UBUWEB WANTS TO BE FREE|
by Kenneth Goldsmith
(Open Letter, 2001)
Concrete poetry's utopian pan-internationalist bent was clearly articulated by Max Bense in 1965 when he stated, " concrete poetry does not separate languages; it unites them; it combines them. It is this part of its linguistic intention that makes concrete poetry the first international poetical movement." Its ideogrammatic self-contained, exportable, universally accessible content mirrors the utopian pan-linguistic dreams of cross-platform efforts on today's Internet; Adobe's PDF (portable document format) and Sun System's Java programming language each strive for similarly universal comprehension. The pioneers of concrete poetry could only dream of the now-standard tools used to make language move and morph, stream and scream, distributed worldwide instantaneously at little cost.
Essentially a gift economy, poetry is the perfect space to practice utopian politics. Freed from profit-making constraints or cumbersome fabrication considerations, information can literally "be free": on UbuWeb, we give it away. We publish in full color for pennies. We receive submissions Monday morning and publish them Monday afternoon. UbuWeb's work never goes "out of print." UbuWeb is a never-ending work in progress: many hands are continually building it on many platforms.
UbuWeb has no need for money, funding or backers. Our web space is provided free by an ISP sympathetic to our vision. UbuWeb has happily rejected offers of up to $50,000 from businesses wanting to buy our "marketable" domain name. We bought ubu.com from a sympathetic party for $100. Totally independent from institutional support, UbuWeb is free from academic bureaucracy and its attendant infighting, which often results in compromised solutions; we have no one to please but ourselves.
UbuWeb posts much of its content without permission; we rip full-length CDs into sound files; we scan as many books as we can get our hands on; we post essays as fast as we can OCR them. And not once have we been issued a cease and desist order. Instead, we receive glowing e-mails from artists, publishers and record labels finding their work on UbuWeb thanking us for taking an interest in what they do; in fact, most times they offer UbuWeb additional materials. We happily acquiesce and tell them that UbuWeb is an unlimited resource with unlimited space for them to fill. It is in this way that the site has grown to encompass hundreds of artists, thousands of files and several gigabytes of poetry.
Sounds like a marginal situation? Hardly. We've won every prestigious Internet award there is and are acknowledged web-wide as the definitive source for Visual, Concrete + Sound Poetry. UbuWeb is on the syllabus of countless schools; we've gotten queries from Ph.D. candidates seeking information to third-graders researching a paper on concrete poetry. UbuWeb embodies an unstable community, neither vertical nor horizontal but rather a Deleuzian nomadic model: a 4 dimensional space simultaneously expanding and contracting in every direction, growing "rhizomatically" with ever-increasing unpredictability and uncanniness.
In closing, I am reminded of a story: 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 made up 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. He moved his family to France when 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 a son is buried; hence Chagny became the Sparta's new home. Stuck in a small town, Pietro became 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 grounds.