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«I look to theory when I realize that somebody has dedicated their entire life to a question I have only fleetingly considered. I used to be an ...»

-- [ Page 1 ] --

I look to theory when I realize that somebody has dedicated

their entire life to a question I have only fleetingly


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


Writing should be as effortless as washing the dishes -- and

as interesting.

Hunter S. Thompson retyped Hemingway and Fitzgerald novels.

He said, “I just want to know what it feels like to write

these words.”

Obama regularly copies his speechwriter’s work out in longhand on legal pads in pencil: “It helps organize my thoughts.” If you’re not making art with the intention of having it copied, you’re not really making art for the 21st century.

From producer to reproducer.

The Internet is destroying literature (and it’s a good thing).

“Plagiarism is necessary,” Lautréamont insisted. “Progress implies it.” Authenticity is another form of artifice.

It is possible to be both inauthentic and sincere.

The moment you stand up in front of people, you are no longer authentic.

The telling of a true story is an unnatural act.

My writing is political writing; it just prefers to use someone else’s politics.

I always had mixed feelings about being considered a poet.

If Robert Lowell was a poet, I don’t want to be a poet.

If Robert Frost was a poet, I don’t want to be a poet. If Socrates was a poet, I’ll consider it.

Art dealer to Captain Beefheart: “You’ll never be respected as an artist -- you’ll always be a musician that paints.

If you really want to be a painter, you have to stop doing music.” Not long after, Captain Beefheart began referring to himself as a painter named Don Van Vliet.

A child could do what I do, but wouldn’t dare to for fear of being called stupid.

Futurism made flesh, Barry Bonds is a lovechild of William S. Burroughs (“We ourselves are machines”) and Andy Warhol (“I want to be a machine”).

RePORTeR: How do you feel when you are greeted by a resounding chorus of boos when you step on the field?

BARRY BONDS: I turn it into a symphony.

Gravitas is obsolete.

Boring and long-winded writings encourage a kind of effortless nonunderstanding, a language in which reading itself seems perfectly redundant.

“The Internet is of no relevance at all to writing fiction, which expresses verities only found through observation and introspection,” said Will Self.

Jonathan Franzen famously wrote portions of The Corrections wearing blinders and earplugs to reduce disruptions.

Jonathan Franzen is America’s greatest novelist... of the 1950s.

The new memoir is our browser history.

Writers are becoming curators of language, a move similar to the emergence of the curator as artist in the visual arts.

Sampling and citation are but boutique forms of appropriation.

Remixing is often mistaken for appropriation.

Our poetry has eerily begun to resemble data trails.

Poetry is an evacuated and orphaned space, begging to be repurposed. The new poetry will look nothing like the old.

The Internet is the greatest poem ever written, unreadable mostly because of its size.

An article in China Daily refers to a young worker who copied a dozen novels, signed his name, and published a collection of “his works.” Alphanumeric code, indistinguishable from writing, is the medium by which the Internet has solidified its grip on literature.

Richard Prince recently took America’s most valuable literary property, The Catcher in the Rye, and made dropdead facsimiles of the first edition. everywhere Salinger’s name appeared, Prince substituted his. He sells a signed copy bearing the signature of “Richard Prince” for whatever Salinger’s signed first edition is going for that day.

Contemporary writing is the evacuation of content.

The future of writing is the managing of emptiness.

The future of writing is pointing.

The future of writing is not writing.

The future of reading is not reading.

The human entity formerly known as “the reader.” John Cage and Morton Feldman in 1967. Feldman was complaining about being at the beach, annoyed by transistor radios “blaring out rock and roll,” and Cage responded, “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 whenever I hear radios -- even a single one, not just twelve at a time, as you must have heard on the beach -- I think, well, they’re just playing my piece.” Andy Warhol said, “My style was always to spread out, anyway, rather than move up. To me, the ladder of success was much more sideways than vertical.” Stasis is the new movement.

The writers’ desk is beginning to resemble a laboratory or small business office rather than the contemplative study it once was.

A good poem is very boring. In a perfect world all sentences would have an overall sameness.

Start copying what you love. Copying, copying, copying. And at the end of the copy, you will find yourself.

On copying: It’s not a bug. It’s a feature.

Bob Dylan on appropriation: wussies and pussies complain about it.

The regulation of intellectual property is a euphemized form of corporate control -- and a futile one at that.

They spoke of the idea that in China, additional books are written and inserted into extant canons. There are ten Harry Potter books in the Chinese series as opposed to the seven penned by J.K. Rowling.

Individual creativity is a dogma of contemporary soft capitalism, rather than the domain of non-conformist artists: fiction is everywhere.

Toward the end of his life, Alexander Trocchi rewrote his early manuscripts in longhand and sold them to collectors as originals.

Ted Berrigan stole books by famous authors and forged their autographs. He then sold them back to the dealers he stole them from at greatly increased prices.

We don’t need the new sentence. The old sentence reframed is good enough.

Today’s plagiarism and copyright battles are to the 21st century what the obscenity trials were to the 20th.

At Tony Oursler’s retrospective at the Williams College Museum of Art, upstairs, buried deep within the galleries, the artist had set up a microphone into which anyone could step up and speak. What they said would be broadcast into the entrance atrium of the museum. There were no restrictions on what you could say, only a small note reminding the speaker to be sensitive of others and a gentle suggestion to refrain from swearing. When it was my turn, I said in my clearest and most radio-like voice, “May I have your attention. May I have your attention. The museum is now closing. Please make your way to the exit.

Thank you for visiting.” Although it was hours away from closing time, I repeated the announcement again and saw in the video monitor that was provided, people streaming toward the exit. Again, I made my announcement. At once, a frantic, elderly guard came running up to me, grabbed my arm and said, “You’re not allowed to say that!” When I told him that there was nothing prohibiting me from saying it, he again told me that I wasn’t allowed. “Why?” I asked.

“Because it’s not true,” he replied. “You must stop saying that right now.” Of course I repeated my announcement once again. This poor man was really struggling with what to do with me. He knew that while I wasn’t breaking any real laws, by questioning the institution’s authority I was breaking an unwritten social contract.

There are no ‘correct’ readings. Only reproductions and possibilities.

Q: Why do you think practices of appropriation are much less acceptable to people in terms of the written word? Why is it a much bigger deal to plagiarize writing?

JONATHAN LeTHeM: Literary criticism is too closely intertwined with newspaper journalism. So whereas other fields of art reception are successfully partitioned from the ethos of journalists, book reviewers are usually newspapermen who fancy themselves book reviewers. The field of book reviewing so totally overwhelms academic literary criticism in terms of influence, and journalists are of course obsessed with journalistic notions of plagiarism, sources, and inaccuracy. These standards migrate far too much in the realm of literary writing.

The problem isn’t piracy. The problem is obscurity.

Being well-enough known to be pirated is a crowning achievement. Most artists want first and foremost to be loved and secondly to make history; money is a distant third.

Information is like a bank. Our job is to rob that bank.

I find the idea of recycling language to be politically and ecologically sustainable, one which promotes reuse and reconditioning as opposed to the manufacture and consumption of the new. It’s an attitude that counteracts rampant global capitalist consumption by admitting that language is not able to be owned or possessed -- that it is a shared resource. So in this way, these ideas are more ideologically in line with marxist thought than anything else. Also, because of the sheer volume of language -- an ecosystem yielding limitless resources -- there’s never a chance of scarcity; it’s a landscape of abundance. Yet

-- and this is where it gets interesting -- conceptual writing’s obsession with the latest technology, the hoarding of language, its celebration of baroque excess and so forth, aligns it with often nefarious global capitalist tendencies. In addition, there’s an imperialistic aspect of the movement; in terms of its internationalism, it’s the first worldwide poetry movement since concrete poetry since both are predicated upon transnational uses of language (concrete poetry being visual, conceptual being unreadable). As a result, the movement is spreading rapidly around the globe, threatening to take on characteristics of a huge multinational monsters. All of these contradictions, I feel, are part of the discourse of conceptualism, which is an ideologically fluid movement embracing impurity and guilty pleasures, shunning received notions of purity, authenticity, or absolute claims of truth.

I’m not really a poet, but poetry was the only field open enough to accept my ideas, so I became a poet by default.

The poet as anti-hero.

Soliloquy was a book of every word I spoke for a week, from the moment I woke up on a Monday morning until the moment I went to sleep Sunday night. It was horrible, turning out to be 600 pages of gossip and pettiness. I lost many friends as a result. While some forgave me, many still will not speak to me some two decades later.

Listening to music has become literary, requiring typing and sorting; we select what we hear based on keywords.

We skim, parse, bookmark, copy, paste, forward, share, and spam. Reading is the last thing we do with language.

We spend much more time acquiring, cataloging and archiving our artifacts these days than we do actually engaging with them. The ways in which culture is distributed and archived has become profoundly more intriguing than the cultural artifact itself. As a result, we’ve experienced an inversion of consumption, preferring the bottles to the wine.

Interest has shifted from the object to the information.

People insist upon self-expression. I really am opposed to it. I don’t think people should express themselves in that kind of way.

Shortly before he died, we were invited to dinner at Merce Cunningham’s loft on Sixth Avenue. Upon entering, we were astonished to see numerous priceless works of art lining the walls. When we inquired “Is that...?” we were unceremoniously cut off and told that everything here is what you think it is. There were works by Johns, Rauschenberg, and even a little Duchamp Czech Check framed in a 1970s plexiglass frame close the floor, covered in cooking grease, dust and cat piss. Over many valuable works of art were leaky skylights. During dinner we asked Merce what would happen if one of these works were damaged. He smiled and said, “But of course our friends would just make us another.” If you do something wrong for long enough people will eventually think of it as right.

Art is a license to do things wrong. The rest of the world tries to get it right. We revel in doing it wrong, not knowing, breaking things.

The necessity of bad transcription: working to make sure that the pages in the book matched the way the highschool 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, said Andy Warhol.

exactly wrong.

The act of moving information from one place to another constitutes a significant cultural act in and of itself.

Some of us call this poetry.

Toward a disengaged poetics: writing books without the need to have any relationship with the subject that we’re writing about.

Paint-by-numbers writing: filling in the blanks.

Leaving the White House after the reading, Joe Reinstein, the deputy social security to the president, slung his arm around me, smiled, and said, “Well, we got the avant-garde into the White House.” Our writings are now identical to those which already exist. The only thing we do is claim them as our own. With that simple gesture, they become brand new.

I am a dumb writer, perhaps one of the dumbest that’s ever lived. Whenever I have an idea, I question myself whether it is sufficiently dumb. I ask myself, is it possible that this, in any way, could be considered smart? If the answer is no, I proceed. I don’t write anything new or original. I copy pre-existing texts and move information from one place to another.

Quantity, not quality. With larger numbers of things, judgment decreases and curiosity increases.

Words now function less for people than for expediting the interaction and concatenation of machines.

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