Friday, September 25, 2009

Production, Art, Genius, the Book

Robert P. Baird has posted on Jed Rasula's new book Mod­ernism and Poetic Inspiration
and Romanticism over at Digital Emunction. As I stated in the comments stream of Johannes' post on the subject, I was surprised by the following attempt to equate "productive artist genius type" with "fighter against capitalism":

"If I were more hip than I am, I might say that the divi­sion of labor between the artist and arti­san is unthink­able out­side cap­i­tal­ism, which deploys the same split to divide a pop­u­la­tion of col­lars into white and blue."

The idea of Artist-as-genius is not only a product of Romanticism, but also early-modern capitalism, hand in hand with the genesis of copyright law. If I'm not mistaken, the whole Fluxus ethos, langpo's penchant for collaboration, and various "shared identity" projects undertaken by movements such as neoism, or John Cage, Jackson Mac Low et al working in aleatory writing, in the latter half of last century were all deliberate attempts to undermine such ideas. There is, of course room to dispute the levels of success of these various projects - Kent rightly states that it is "hard to see how two or five legal Author names on a text instead of one is really much of an "undermining" of anything". However I do think that these arguments, to a greater or lesser degree (especially around the origins of copyright) still stand.

However another thing that's been bugging me about Bobby's piece is the argument he sets out about the Idea vs. Execution:

"But there’s some­thing else in there, too, isn’t there? The kind of equiv­o­ca­tion Rasula describes isn’t just about resist­ing com­ple­tion, à la Kafka or Beck­ett or Lan­guage poetry. As I put it to John in an email, Rasula’s equiv­o­ca­tion also seems like a Trojan horse for the Andy Warhol/Factory kind of of art­mak­ing, whose directest [sic] and purest ter­mi­nus in writ­ing is Kenny Goldsmith’s uncre­ativ­ity. Once you insist that the idea mat­ters more than the exe­cu­tion, you’re not talk­ing about art, you’re talk­ing about outsourcing.

"[...] What does matter is matter: which is to say that art is dif­fer­ent from think­ing not in its made­ness (which is also a qual­ity of thought) but in its thing­ness, its essen­tial con­tact with non-​neuronal matter.

"[...] The real equiv­o­ca­tors in Rasula’s schematic aren’t Valéry or Joyce, they’re Koons and Hirst, pur­vey­ors of the $100 mil­lion idea that some­one else can go worry about putting together, just like an iPhone or Subaru."

The problem with this is, that if one hold these views about (visual) art - and extrapolates them into literature (through Kenny Goldsmith, et al.) then this brings up very complex issues surrounding the distribution/dissemination of literary works, namely through the most popular mode, the book. (this being said the criticism of Warhol, Koons and Hirst doesn't hold water, as it would require, "Once you insist that the idea mat­ters more than the exe­cu­tion", that the execution of their works is poor - and this is a wholly different matter than that of concept versus craft).

Who produces the book? And, in regard to said argument, what is the difference between, say, Gertrude Stein's Tender Buttons and a Subaru?

What is really at question here is where the (literary) work exists, and how one conceptualizes the text-as-object's existence; as part of a book-object (a la Joanna Drucker's work at Granary, or Alan Loney's various presses), or as a matrix of signifiers the vehicle for which is secondary.

Susan M Schutz has posted on the issue, and has some interesting things to say about it.

I'm not going to draw any conclusions as yet, but these are interesting, and important, issues.

There's a host of good material out there on these issues. If I may recommenced any, they would be A Book of the Book: Some Works & Projections about the Book & Writing Edited by Steven Clay and Jerome Rothenberg (Granary), and the Collected essays of Alan Loney, Reading Saying Making, which I suspect is out of print.


Bobby said...

Ross, you might want to check the byline on that post you're discussing. That's me you're disagreeing with, not Kent.

All best,


Ross Brighton said...

Sorry Bobby - I got the link off Johannes' Blog, and didn't read the byline - he said "post on Kent's new Site" and I assumed it was by him!

Many apologies!

Ross Brighton said...

I'm amended that. Once again, my apologies.

Bobby said...

No problem.

Kent Johnson said...


Just to note that you still have a section [see below] that confuses the authorship of the post you're answering. It should be "Bobby's piece."

>However another thing that's been bugging me about Kent's piece is the argument he sets out about the Idea vs. Execution:

Ross Brighton said...

Taken care of. I feel like a right jackass.

If I may apologise again....

Lemon Hound said...

Wow, anxiety about authorship here, huh?

Bobby said...

Wow, low-hanging fruit, huh?

But it's an interesting conundrum, if you think about it: to think your joke is funny means you have to make exactly the mistake that I'm trying to correct above, which is to presume that Kent and I are the same person, or at the very least to confuse us for one another. But we're not the same person, and Kent's views on authorship are not mine, and so there's nothing strange about asking to be named properly for something I wrote. And yet the joke is still a little funny, so maybe I am Kent after all, or he's me, or we're each other, or we're both Ross Brighton. Who knows, we'll all be dead soon enough, so I guess it doesn't really matter. Thanks for clearing things up.

Ross Brighton said...

Hey, no problem. It was my mistake.