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Experiment and Performance

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Jeff Clapp

on 11 April 2017

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Transcript of Experiment and Performance

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The last text we read last week was "Clothes." You will remember that this text begin in a procedural, or algorithmic, way, and then becomes a flight of wild fantasy.

At some point, you realize that you aren't reading something true, even if it began in a very literal way.
& Performance
"So Immersion is not about one thing. It’s about four. It’s about self-reflection,
, privacy and strategy."
Experiment and Performance in July
An experiment: a process composed
of elements of control and elements of freedom.

A performance: the execution of that process, for an audience.

Again, the challenge to literature conceived in this way is to conventional ideas about authors.

Generally, people have understood the author as in control of their work. (i.e., what word to write next?).

But around the time Barthes wrote his famous essay, writers--or rather
--began integrating elements of chance into their texts.

This also happened in other art forms, like music.

So the first thing to notice about July's text is that it has this kind of structure that incorporates an element of chance.

July goes to see the people in the
and not some other people. She goes to see the people who will have her and not the ones who will not. And she transcribes what these people say--and not some other words.

So this is an excellent example of a text that is in part
, rather than written.

It is an experiment and a performance.
At the same time
It Chooses You
is juxtaposed within itself with another text,
The Future
. And
The Future
is presented as written, authored--the big question is whether July can make the right decisions about, whether she can complete it, with a stroke of inspiration.
"I just had to dream up a convincing middle" (p. 9)
The Future
but she can't, so
"If I couldn't write the scenes, then I should really go all the way with not writing them. I decided to remove myself from my computer and the implication that I might be on the verge of a good idea. I would meet with every
seller who was willing. I would make myself do this as if it were my job. I would get a better tape recorder and drive all over Los Angeles like an untrained, unhelpful social worker." (p. 26)
It Chooses You
contrasts two different ways of conceiving the work of art.

In addition to a more conventional idea of genius, intuition and expression, it presents the work of art as the product of inhibition, randomness, and incapacity.

The narrative trajectory of
It Chooses You
is all about how the act of producing
It Chooses You
enables the ultimate completion of
The Future
, while also coming into existence itself.

When the script for the film can be completed, the book ends.
The key events are
1) abandoning one text for the other

2) not working on the film script for a long time, while pursuing the interview project

3) attempting to conjoin the two texts by casting Dina and her daughter in the film (a failure; pp. 176-180)

4) meeting Joe and casting him in the film (success; pp. 198ff)
So there is a great deal of consideration of what literature or art is, and where it comes from, in this book.
The most complex aspect of this discussion, however, is not in the first-person narrative at all.

They are in the interviews. Consider:
1) Michael's body
2) Pauline's singing and Raymond's model
3) Pam's albums
4) Domingo's fantasies and collections
5) Dina's Lenette's songs
6) Joe's cards (etc)

Each interview offers a different example of art-like behavior against which July's own two processes are juxtaposed.
So in groups now, talk for a few minutes about two examples.

These two examples are the ones that July makes explicit: she directly describes these two things as artworks that she appreciates.
1) Pam's albums. Have a look at page 111.

How does the concept of "performance" here relate to what July is doing?

2) Joe's cards. Have a look at page 199.

How does the idea of "daring to mean nothing" shape our understanding of what July is doing?
We heard about the computer's relationship to literature last class.

There are dozens of references to computers in
It Chooses You.
How does July represent computers in this text? How do those representations shape the meanings of the work as a whole?

If you don't know, try pages 6 and 7...or 56....or 161....
Against Expression
Lewitt's is a very strict description--one written in the 1960s, when Conceptual Art was trying to establish itself. So it's a little overstated.

In later periods artists have explored a more flexible idea of conceptual art, and (more recently) writers have developed a much more flexible idea of conceptual writing.

In these works, the relationship between the
design and the
of the experiment, is highly variable.

Still, however, what we're looking at today are works that place unusual emphasis on their
An experiment: a process composed
of elements of control and elements of freedom.

A performance: the execution of that process, for an audience.
Why Now?
The introduction to
Against Expression
, by Kenneth Goldsmith, is both a history of, and an argument for, conceptual writing.
You remember that Barthes made a historical argument about how the author was elevated and glorified for a long period, only to "die" later. Barthes hasn't really got an explanation for "why now?"--at least not in the essay we read.

But Kenneth Goldsmith DOES have an answer to the question about why conceptual writing
. And it's a technological answer.

His key analogy is to impressionism in painting, which is often understood as a response to the development of the photograph.

New technologies change the meanings and goals of previously existing media--even if they do not replace them.

His proposal, then, is that networked computing has changed our relationship to writing.

Writing, even when it is not being done on a computer, or about a computer, will be recalibrated with the awareness of computing concepts. In other words:
-unlimited/instant access
-cut, copy, paste, share
-nodes, links,networks
-clicks, hits, counts, views
"Social networking, file sharing, blogging: in these environments, language has value not as much for what it says but for what it does. We deal in active language, passing information swiftly for the sake of moving it. ....
Filtering is taste
." (xix)
"Never before has language had so much materiality--fluidity, plasticity, malleability--
begging to be actively
managed by the writer
" (xix).
Conceptual Writing
Writing which is "against expression" is contrary to many common ideas about art. But Goldsmith and others like him see no reason why art should be limited to a narrow range of human emotions, ideas, or kinds of cognition. "Expressing" isn't the only thing that human brains can do.
"In conceptual art the idea or concept is the most important aspect of the work. When an artist uses a conceptual form of art, it means that all of the planning and decisions are made beforehand and the execution is a perfunctory affair. The idea becomes a machine that makes the art."
-Sol Lewitt
Experiment and Performance
I use these terms to generalize a little bit from the idea of"conceptual writing." Some texts, like "Clothes," by Bern Porter are still very invested in what Lewitt calls the "perfunctory" matter of the execution.
But in general today, we'll look at some texts that follow Lewitt's description.
In the last two decades, Goldsmith has become the most important figure in conceptual writing in English.
One reason Goldsmith has become so prominent is that he has made a compelling argument that in the era of
networked computers
, writing will never be the same again.
"Why are so many writers now exploring strategies of copying and appropriation? It's simple: the computer encourages us to mimic its working." (xviii)
SO: What is a computer?
Writing Like
A Computer
In your Group, read to one another. Choose one person to read.

But instead of reading along, watch the reader.

Choose either text.

Dworkin, "Legion"
-Source text: Minnesota multiphasic personality inventory

Farrell, "Avail"
-Source: two personality diagnostic tests

The First Person
I didn't pick these texts at random from Goldsmith's anthology, which is full of interesting and various things.

I chose the texts that are in one way or another "in the first person."

Goldsmith's repeatedly argues that these texts are hard to read without feeling the presence of a "speaker" who we nonetheless know to be absent.
Unlike the paintings of impressionism, which seek another goal outside of photography, Goldsmith things that some of these texts explore similarity between human cognition and computing.

The rigorously procedural poems by Charles Bernstein are a good example. These poems emphasize ways in which the computer, rather than being an opposite of humanity or literature, can be imagined as as extension of those things.
This text is in some ways barely conceptual, in that it seems to have very little procedure and quite a bit of free "association."

But contemporary computing is very often about "association."
Given your interest in X, are you also interested in Y?

If you searched for N, can we suggest results about Q?

So let's think about this poem as Bernstein trying to think like a search engine. So, let's read like search engines do.

We'll do a group reading of this text--one line for each person. As we do, I want you to identify parts of the poems--even just pairs of lines--that seem strongly associated.
"First My Motorola"
When is now?
Conceptual Art, and the "death of the author," are both products of the 1960s. The earliest texts we are reading today are from the early 1970s.
In general, public awareness of information technology began during this same period of time.
Here's an online museum that documents the earliest consumer computers:
Against Expression
anthology presents a resurgence in interest in conceptual writing, specifically linked not to "computers," but to computers in the age of the internet.
And the internet is basically a product of the 1990s. So there seem to be two somewhat separable "origins" of conceptual writing.
Here's an online museum that documents the rise of the internet:

Portraiture : Photography : Impressionism
"I and They"
Goldsmith describes "I and They" as having "stretches of agrammatical laminar striation switching suddenly to moments of smooth idiom" (87).

This offers us an almost
way to understand the poem. The text has
, and that texture is made up of the alternation of more meaningful, and less meaningful parts.

Let's spend some time trying experience the texture of this text. I'm going to begin reading out loud from the beginning and I want you to mark or identify lines whose "idiomatic smoothness" emerge out of the surface of the poem.
How was writing this poem like the action of a computer?

How is reading this poem like the action of a computer?
Just to think about momentarily:
For attendance today,
post once in response:
How is the writing and reading of poems by Charles Bernstein like thinking like a computer?

What does this poetry tell us about our relationship with computers?

Or, what other themes are involved?

A "consumer profile" collects all the information about a person that might help marketers extract more value from that person. To do meaningful consumer profiles, large-scale data processing is a necessity.

Nemerov's poem does that work, once; it performs (slowly and inefficiently), the same work that is done for everybody by the internet, their devices, and their payment cards.

Because it engages with this discourse, Kenneth Goldsmith has described Nemerov's as "pro-consumer" poetry.
"Time Magazine
recently suggest[ed] that “what poetry really needs is a writer who can do for it what Andy Warhol did for avant-garde visual art: make it sexy and cool and accessible without making it stupid or patronizing" . . . I think the first thing we need to do is to find a poet who is unabashedly pro-consumerist. In our overdrive hyper-capitalist frenzied world, it’s hard to find poets that actually celebrate, say, shopping. . . . The poetry world has yet to experience its version of Pop Art — and Pop Art happened nearly 50 years ago."
"as if...a declarative confessional statement" (190)

"illusion of expressive autonomy" (200)
So, we know from the introduction that these texts are not written but "managed." Nonetheless they seem to create the impression of personal expression, or, in Goldsmith's terms:
Poetry and the Data Double
"[Recently we can observe the] convergence of once discrete surveillance systems.

The resultant ‘surveillant assemblage’ operates by abstracting human bodies from their territorial settings, and separating them into a series of discrete flows.

These flows are then reassembled in different locations as discrete and virtual ‘data doubles’."
-Haggerty and Ericson 2000
your Data Double is you
-every piece of biographical data about you
-every piece of governmental data about you
-your email and social media contacts
-your email & social media contents
-every click you have made on a website
-everything you have purchased online
-everything you have purchased with a credit card
but at the same time, who is this person?
Does this alternative personality have a voice?

And if so, what would they say?
I'm not going to ask you to write this text.

Instead, I want you to design this experiment. You see how Alexandra Nemerov's worked.

Consider your life. Design a "data double" poem that would produce a text like hers.

Describe in a few sentences, and post to FB.
Another example
My text is called "Doors." It is a list of all the doors I pass through on one day. Naturally, this begins with doors in my flat and proceeds to the doors here at EdUHK. Later in the day it might have the doors of stores. Along the way there will be public transportation doors. At the end of the day, a similar pattern of doors within my flat.
One would learn a lot about me from this text.
"not giving up somehow creates unexpected meaning over time" (9)

"Someone is doing something unnecessary for reasons that are mysterious to everyone" (146)

This text shows a different balance between experiment and performance.
A philosophy of art
Goldsmith claimed that in the computer, writing had "met its photography."

Does IT CHOOSES YOU suggest this?
If so, how? If not, why not?
I want to watch some footage from an art event that July did with a collaborator at a museum in New York, in 2016.

My major question here is whether it fits with the way information technology is framed in IT CHOOSES YOU, and how it can be understood in terms of a conceptual art work.
I could do this to you.

Let's assume that it has just happened in our class.

What does it tell you about information technology? About literature? About yourself?

FB awaits you.
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