I look to theory only when I realize that somebody has dedicated their entire life to a question I have only fleetingly considered (a work in progress)

KENNETH GOLDSMITH

Over the past ten years, my practice today has boiled down to simply retyping existing texts. I've thought about my practice in relation to Borges's Pierre Menard, but even Menard was more original than I am: he, independent of any knowledge of Don Quixote, reinvented Cervantes' masterpiece word for word. By contrast, I don't invent anything. I just keep rewriting the same book. I sympathize with the protagonist of a cartoon claiming to have transferred x amount of megabytes, physically exhausted after a day of downloading. The simple act of moving information from one place to another today constitutes a significant cultural act in and of itself. I think it's fair to say that most of us spend hours each day shifting content into different containers. Some of us call this writing.

I used to be an artist; then I became a poet; then a writer. Now when asked, I simply refer to myself as a word processor.

Writing should be as effortless as washing the dishes; and as interesting.

I've always wondered about the differences between the art world and the writing world. The way I see it, in the writing world, there are two streams: the mainstream and the avant-garde. Yet, in the art world, the avant-garde is mainstream. If someone, for example, like Matthew Barney was enacting a similarly edgy practice in the writing world, he would be considered avant-garde: he'd have street-cred and respect, but not much else. Likewise, if someone like former Poet Laureate Billy Collins were functioning in the art world, he'd be ignored as a backward-looking academic hack.

After giving a reading in Los Angeles, another reader on the bill came up to me and exclaimed, "You didn't write a word you spoke tonight!"

After 100 years, non-narrative seems more radical than ever.

After a while, the gallery shows became impossible. I was including too much language and people walking into the gallery were overwhelmed. We’re trained to read so conventionally, that gallery visitors felt that they had to read every single word. Most walked in, saw the task that lay before them and walked right out. My idea, however, was less conventional. I was more interested in the idea of skimming as a way to get our information. I mean, how many people read the daily newspaper from front to back, in the correct order, not missing a word? Very few. However, we still manage to get the news we need.

After transcribing Soliloquy I’ve never heard language in quite the same way. Sometimes, when someone is speaking to me, I’ll stop understanding what they’re saying and instead begin to hear the formal qualities of their speech--utterances, stumbling, divergent thoughts, and sounds.

At first the Internet was entirely text-based. I began using the Internet in 1993, with the Lynx browser. I was overwhelmed by the amount of language available. At the time, I was writing "No. 111" and had been for a year prior to getting on the web. As soon as I discovered the Internet, my book began to write itself. Typing was no longer necessary, just copying and pasting. Instead of editing, we now massage our texts.

He had arranged his days so that they were a harmonious succession of little joys, and the absence of the least of these joys threatened the whole edifice. A cup of coffee and a slice of bread and butter, a dish of bright-green peas, reading the paper beside the fire, a maidservant standing on a pair of steps and washing a window, a thousand quiet pleasures which were waiting for him at every turning of life, which he had forseen and looked forward to, were as necessary as the air he breathed, and it was thanks to them that he was incapable of feeling any real suffering.

--Georges Simenon, Pedigree / from Michel de Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life

At one point, I envisioned making all the invisible language in the air around us material. At any given moment, there’s language flying all around us that we are not aware of: think of radio waves and cellular phone connections, TV signals, etc..

At the time I was editing my book, I was doing overnights at the radio station. The middle of the night is a magical time rife with permission. I began turning on the mic and speaking every move I made as I edited. This was done over the music I was playing. Sometimes, this would continue for four hours.

"But with regard to my cinema, it seems to me that the most appropriate workd for it is phenomenologoical; it is always a sequence of events, of tiny actions described in a precise way. And what interests me precisely is this relationship with the immediate glance, the way one looks at those tiny actions that are going on. It is also a relationship with strangeness. Everything is strange to me; everything that does not surface is strange. It is a strangeness linked to a knowledge, linked to something that you have always seen, which is always around you. This is what produces a certain meaning." Chantal Ackerman quoted in de Certeau The Practice of Everyday Life, Volume 2: Living & Cooking (Minnesota, 1998), p. 155

Back when I was exclusively showing in galleries, I got a phone call from a gallery in rural Massachusetts asking me to participate in a group show. I was so steeped in New York myopia that I didn’t return the call. When the gallery called again a few days later, Cheryl said "You should really return phone calls. How would you like it if someone didn’t return your calls?" So I did and the gallery turned out to be run by Geoffrey Young, who as well as running a gallery also runs one of the most important experimental presses in the US called The Figures. That summer, we were vacationing in the country and got to know Geoff very well. It was through Geoff that I was introduced to the radical work of the Language Poets, forever changing the course and context of my own work. Ironically, returning that phone call led me out of the gallery world entirely.

Channel surfing, however is less interesting. Image collage is another matter altogether.

Dick Higgins told me that he never buys books anymore. Instead, he gets online before going to bed, downloads articles, and prints them out for bedside reading.

Each April Fool’s day, there is a classic Internet hoax. We receive email informing us that the entire Internet to that point in time has been indexed and collected for purchase on two high-density CDs.

"Coomaraswamy quotes the great poet Rabindranath Tgagore in describing Indian musicians: "Our master singers never take the least trouble to make their voice and manner attractive… Those of the audience whose senses have to be satisfied as well are held to be beneath the notice of any self-respecting artist [while] those of the audience who are appreciative are content to perfect the song in their own mind by the force of their own feeling." Douglas Kahn, Noise Water Meat (MIT, 1999), p. 173

For four years, I collected sounds. They were words, phrases, and sentences ending in the sounds centered around the letter "R" "ah, air, ear, uh, ar, aas, etc." I always carried a hand-held tape recorder and a pocket-sized notebook lest language should pass my way that ended in one of these sounds.

I am a text-based artist, and like most Americans, I speak only one language. When asked to participate in Construction In Process in Lodz, I figured that the last thing Poland (or the rest of the world) needed was more imported American culture--in English, no less (remember the Clash’s 'I’m So Bored With The USA’?). Hence, I decided to work solely in Polish, a language that I have neither spoken nor written. My method of writing allows me to "sight" language by stringing together words according to their audio and/or phonetic combinations. Understanding can be achieved, perhaps, on a different level--one of a "willful ignorance."

I set up in a sunny corner of the museum with my portable computer and a portable printer. I decided that I would work with the sound "ah"; any word or sentence ending in the sound of "ah" would become part of my piece. I set to work with Polish newspapers, magazines, and pornography. After combing these sources for a morning, some of the students that were assisting the other artists became curious and asked what I was doing. I explained my project and invited them to participate if they pleased. I put out a large stack of paper and pens. Before I knew it, they were at work, dropping off phrases and words as they came to mind in the course of their day.

The work proceeded over three days. The first day, the students wrote down all sorts of "dirty" and "sophomoric" sentences and words. I never asked what they meant--I only entered them into my computer as they were given to me. Occasionally someone would tell me what they had written and it was in this way that I gained insight into the nature of the content. The second day, their outpourings shifted toward the political. "I hate the Pope", "Suchocka is the last virgin in Poland" and commentary about Solidarity and the Communists were entered into the work. By the third and last day, their outpourings became extremely personal. Phrases such as "I hate my father" or secret notes were passed to their friends through the piece.

Finally, with the assistance of the students, I put the words and phrases into an alphabetic and syllabic order with the entries going from one syllable A to Z, then a semi-colon, then two syllables A to Z, then a semi-colon, then three syllables A to Z, etc., all the way up to 40 of 50 syllables. I then pumped the text out of my portable printer and tiled together a huge wall-text consisting of eight columns of words 12’ high, covering a wall 15’ long.

The result was that I had "written" a 1500 word work in a language I did not understand--not a word of it. But the Poles did. And they really felt like it was their own. Thus, it was a collaboration in the truest sense, with mutual ownership--or should I say, no ownership at all.

"Antiphanes said humorously that in a certain city words congealed with the cold the moment they were spoken, and later, as they thawed out, people heard in the summer what they had said to one another in the winter; it was the same way, he asserted, with what was said by Plato to me still in their youth; not long afterwards, if ever did most of them come to perceive the meaning, when they had become old men." Kahn, p. 204

I began to obsess on the amount of language being produced by individuals. What would happen if all the language were somehow materialized? I thought of the largest snowstorm we ever had in NYC a few years ago. The sanitation department would come around with a machine that transferred all the snow into dumptrucks. The dumptrucks would then drive to the river and dump the snow in the water. If every word spoken daily in New York City were somehow to materialize as a snowflake, each day there would be a blizzard. Would the dumptrucks dump our language in the river? Perhaps not. In the same way that snow melts when put in water, they would have to find a way to liquidate our language. Perhaps the materialized language would be taken to digital encoding centers, where it would be loaded onto high density CDs and stored as a record of our thought.

I dedicated myself to working four years exclusively on one project--I did nothing else. Instead of becoming bored with the project, I became ever more fascinated by it. As a matter of fact, I was miserable for months after it ended.

I gave a reading at University of Tennessee in Knoxville to a group of students. The work was extremely unconventional and yet after the reading was over, one of the students came up to me and asked me where I went to school to study writing.

"The most famous version of this tale can be found in the 'frozen sounds’ episode of François Rabelais’s Gargantua and Pantagruel (1532), which retains the humor and sheds the morality. Out at sea with little in sight, a strange assortment of sounds are heard. Pantagruel suggests to his shipmates that the sounds might be precipitants from an equilateral traingle formed by the contiguity of several worlds, the center of which holds nothing less than the truth, along with the "words, ideas, copies, and images of all things past, and to come." After this and other explanations prove unsatisfactory, the skipper intervenes to put an end to speculation. Their location skirts the Frozen sea, the site of a bloody battle during the winter between the Arimaspians and the Nephelibates. Such battle sounds would include the "words and cries of men and women, the hacking, slashing, and hewing of battle-axes, the shocking, knocking, and jolting of armours and harnesses, the neighing of horses, and all other martial din and noise.’ It was so cold that the sounds froze and fell to the ground and never reached the ears of the combitants; perhaps the whole battle was silent. Even though sounds in general might lack the humidity of the breath, it was as though they took the form of speech and speech became but a vaporizer of thought. Now that it was springtime, all these sounds long inaudible were being released and creating a racket, although not in their original temporal sequences of action.

"Pantagruel found irrefutable evidence strewn over the ground of the island. These still-frozen sounds seemed 'like your rough sugar plums, of many colours, like thoses used in heraldry." Friar John held what he thought was a big word in his hands. As it melted like snow, it gave off the sound of an uncut chestnut exploding in a fire; this was interpreted as the 'report of a field piece.’ Handfuls of the mulitcolored plums, some not pleasant to the eye, were thrown onto the deck of the ship.

When they had been all melted together, we heard a strange noise, hin, hin, hin, hin his, tick, tock, tasck, brededin, brededack, frr, frr, frr, bou, bou, bou bou, bou, track, track, trr, trr, trr, trrr, trrrrrr; on, on, on, on, on, on, ououououon, gog, magog, and I do not know what other barbarous words; which, the pilot said, were the noise made by the charging squadrons, the shock and neighing of horses.

When the idea is put forth that some of the frozen sounds be preserved for later by packing them in oil and straw, Pantagruel objects, ' 'tis a folly to hoard up what we are never like to want, or have always at hand.’ Thus, by comparison, Rabelais himself was more attached to stored words than the pantagruelists, for he alludes to many of htem in the short span of this story including Plutarch’s remarks above on Antiphanes and Plat and Castiglione’s sorty of the frozen words in The Book of the Courtier (1528), in which took place more under the auspices of commerce. Indeed, it was in the printed book that one could find an affinity for recording and the perpetuity of voices. With printing still in its infance and with orature remaining strong, the black teeth, as they were called at the time, of the blocky typographical characters through which voices spoke and were rfecorded gave words a more certiain objecthood and permanence." Kahn, p. 205-206

I wanted to write a book that I would never be able to know. The approach I took was that of quantity. I’d collect so many words that each time I’d open my book, I’d be surprised by something that I had forgotten was there. What constitutes a big book? I looked on my bookshelf for clues. I found that any dictionary worth its salt was at least 600 pages so with that in mind, I decided that I would write a 600 page book. I did. And in the end, the project was a failure. I got to know every word so well over the four years that it took to write it that I am bored by the book. I can’t open a page and be surprised. Perhaps quantity was the wrong approach.

"During the fourteenth century both Ovid and Virgil's versions of Rumour are evident within Geoffrey Chaucer's The House of Fame. Here Fame takes on the broad functions of both fame and rumor, has the grotesque appearance described by Virgil, dwells high above everything amid fantastic architecture, and processes and adjudicates speech as she does in Ovid. Also, as in Ovid, "every voice and word reaches its listening ears," as well as all sounds, yet not simply through Fame's uncanny perceptual powers or through the ascent of pneuma or spiritus to a higher judgement, but through vibrations in the air. Since antiquity, one of the favored means for elaborating a vibrational acoustics was through correlating the action of ripples on the surface of water with sound through the air. One of the earliest recorded appeals to water for understanding was made by the Stoic philosopher Chrysippus (ca. 280-207 B.C.): "Hearing occurs when the air between that which sounds and that which hears is struck, thus undulating spherically and falling upon the ears, as the water in a reservoir undulates in circles from a stone thrown into it." The architect Marcus Vitruvius Pollio (last century B. C.) used the same analogy to explain how voices are dispersed and rise among audiences sitting on the stepped rows of theaters: 'While in the case of water the circles move horizontally on a plane surface, the voice not only proceeds horizontally, but also ascends vertically by regular stages." With the designs inherited from the ancient architects, who worked in conjunction with mathematicians and musicians, every member of the audience would be privy to voices of "greater clearness and sweetness."

Chaucer follows the ascending voices of Vitruvius, yet reverses the order of enunciation, such that the multitudes (as represented by the audience) who speak at once and the single voice (on stage) who hears everything with great clearness. Similarly, Chaucer uses the figure of ripples on the surface of the water but significantly appeals to the rings advancing beneath the surface--in other words, to the unseen vibrations--to describe how utterances rise from their terrestrial locations to the House of Fame." The descent of concentric rings is inverted when it comes to actual sounds In the air:

As I have proved of the water, that every circle causes a second, even so is it with air, my dear brother; each circle passes into another greater and greater, and hears up speech or voice or noise, word or sound, through constant increase, till it comes to the House of Fame.

Now I have told ... how speech or sound by its very nature is inclined to draw upward; this I have well proved, as you can perceive; and that the abode to which each thing is inclined has in truth its particular location. Then it is right plain that the natural abode of every speech and sound, fair or foul, has its natural position in the firmament.... Then this is the conclusion: every speech of every wight, as I began first to tell you, moves tip on high to pass to Fame's place, by its very nature. `

Speech leaves its speakers behind and travels to the House of Fame, where no beings of real corporeality reside. Instead, the speech collecting there "becomes like the same wight who spake those words on earth, and in the selfsame garb; and has so the very likeness of him who spake the words that you would trow it were the same body, man or woman, he or she." Then the voices in different groups, categorically defined in their phantom bodies, come forth within a great hall to make appeals to Fame for a favorable Judgment on the fate of their terrestrial repute. She was omnipotent, all seeing, all hearing, all saying: her feet touched the earth, her head reached the glow of the planets, she had as many eyes as a bird has feathers, and "she also had as many projecting ears and tongues as there be hairs on beasts."" Her decision could result in a blast blown by Aeolus from one of two clarions, Slander or Laud:

[Slander] went through every land as swift as ball from gun when fire is touched to the powder. And such a smoke came out of the end of his foul trumpet, black, blue, swarthy red, greenish, as comes all on high from the chimney, where men melt lead. And one thing more I saw we] I, that the farther it went the greater it waxed, as a river from its source; and it stank as the pit of hell. Alas, thus guiltless was their shame sounded on every tongue!"'

At another time the black clarion Slander was blown "as loud as winds bellow in hell, and eke in truth the sound was so full of mocks as ever apes were of grimaces. And that went around all the world, so that every wight began to shout at them and to laugh as a madman, such sorry visages men found in their hoods!" Laud was a trumpet of gold that blew in the four directions as loud as thunder, and its breath "smelled as if men placed a potful of balm amid a basket full of roses."" Reputation could make a person's life a heaven or hell on earth and could, moreover, continue long after one's death to constitute an afterlife of eternal bliss or misery within the ether of terrestrial voices. Fame's determination was not divine but was more immediately felt. Thus, the original acoustical ascent of the rising voices did not correlate with the ascent of souls for judgment. But what was the inhalation that enabled the exhalation of Aeolus in a circulation of voices remaining tied to terrestrial life if not Mother Earth, the birthplace of Rumour as described by Virgil?

As the protagonist approached another castle, it emitted a continuous tumult, with sounds blasting forth through its walls, which were made of twigs and full of thousands of windows and holes. The blasts themselves set the twigs whirring and the entire construction squeaking and creaking and whirling around at great speed. And there was no quiet inside:

All the corners of the house are full of whisperings and pratings of war, of peace, marriages, rest, labor, journeyings, abidings, of death, life, love, hate, accord, enmity, of praise, learning, of gains, of health, sickness, of buildings, of fair winds, tempests, pestilence of man and beast; of divers changes of estate for men and nations; of trust, fear, jealousy, wit, profit, folly, of plenty, and of great famine, of ruin, of cheap times and dear; of good or ill government, of fire, of divers events.

Whereas the procession approaching Fame in the great hall was orderly, this congregation was huge and roamed about in seemingly random fashion. This was the site not of reputation in general but of the Unruly generation of rumour, for everyone was whispering into someone's ear or speaking aloud or listening to others:

But the most wondrous was this; when one had heard a thing, he came forth to another and straightaway told him the same thing that he had heard ere it was a moment older, but in the telling he made the tidings somewhat greater than ever they had been. And not so soon was he parted from him as the second met a third; and ere he was done, he told him everything; were the tidings true or false, lie would tell them nevertheless, and evermore with greater increase than at first. Thus, every word went from mouth to mouth in all directions, evermore increasing, as fire is wont to kindle and spread from a spark thrown amiss, till a whole City is burned tip.

These words obeyed the acoustic principles of terrestrial sound and rose up and through the leaky building to the outside. If a semblance of truth still survived and tried to escape, it might meet a falsehood at a window too small to let them both pass, thus, they would become fused, and no one listening could ever separate the two. On escape all these Voices Would go to Fame for sorting; she allotted to "each its duration, some to wax and wane quickly"' and then Aeolus blew them back to earth "twenty thousand in a company." Fame was able to complete the task and so embodied tile circulation of voices, by mimicking dialogue with the close proximity of her ears and tongues and sociality with their proliferation. With her perched all of communication, and, in this sense, her power was expressed through her judgment, which could be located with her alone. She was feared for the variation, proliferation, and diffusion of judgments that were difficult to contest." Kahn, pp. 206-209

I was trained as a sculptor. In 1986 I made a book out of wood. After that I spent the next three years creating books out of wood. They were carved and painted. In 1990, I was bored of the book form and bored of sculpture. However, I was fascinated by the words, so I dropped the sculpture and began making text pieces. Soon I became bored of having to materialize language and devoted myself to working exclusively on the computer and writing books.

In 1989 I was in my studio working. Out on the street someone was passing by my window with a boombox. The box seemed to be blaring sheer noise--it sounded like 50s musique concrete. However, as the box drew nearer, I detected the presence of a beat and soon realized that it was a rap song. It was then I realized how far avant garde ideas had penetrated the culture--white noise has now become acceptable if accompanied by a beat.

In art school, I encountered an enormous amount of hostility directed toward theory and reading. One peer told me that he didn’t need to read because he thought through his hands.

"Thus considered, what a strange chaos is this wide atmosphere we breathe! Every atom, impressed with good and with ill, retains at once the motions which philosophers and sages have imparted to it, mixed and combined in ten thousand ways with all that is worthless and base. The air itself is one vast library, on whose pages are for ever written all that man has ever said or woman whispered. There, in their mutable but unerring characers, mixed with the earliest, as well as with the latest sighs of morality, stand for ever recorded, vows unredeemed, promises unfulfilled, perpetuating in the united movements of each particle, the testimony of man’s changeful will." Charles Babbage, Ninth Bridgewater Treatise, 1837, quoted in Kahn, pp. 210-211

In art school, I was scolded by a teacher for drawing outlines instead of filling in the form. Feeling rather depressed, I told a teacher outside the drawing field of my experiences. He looked amused and said, "At this point in time, who’s to say what the rules are and what they’re not?"

In the mid 80s I stumbled across a rhyming dictionary. I’m not sure if you know what a rhyming dictionary is but it’s a book that contains words organized by the last syllable of a word. It’s in some ways the opposite of the standard dictionary which is organized by the first letter of each word. In former times, it was used for poets looking for a good fit or perhaps songwriters hoping for a rhyme to a line. Nowadays, I can’t imagine anyone uses it except for rappers.

Informed ignorance.

John Cage frequently invokes Marshall McLuhan’s idea of "brushing" source material for our work. McLuhan posited that we need do no more than brush two sources together. The once difficult work is no longer necessary.

"I very much wish that this bourgeoisie would add another invention to their invention of radio–one that would make it possible to record for all time everything that can be communicated by radio. Later generations would then have the chance of seeing with amazement how a caste, by making it possible to say what they had to say to the whole world, simultaneously made it possible for the whole world to see that they had nothing to say." Bertolt Brecht, 1927. Quoted in Kahn, p. 221

Language is there for the borrowing.

Lately, it seems like I’m become more interested in the peripheral materials in books--I’m finding the author’s biography, the back jacket copy, the publisher’s list, the acknowledgments, the dedications and the Library of Congress information more interesting that the part that’s supposed to be read.

My entire production is predicated upon distance. I sit in a room by myself and communicate to many people. I write books and they are read by people unknown to me. I do a weekly radio show and I am heard by 10,000 people at any given time, but it’s just me alone in a room. I build websites for a living and communicate with people all over the world, without ever engaging in a conversation with them, just dozens of emails a day. I write weekly music criticism for a New York newspaper with a circulation of 110,000. I sit alone in a room, listening to CDs and write about them.

One summer a few years ago, I read a 600 page book called The Gertrude Stein Reader by Ulla Dydo. It was a life-changing experience, akin to learning how to read all over again. Every time I read Stein, I have to learn to read all over again.

I collected words ending in the sound of "ah, er, ear, uh, ar, air, etc." for several years (the dates in the title). I carried a tape recorder and pencil with me and wherever I'd go I'd listen for these sounds. They occurred in every form of language I encountered. Then I would go home and count every syllable and alphabetize them. This is how the piece was written. Commas do not function as commas normally do, rather they function as separators between passages of a common syllable count. Thus in the later passages, every passage between commas has the same number of syllable as the one preceding it, 125 for instance. It was incredibly crazy. There are no syllable counting programs so I had to do it all by hand, including the 7228 syllable final passage. The book took me a full year to edit--edit meaning in this case counting every syllable in the book three times--as well as checking spelling, etc. It was exhausting but never in the four years of exclusively being involved with 111 did I tire of the process. Rather, it became ever more fascinating. Needless to say, I never wish to count another syllable again, hence my new work, which is equally demanding, but in entirely different ways.

Soliloquy (1996-7) was a piece where I recorded every word I spoke for an entire week, from the moment I woke up until the moment I went to sleep. I then transcribed the language, which took eight weeks, working eight hours a day. No editing was permitted. It made for a 281 page book and could have been left in that form. However, I felt that the ephemeral nature of spoken language needed to be materialized in a more severe way so I printed out the text on 400 sheets of 22" x 30" papers and hung them in a gallery for a month. In this way, the second most quantifiable ephemeral human product, speech (the first being thought) was concretized.

"Gould called this book 'An Oral History,’ sometimes adding 'of Our Time.’ As he described it, the Oral History consisted of talk he had heard and had considered meaningful and had taken down, either verbatim or summarized — everything from a remark overheard in the street to the conversations of a rooful of people lasting for hours–and of essays commenting on this talk. Some talk has an obvious meaning and nothing more, he said, and some, often unbeknownst to the talker, has at least one other meaning and sometimes several other meanings lurking around inside its obvious meaning. He professed to believe that such talk might have great hidden historical significance… He told people he met in Village joints that the Oral History was already millions upon millions of words long and beyond any doubt the lengthiest unpublished literary work in existence but that it was nowhere near finished… 'As soon after my demise as is convenient for all concerned,’ he specified in the will, 'my manuscript books shall be collected from the various and sundry places in which they are stored and put on the scales and weighted, and two-thirds of the by weight shall be given to the Harvard Library and the other third shall be given to the library of the Smithsonian Institution.’ … One evening in June, 1942, for example, he told an acquaintance that at the moment the Oral History was 'approximately nine million two hundred and fifty-five thousand words long, or,’ he added, throwing his head back proudly, 'about a dozen times as long as the Bible.’ Joseph Mitchell, Up in the Old Hotel / Joe Gould’s Secret, pp. 624-625 (Vintage Books, 1993)

Some time around 1987, I became obsessed with simple words. I began tripping out on the oddity of words such as "car, boy, girl" and started viewing them as though I had never heard them before. In this way, commonplace language became extremely unfamiliar to me.

Sometime around my junior year of college, I thought back to that kid in summer camp who could sight read words backwards. I became obsessed with this idea and with great effort, I began to do this constantly.

Source of language is speech. The importance of sound.

Struggle for sense logic and structure.

The computer is limitless. Works can be written for no money. Materializing them cost pennies. Storage is endless and recall automatic. Moving from material to ephemera. The vast information supply on call at our fingertips.

The difference between speech to make a point and speech to make no point at all.

The need to make a point. The need to make no point at all.

The realm of the professional amateur.

The sheer amount of language.

The very small amount of language needed for the human mind to string a narrative.

"Gould puts into the Oral History only things he has seen or heard. At least half of it is made up on conversations taken down verbatim or summarized; hence the title. "What people say is history," Gould says. "What we used to think was history--kings and queens, treaties, inventions, big battles, beheadings, Caesar, Napoleon, Pontius Pilate, Columbus, William Jennings Bryan--is only formal history and largely false. I'll put down the informal history of the shirt-sleeved multitude--what they had to say about their jobs, love affairs, vittles, sprees, scrapes, and sorrows--or I'll perish in the attempt." The Oral History is a great hodgepodge and kitchen midden of hearsay, a repository of jabber, an omnium-gatherum of bushwa, gab, palaver, hogwash, flapdoodle, and malarkey, the fruit, according to Gould's estimate, of more than twenty thousand conversations. In it are the hopelessly incoherent biographies of hundreds of bums, accounts of the wanderings of seamen encountered in South Street barrooms, grisly descriptions of hospital and clinic experiences ("Did you ever have a painful operation or disease?" is one of the first questions that Gould, fountain pen and composition book in hand, asks a person he has just met), summaries of innumerable Union Square and Columbus Circle harangues, testimonies given by converts at Salvation Army street meetings, and the addled opinions of scores of park-bench oracles and gin-mill savants. For a time Gould haunted the all-night greasy spoons in the vicinity of Bellevue Hospital, eavesdropping on tired interns, nurses, orderlies, ambulance drivers, embalming-school students, and morgue workers, and faithfully recording their talk. He scurries up and down Fifth Avenue during parades, feverishly taking notes. Gould writes with great candor, and the percentage of obscenity in the Oral History is high. He has a chapter called "Examples of the So-called Dirty Story of Our Time," to which he makes almost daily additions. In another chapter are many rhymes and observations which he found scribbled on the walls of subway washrooms. He believes that these scribblings are as truly historical as the strategy of General Robert E. Lee. Hundreds of thousands of words are devoted to the drunken behavior and the sexual adventures of various professional Greenwich Villagers in the twenties. There are hundreds of reports of ginny Village parties, including gossip about the guests and faithful reports of their arguments on such subjects as reincarnation, birth control, free love, psychoanalysis, Christian Science, Swedenborgianism, vegetarianism, alcoholism, and different political and art isms. "I have fully covered what might be termed the intellectual underworld of my time," Gould says. There are detailed descriptions of night life in scores of Village drinking and eating places, some of which, such as the Little Quakeress, the Original Julius, the Troubadour Tavern, the Samovar, Hubert's Cafeteria, Sam Swartz's T.N.T., and Eli Greifer's Last Outpost of Bohemia Tea Shoppe, do not exist any longer.

Gould is a night wanderer, and he has put down descriptions of dreadful things he has seen on dark New York streets-descriptions, for example, of the herds of big gray rats that come out in the hours before dawn in some neighborhoods of the lower East Side and Harlem and unconcernedly walk the sidewalks. "I sometimes believe that these rats are not rats at all," he says, "but the damned and aching souls of tenement landlords." A great deal of the Oral History is in diary form. Gould is afflicted with total recall, and now and then he picks out a period of time in the recent past--it might be a day, a week, or a month-and painstakingly writes down everything of any consequence that he did during this period. Sometimes he writes a chapter in which he monotonously and hideously curses some person or institution. Here and there are rambling essays on such subjects as the flophouse flea, spaghetti, the zipper as a sign of the decay of civilization, false teeth, insanity, the jury system, remorse, cafeteria cooking, and the emasculating effect of the typewriter on literature." Joseph Mitchell, Up in the Old Hotel / McSorley’s Wonderful Saloon / "Professor Seagull", pp. 57-59 (Vintage Books, 1993)

 

The web is like the NYC Public Library where you can borrow any book without having to return it. The only difference is it’s like having ten thousand NY Public Libraries from which to borrow books.

Theater and movies after Soliloquy are inevitably disappointing. I now hear the studied and stilted way that the actors speak. It’s always too clean. Thought and speech patterns are too directional. It’s a much more streamlined and less complex than everyday speech. It gets boring quickly.

Andy Warhol on A: "Billy worked with Grove Press, making sure that the pages in the book matched the way the high-school typist had transcribed them, right down to the last spelling mistake. 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. (POPism: The Warhol '60s, 287).

Two weeks ago I went to my sister-in-law’s wedding. I was not in the wedding party but my wife was and due to these circumstances, I had to attend the rehearsal at the church. I sat quietly in the back of the church reading, not paying too much attention to the goings on about me. After the ceremony was over, one man from the wedding party came rushing over to me and said, "Hey, ya doin’ a little studying there?" "No," I replied, "I’m just reading." "I can’t believe you’re actually reading! I haven’t read a book since I was forced to in high school. I don’t read books and none of my friends read books. As matter of fact, I didn’t think anyone did that anymore!"

When I was showing my work in Los Angeles, I had a sinking feeling that the show would not go over well. This point was made clear to me when driving down on of Los Angeles’s Boulevards, a billboard was visible for a half mile away. It said one or two words. In Los Angeles, people are used to reading single words, very large at long distances, and passing by them very quickly. It’s totally the opposite in New York where we get our information by reading a newspaper over somebody’s shoulder in the subway.

"Everyone, absolutely everyone, was tape-recording everyone else. Machinery had already taken over people's sex lives--dildos and all kinds of vibrators--and now it was taking over their social lives, too, with tape recorders and Polaroids. The running joke between Brigid and me was that all our phone calls started with whoever'd been called by the other saying, "Hello, wait a minute," and running to plug in and hook up.. I'd provoke any kind of hysteria I could think of on the phone just to get myself a good tape. Since I wasn't going out much and was home a lot on the mornings and evenings, I put in a lot of time on the phone gossiping and making trouble and getting ideas from people and trying to figure out what was happening--and taping it all.

The trouble was, it took so long to get a tape transcribed, even when you had somebody working at it full-time. In those days even the typists were making their own tapes--as I said everybody was into it." (POPism: The Warhol '60s, 291).

While waiting for the opera to begin, I had a heated discussion with Language Poet Bruce Andrews. Bruce insisted that editing is the most important job of an artist. I disagreed and said that if the artist’s parameters are "not editing," then different standards apply. We can create our own parameters to fit our own agendas.

A few summers ago, we went to see Pietro Sparta, a very successful art dealer living in the tiny French town of Chagny. He had a beautiful industrial space and a stable comporised of internationally known conceptual artists. After seeing his shows, we went to a cafe for drinks and he told us how he ended up in this unique situation. His father, a communist sympathizer, was thrown out of Sicily for his politics and he found factory work in Chagny. While there, one of his sons died and was buried in the town. According to Sicilian tradition, a family can never leave the place where the son is buried, hence Chagny became the Spartas new home. Pietro got interested in contemporary art by reading glossy art magazines procured from the newsstand in Chagny. He became obsessed and started corresponding with the artists. Before long, when in France, the artists came to see Sparta. Soon he won their trust and began holding modest exhibitions. The artists were so impressed by his sincerity and devotion for art that they began showing their best work with him. Little by little his reputation grew until he was able to buy the factory that his father worked in when he first came to town and convert it into a spacious and gorgeous gallery. Today, he still lives in Chagny and his father, now retired, maintains the numerous and luscious plantings on the former factory's grounds.

Warhol to Sedgwick "I told her, "But don't you understand? These movies are art!" (Mel told me later that he was floored when he heard me say that: "Because your usual position was to let other people say that your movies were works of art," he said, "but not to say it yourself.") (POPism: The Warhol 60s, 123).

That same summer we met a French film maker who proclaimed that the paradigm was no longer "Make it New" but instead begged to ask the question of how works of art were distributed. In a time of pluralism where all activities hold equal interest, what's distinctive is how the works find their way to out into the world.

A few years ago, Cheryl was storing a bunch of old oil paintings in a basement that was flooded in a freak storm. We were called in to survey the damage and to our surprise, every object in the room was destroyed except for the oil paintings which were floating atop the water. When the deluge subsided, we simply sponged off the surfaces and dried them out. They were fine.

On the way to England to work on a museum project recently, I was seated in the plane next to a young man who was a classical lute player. We got to talking and I asked him what he was listening to on his Walkman. He showed me the CD and began to talk about the music. It was a collection of a minor composer’s music played from transcriptions of broadsides that were sold on the street for pennies in the Middle Ages. The composer, however, was clever and included beautifully hand drawn images on his scores. Over the ages, they were framed and preserved, not so much because of the music, but because of how beautiful and distinctive they were as objects. While his peer’s music–printed and distributed in the same form sans decoration--vanished, this composer’s scores remain as the only examples of the genre. Hence they are now considered musical classics.

"Eric had built the wall divisions and done all the carpentry in the place himself and after finishing the he-man construction work, he'd brought in his little sewing machine and started sewing dresses--that was the kind of person Eric was, you couldn't hold him down in any category." (POPism: The Warhol 60s, 164).

In April of 1996, I recorded every word I spoke for a week, from the moment I woke up Monday morning to the moment I went to sleep Sunday night. I spent 8 weeks, 8 hours a day transcribing what I said. The result was a 350 page book I called Soliloquy. I also did a gallery installation of Soliloquy where I lined the walls with everything I said printed out in a large typeface. The result was that people would come into the galley and, although confronted with a forest of language, were always able to go directly to their names. Needless to say, I lost a lot of friends through that show. Other people, however, later came up to me and told me that they were upset because their name wasn’t in it.

Lately, I’ve been proposing another version of Soliloquy. This time, it would be for an entire year. And I would wear a wireless headset (like Madonna’s) with an antennae, which would cellularly beam my words to a powerful computer with voice recognition software on it, where they would instantly be churned into web pages. This way, anyone anywhere around the world at any time could see what I was saying, as I was saying it. Think of it as a text-based Truman show.

But the best part of it would be that after the year was over, I would have 52 350-page volumes documenting what one average person said in the early years of the 21st century. And wouldn’t that be an incredible thing to have? Not just from an art point of view, but from a sociological one. I mean, wouldn’t it have been great to have everything one person said for a year, say, from 1901?

The tag line for the project is "If every word spoken in New York City daily were somehow to materialize as a snowflake, each day there would be a blizzard."

He said he was hugely influenced by Vija Celmins and her love of duplication and the way she considered copying a kind of spiritual act.

On June 16th of 1997, which is Bloomsday, I recorded every move my body made from the moment I woke up until the moment I went to sleep. I decided that I would simply describe the movements my body was making without subjectivity or commentary. As such, I never used the word "I" or described my emotional state during the process; the idea was to simply describe a body moving around in a space, not my body moving around in a space.

I woke up at 10:00 AM and the piece started off going to plan. Indeed, it took me an hour just to get out of bed. This continued throughout the morning as I did everything with my body that one could possibly imagine, while describing it. By the early afternoon, I began to get restless and somewhat bored. I spent those hours doing things like jamming my fingers into my eyes. Around 2:00 I went outside for a walk, still describing every move my body was making as I was walking. I returned home later in the late afternoon. By this time, my descriptions had become clipped and monosyllabic. From 6:00-7:00 my body put itself to sleep. When I woke up, I panicked with the thought that I potentially had 6 more hours of this exercise left. So I went out an bought a fifth of Jack Daniels and walked over to an abandoned loading dock near the Hudson River and drank the entire bottle, all the while describing the process. I got dark and I stumbled home, not quite knowing what happened after 9 PM.

When I went to transcribe the tapes, I found that once I started drinking, I my language got progressively more and more slurred until, a few hours into it, I couldn’t understand it all. For the book, which came to be called Fidget, I then simply transcribed the slurred sounds of what I heard, and didn’t bother to try to recreate the semantics of what was actually said.

"One night in Max's, I was sitting between Paul and Allen-we were all supposed to be leaving the next day to give a few lectures out west, and I suddenly just didn't feel like going, I bad a lot of work to do. After 1'd been complaining about it for a while, Allen suggested, "Well, why don't I just go as you?" The few moments after be said that were like one of those classic movie scenes where everybody hears a dumb idea that they then slowly realize maybe isn't so dumb. We all looked at each other and thought, "Why not?" Allen was so good-looking that they might even enjoy him more. All he'd have to do was keep quiet the way I did and let Paul do all the talking. And we'd been playing switch-the-superstar at parties and openings around New York for years, telling people that Viva was Ultra and Edie was me and I was Gerard-sometimes people would get mixed up all by themselves between people like Tom Baker (I, a Man) and Joe Spencer (Bike Boy) and we just wouldn't bother to correct them, it was too much fun to let them go on getting it all wrong-it seemed like a joke to us. So these anti-star identity games were something we were doing anyway, as a matter of course.

The next day, Paul and Allen with his hair sprayed silver flew out to Utah and Oregon and a couple of other places to give the lectures, and when they came back, they said that it had all gone really well.

It wasn't until about four months later that somebody at one of the colleges happened to see a picture of me in the Voice and compared it to the one he'd taken of Allen on the podium and we had to give them their money back. When the local newspaper out west called me for a statement, what could I say except, "It seemed like a good idea at the time." But the whole situation got even more absurd. Like, once I was on the phone with an official from one of the other colleges on that tour, telling him how really sorry I was when suddenly he turned paranoid and said:

"How can I even be sure this is really you on the phone now?"

After a pause while I gave that some thought, I had to admit, "I don't know."

We went back to the colleges that wanted us to redo the lectures, but some of the places didn't want us anymore-one college said, "We've had all we can take off that guy."

But I still thought that Allen made a much better Andy Warhol than I did-he had high, high cheekbones and a full mouth and sharp, arched eyebrows, and he was a raving beauty and fifteen/twenty years younger. Like I always wanted Tab Hunter to play me in a story of my life-people would be so much happier imagining that I was as handsome as Allen and Tab were. I mean, the real Bonnie and Clyde sure didn't look like Faye and Warren. Who wants the truth? That's what show business is for-to prove that it's not what you are that counts, it's what they think you are." (POPism: The Warhol '60s, 247-48).

For a recent museum commission in Birmingham, England, I was given a assistant who was a young East Indian woman. The museum was planning to hold a festival and commissioned artists to work specifically with the city of Birmingham. I wanted to work with names and came up with the idea of asking people on the street to give me the first 5 names that popped into their head and it was from this collection that I would create an artwork. I called the project Fame; we would use the mechanics of the museum politic to make ordinary residents of Birmingham famous.

We headed to a small part of Birmingham called Smethwick which, like most of Birmingham, was a once-thriving industrial center, but now is economically depressed and filled with immigrant populations. Indeed, this was the town where my assistant and her family lived. We first went to the garment factory where her mother worked and asked all the workers there for the first 5 names that came to mind. Later, we roamed the streets of the village, asking everyone we met, from shop keepers to school children the same question. We spent several days in pubs getting drunk with the patrons and collecting names from them.

By the time the project was done we had collected 1250 names, ranging from relatives to celebrities. We then took the names and published them in the Birmingham paper, 50 a day. We also leased the billboards on the main street of Smethwick and plastered them with the names. Finally, we created a large bronze tablet, modeled directly on the patron’s board of the museum, which also contained all the names. This was displayed in the museum for the duration of the exhibition and was then permanently move to the town center of Smethwick.

It has become a sort of rallying point, capturing a very specific moment in the town’s social history. Families flock there to proudly show off their names on public display; other people shun the monument embarrassed that townsfolk or relatives should find out that they named their secret lovers; girls who named their best friends are now sorry they did so after a falling out with them; one young man insisted we remove a pop star he named because he was no longer interested in his music.

"The beauty of it all is that Cage need do so little — nothing, really — to make this turning of our minds happen. He just opens the window, turns on his tape recorder. Like Thoreau, Cage is a master at simply noticing things."

- James Pritchett, "John Cage and Recorded Sound"

"Entartete Sprache."

"Even though I didn't know exactly what I wanted, I did know that I didn't want to confine myself to just movies--I wanted to do everything… My style was always to spread out, anyway, rather than move up. To me, the ladder of success was much more sideways than vertical." (POPism: The Warhol '60s, 263).

If I were told that I have but one year to live, I would choose to spend it documenting the vast amount and varieties of language that surrounds human existence. I should start by creating vast collections of it, focusing especially on the sorts of language that is paid no attention to; language as detritus, language as a medium for commercial exchange, language as plentiful ephemera. The sort of language that we restlessly produce, swim in daily and to which we pay no attention. To make the transparent opaque; to become aware of that which is right under our nose; that which invisibly moves the world.

I would make a series of language collections, for example:

-the language produced on the television

-the language of ordinary speech

-capturing every cellular phone conversation during a given period of time

-the entire text of the Internet

-the whole of television language

-all advertisment copy ever written

-every human conversation happening at given period of time.

These exercises would simply consist of no more than framing an ordinarily unruly production. Certainly no "artistic" manipulation would be necessary, for language in its natural state is artistic enough as is.

When I died, I would leave something behind which had nothing to do with me, my ego, my "vision." Instead, it would exist a series of documents; a part of daily human production, valid as a living document until the human race as a whole ceases to exist and afterwards as a record of we actually produced.

It’s a hard sell, but then again, if I were to die, I wouldn't have to worry about people buying into the idea; it would simply exist. There would be no discussion as to its merits as writing.

 

Private Practice

ex·hib·it (g-zbt, g-)

v. ex·hib·it·ed, ex·hib·it·ing, ex·hib·its.

v. tr.

1. To show outwardly; display: exhibited pleasure by smiling.

2. a. To present for others to see: rolled up his sleeve to exhibit the scar.

b. To present in a public exhibition or contest: exhibited her paintings at a gallery.

I'm going into private practice.

He said he was hugely influenced by Vija Celmins and her love of duplication and the way she considered copying a kind of spiritual act.

'An article in China Daily refers to a young worker who copied one dozen novels, signed his name and published a collection of "his works". (Aug 27).'

Morton Feldman: John, wouldn't you say that what we're dependent on we call reality, and what we don't like we consider an intrusion in our life? Consequently, I feel that what's happening is that we're continually being intruded upon.

John Cage: But that would make us very unhappy.

MF: Or we surrender to it, and call it culture.

JC: Call it culture?

MF: Or whatever.

JC: Give me an example. What would be an intrusion on your life for instance that you would call culture?

MF: Well, this weekend I was on the beach.

JC: Yes.

MF: ... And on the beach these days are transistor radios.

JC: Yes.

MF: ... blaring out rock 'n' roll.

JC: Yes.

MF: All over.

JC: Yes. And you didn't enjoy it?

MF: Not particularly. I adjusted to it.

JC: How?

MF: By saying that... Well, I thought of the sun and the sea as a lesser evil.

JC: You know how I adjusted to that problem of the radio in the environment. Very much as the primitive people adjusted to the animals which frightened them, and which, probably as you say, were intrusions. They drew pictures of them on their caves. And so I simply made a piece using radios. Now,v whenever I hear radios - even a single one, not just twelve at va time, as you must have heard on the beach, at least - I think, "Well, they're just playing my piece."

MF: That might help me next weekend.

JC: Yeah, and I listen to it with pleasure. By pleasure I mean I notice what happens. I can attend to it rather than, as you say, surrender. I can rather pay attention and become interested in the ... Well, what it actually is that you're interested in is what superimposes what. What happens at the same time together with what happens before and what happens after.

"Write as if you were dying. At the same time, assume you write for an audience consisting solely of terminal patients. That is, after all, the case. What would you begin writing if you knew you would die soon?" - Anne Dillard

Most valuable Jewel

A "D" color internally flawless pear-shaped diamond weighing 100.1 carats was shold for CHF 19,858,500 ($16,561,171) at Sotheby's Geneva, Switzerland on May 17, 1995. "D" is the highest grade that an be given to a diamond and indicates that the diamond is the finest white in color.

Most valuable Old Master painting

The Massacre of the Innocents by Peter Paul Rubens (Netherlands) was sold at Sotheby's, London, UK for a record 49.5 million ($76.7 million) on July 10, 2002 to David Thomson (Canada), chairman of the Thomson Newspapers empire.

"Well, I let it play itself as much as I can, but if it doesn't, then I interfere. " -- David Tudor

"Living in New York is finding a way of enjoying the darkness." -- John Cage, 1987

Playing music -- not to mention doing a radio show -- has become literary. One organizes playlists by typing names into iTunes. One organizes sets by subject, based on keyword rather than sound, preference.

It's been 10:00 since 9:00.

"I have put into it everything I know about boredom." -- Erik Satie

Many years ago, the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin was being maligned by a dangerous whispering campaign. A malicious rumor was being circulated. Advertisers were being told that the newspaper was no longer attractive to readers because it carried too much advertising and too little news. Immediate action was necessary. The gossip had to be squelched. But how? This is the way it was done. The Bulletin clipped from its regular edition all reading matter of all kinds on one average day, classified it, and published it as a book. The book was called One Day. It contained 307 pages - as many as a hard-covered book; yet the Bulletin had printed all this news and feature material on one day and sold it, not for several dollars, but for a few cents. The printing of that book dramatized the fact that the Bulletin carried an enormous amount of interesting reading matter. It conveyed the facts more vividly, more interestingly, more impressively, than pages of figures and mere talk could have done.




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