaburo was interested in exploring, and yet now that I think of it in relation to Gaburo's interest in social ecology, the riff could easily have been a jumping off point for another piece were Gaburo himself one of the folks there.

Any case, very happy that our hosts were so gracious, that the panelists were so interesting and (as we kept commenting over and again during the weekend) committed to real world problem solving (not very common among philosophers in the west). Hence, I'd recommend anyone go to the conference if it comes to an area near you--for info on that head to their website, link in a post below. My only regret is having missed so much of the weekend: with teaching, waking up late, and general social anxiety (something I'm fighting at moment, as friends who I usually correspond with will know), I barely got to experience the whole shebang. Next time.

Oh, and going on the road with others (gigging, as opposed to going on a poetry reading tour), this has been a treat. And stealing away in a crappy motel 4 to a room, it reminds me of grad school and before, a time when I was doing a lot of collaborative performing arts. And, too, being in "a band, man," in high school. Very punk. Still got bedhead and a bad attitude. Off to write a song about it...

Last, in hunting for performance stills, I hit on artist/instrument-maker Warren Burt's blog--which, in my few minutes of looking around, I think has some pretty thrilling photos and other things compositional/musicological, related to the cross-disciplinary work happening at UCSD in the late 60s-early 70s. A history many of you know of, some even a part of. If not, tho, and if interested in further background (background not from me, considerably removed), from Burt's blog:

...UCSD was a very collegial place. An example of the interactive attitude that pervaded the place in the early 70s is shown by this 1972 picture of John Silber, Kenneth Gaburo and Pauline Oliveros (back to camera) lunching together at the Matthews Campus snack bar, just across from the Music Department offices.

John Silber, Kenneth Gaburo, Pauline Oliveros - UCSD, 1972

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