Common Genius: Conceptualism and the Language of Discourses

Origins

Conceptualism has pioneered very little in its short time on the literary scene.  Its quintessential moves, appropriation, collage,[1] documentation are hardly new to poetry and have long been part of the visual and musical arts.  Kenneth Goldsmith, perhaps the most recognizable of the Conceptualists, himself admits as much, writing at the Poetry Foundation blog Harriet “of course, appropriation is old hat in the art world.”[2]  Others[3] have provided a more thorough history of the development of these techniques than is necessary here, but an outside observer wouldn’t be too far off the mark to say that the only things unique to Conceptualism are its belief in the power of these techniques to transform poetry and its willingness to carry them through to hitherto unheard of lengths.  Conceptualists did not invent the found poem, but they were likely the first to create the found epic poem.  Indeed, as Goldsmith seems determined to prove printing the internet, if brevity is the soul of wit, wit is anathema to the Conceptualist.

But we can’t exactly blame a genre that aspires to uncreativity for not developing original methods, not being exceptionally witty, or not pushing itself a little harder to pioneer a more perfect piece, whether original or otherwise.  After all, if “failure is the goal of conceptual writing,” as Place and Fitterman posit in Notes on Conceptualisms, why work any harder than necessary to produce the work?[4]  Especially in a field where self-handicapping is the highest virtue, where the degree to which constraints and procedures prevent the author from determining the content of the work (and therefore also preventing the author from actively influencing the audience’s interpretation) is the measure of the work.  Conceptualism abdicates the authorial privilege to determine the meaning of the text, but, from the Conceptualists’ theoretical perspective, there is no incentive to retain this authority, firstly because it is incredibly unlikely that any author could still manage to produce anything original or valuable given the glut of authors and written words already in circulation, and, secondly, the author’s efficacy in determining meaning was overstated to begin with.  Authorship never really conferred any dominion over meaning.  That power, conceptual writing suggests, has always resided with context.

But is the author really the target of conceptual writings erasure?  With its focus on form and process, one could argue that the work is in fact more inextricably tied to its origin (its author, its method, its intent) than its more lyrical counterparts even if it annihilates affect and denies the author any control over the product once one has chosen the process.  If anything the author, however constrained or impotent or dead, looms large over the gaping abyss left by a text that we supposedly need not even read to understand.  For the conceptual writer, death is a fantastic career move, but what do we make of this smaller death, the stillborn text that was never written, never intended, never (if you’ll forgive the hopelessly but appropriately passive construction) meant

Writing is both an art and a means of communication, and it seems natural to write, read, and interpret written words as communication, that is from someone (an author) to someone (a reader).  We presume, as we ought to, in communication terms, a sender and receiver of the message the words are meant to convey.  But the author qua “the one who writes,” the (presumably) human being responsible for producing the text is a small part of what the reader experiences when reading a text, and, in the vast majority of instances, the reader has no sense of the writer as craftsperson (however that writer might characterize its process/product, e.g. lyrical, confessional, polemical, etc.) but nevertheless has a sense of the words as having been written and, therefore, having an intended meaning.

This is where it is useful to divide the roles of sender and receiver into the categories of writer and author and reader and interpreter.  The writer is responsible for merely producing the text, the physical act of creation, but it is the author who encodes the message, the “intent” of the communication.  This may seem like a superfluous, convoluted way of saying that the speaker is not the author, but we can easily demonstrate the nuance of the distinction between writer and author and author and speaker looking at most any work of fiction, here Pale Fire, for its surfeit of speakers/narrators.

Pale Fire, the (proto-post-conceptualist) novel by Vladimir Nabokov, is two texts, the poem “Pale Fire” by fictional poet John Shade and the commentary on “Pale Fire” provided by fictional scholar and (maybe) deposed King of Zembla Charles Kinbote.  Kinbote is both the author and the speaker of the commentary, that is, he is the speaker of the commentary aware of the act of authoring, just as we can assume, for the sake of simplicity (though this would be a dubious assumption in a more thorough study of the text) that John Shade is the speaker of the poem “Pale Fire” aware of the act of authoring.  Shade and Kinbote can be said to be responsible for the words of Pale Fire, but they cannot be said to be responsible for the meaning of Pale Fire, but, as readers, as the receivers of the message, we read as though someone were responsible for this message, the delusions of Kinbote, the autobiography of a poet in underwhelming heroic couplets, the parallels of loss and regret in their personal narratives, etc., who is neither Kinbote nor Shade nor Nabokov, because this entity is still a part of the fiction although a non-actor in the story.  After all, we cannot ignore the fact that this is a novel and not a historical document.

We can equate (with some reservations) these levels authorship in Pale Fire with the levels of narrative Gérard Genette characterizes in Narrative Discourse.  Genette defines the levels of narrative by saying that “any event a narrative recounts is at a diegetic level immediately higher than the level at which the narrating act producing this narrative is placed.”[5]  The production of the work is its own narrative.  Genette would call Kinbote and Shade’s contributions to the text of Pale Fire, their act of writing, extradiegetic; the contributions themselves and the events told within them diegetic, and the events recounted within the events, Mrs. H. recounting the incident in which an old man “thought he was God and began redirecting the trains” for instance, would be metadiegesis.[6]  But equally relevant is the author of Pale Fire, the enabler of Kinbote and Shade’s narratives as much as Kinbote is an enabler of Mrs. H’s, and who makes, with a wink and a nod, references to its role in creating the text (“Why our poet chose to give his 1958 hurricane a little-used Spanish name [Lolita] (sometimes given to parrots) instead of Linda or Lois, is not clear”), “breaking the fourth wall,” or at least knocking on it.[7]

This wall that we imagine as the division between the narrator and the writer, however, is as much a narrative, a level of diegesis as others in Genette’s schema and has as much variation as others.  The author isn’t dead, it is a fiction, as real or false, dead or alive as the speaker or narrator, and we can presume, words being communicative, that there is a corresponding taxonomy for the receiver of these levels of narrative/communication for which I would propose Speaker/Narrator-Audience, Author-Interpreter, and Writer-Reader.  I’m confident that these divisions can be further broken down, and to good use (the author of Pale Fire is and is not the author of Lolita, and is and is most certainly not the author of Pnin), but these are sufficient. There is, then, use for the notion of authorial intent, but it is not the intent of the writer and it is not a key for unlocking the mind, artistry, or psychology of the writer; that is, the structuralists were right to point out, a bridge too far, but there is still use for what Foucault calls an author-function[8] in reading and interpreting texts.  When he first posited the term, Foucault imagined the author-function as applied to existing works as a means of circumscribing discourse, and while this may be true and certain Conceptualists would likely endorse this reading of the author-function, the author-function, the “author” that we imagine recording words towards a certain end we would call meaning, provides a context in which we place the text in order to interpret them, an imaginary sender we construct to better understand the mode of reception we are to engage to properly understand the message.[9]

The work of the conceptualist isn’t merely to be “uncreative” in the act of writing, it is to disrupt the relationship between sender and receiver, between author-function and interpreter-function.  If the writer of the conceptual work cannot be sure of the content before sending it, or, at least, before deciding the process by which one will arrive at the final work, we cannot attribute the meaning of the work to an even fictive author-function, and we are left with a text without an origin.  In this way the conceptual work is further unmoored from authorial intent because as readers and interpreters we are aware that the work is not authored even in this fictive, narratological sense of having a communicative origin.  This origin is the process by which the writer derived the work.  But without an author-function, the text also deprives the reader of an interpreter-function.  Without an origin, without a context in which to place the text and a framework from which to interpret it, the message will always somehow be incomplete.

Technique

Place and Fitterman see this incomplete (unintended) text provided by the conceptualist as allegory, “dependent on the reader for completion,” a form in which externalities political, philosophical, cultural elements influence the interpretation of the text.[10]  In allegory, form and content are imposed upon by a third, external element, context (“pre-text,” Place and Fitterman call it), more subtle, more ephemeral than the others but no less integral to the text, and so it is with conceptual literature, texts that are finished but not complete until the knowing reader provides them with the context they would otherwise lack.  Conceptual writing is allegory because it is simultaneously two works, the work suggested by its literal content and the figurative application of this content to another context, but it is the figurative meaning of the content that takes precedence.  Traffic is traffic reports, but the meaning of Traffic does not reside in how congested the New York City area is on a certain holiday weekend.  But this is also a sly way of suggesting that if you don’t like it, it is because you don’t get it.  Traffic is also a parody of the book of poetry, emphasizing obviously recognizable tropes, from the awkward sizing to the seemingly compulsory cryptic epigraph and pages and pages of words (who can be bothered to read them?) of little interest to anyone save the poet and his or her friends; and it is also a metonym, the book evoking the whole machinery through which poetry is distributed (trafficked, so to speak).

In short it is metaphor; it is equating or conflating one thing (here text) with another thing (here literature, specifically poetry) to reveal their (literally, figuratively, theoretically) shared properties.  The text (on the page) is the vehicle and the text (that we read) is the tenor, and we are not a passive observer of the text but an active participant in its assembly.  The properties of the text (on the page) that we use to illuminate the properties or qualities of the text (that we read) are the rules, conventions, and tendencies towards meaning we’ve learned to “read” into the text.  Traffic demonstrates this by placing a non-literary text in a literary context, forcing (or at least daring) the reader to engage with a non-literary text in a literary fashion.  The non-literary text, of course, will not have very many literary qualities, but this nevertheless foregrounds the conventions that make these qualities possible.  Conceptual writing does for the text what language poetry did for the word: it demonstrates the reader’s role in bringing meaning to the text.

And this isn’t just true of conceptualist writing. We don’t just read the words of a crime novel, we read the conventions of a crime novel; we don’t just read the words on the page, we read the discourse in which the text takes place, and there’s much that we need to know before we can understand a text.  There is no reason one context should be more natural, more correct than another, as the context of the utterance is external to the words themselves since it is not a quality contained within the words.  This is well-tread ground in analytic philosophy and critical theory, but curiously less so in poetics.  But what would an analytic poetics demonstrate?  It would have to be a poetics that recognizes that in many ways the particular words of a text are not the only (and are in some ways are a tertiary) mediator and that their content is not the only (and is in some ways is a tertiary) meaning.  Excluding other mediations or limiting our focus on them because they are too confusing, too ephemeral, too numerous voluntarily ignores many rich avenues of meaning, avenues that do not stop influencing the text just because we aren’t looking.

These are the avenues that conceptual writing is best equipped to pursue.  It is experimental in a clinical sense, with controls and variables, seeing what happens to meaning when the words don’t change but their contexts do.  The more rigorous the constraint, the more rigorous the experiment, the more we can isolate the variable and observe its effects, and we learn how words mean independently of the insidious influence of authorship, of conventions, of poetry, of literature, of genre—all still under the authoritarian thumb of authorial and editorial intent.  When the Conceptualists set themselves against the traditions of lyricism and authorship, and of (individual) creativity, these are the variables they exclude from their experiments to see what changes to the text survive.  But the variables of conceptualists are not exclusive to conceptualism nor are they foreign to lyricists.  They are mechanisms of discourse that influence every reading of every text and this is the importance of the conceptualist project and the value of isolating the mechanisms of discourse from the conventions of individual creativity (both authorial and interpretive).

While Conceptualists lay claim to many techniques, two stand out, and many of the others seem, on closer inspection, derivative of these two: appropriation and length.  Appropriation is obvious, but the second will perhaps be a bit controversial, since it would seem to be a quality of a text rather than a technique, but just the same it is a defining feature of conceptual writing.  Traffic, for instance, may not be especially long for a book of poetry in general, but it, and other conceptual works like it, are sufficiently long to either prevent the reader from reading straight through or else tax them should they try.

Appropriation

We can define appropriation as taking, in whole or in part, the words of another and presenting them as an original text.  Appropriation can seem like a core element of other processes or procedures preferred by conceptual writers.  The work of erasure, for instance, must first be appropriated; the collage must begin with appropriated pieces; but it would be a mistake to privilege appropriation simply because it precedes the others in most procedures.  The truth is, however you approach them, these techniques become increasingly difficult to parse the closer one looks at them.  Appropriation erases the original context of the work, as does collage, but the erasure is incomplete, and appropriation can be read as much as a collage of contexts as an erasure of authorship.  I focus on appropriation because it seems to provide the most discrete examples.  This may be a conceptual error on my part; after all, focusing on appropriation is an especially word-centric way of approaching the text and therefore somewhat antithetical to Conceptualism’s aims.

So, what happens to the appropriated text?  Nothing, ideally.  The appropriator lifts the words from their original context and deposits them in another without modification.  Same words, same order, but in a new context, they take on new meaning, presuming the appropriator has not altered them in any significant way.[11]  I return to Traffic because it is not irrelevant that in their original context the words are meant to convey information, however vital to its audience at the time, narrow in scope and of little value after their original broadcast.  One can approach Traffic in two ways: as the traffic reports collected and bound as if they were a book of poetry, or as the book of poetry that contains nothing but traffic reports.  The words and their order are identical in both instances, but the subjects are quite different.  The former tests the capacity of content to mean without context, the latter the capacity of context to mean without content.

The traffic reports collected and bound as if they were a book of poetry present the traffic reports outside the context of reporting traffic conditions; the original relationship between author-function (the authority on up-to-date traffic conditions) and interpreter-function (traveller who needs to know whether or not to take the Lincoln tunnel) no longer applies. The traffic reports may become boring, irrelevant, confusing, but they do not, curiously, become meaningless.  Their form, the conventions of radio traffic reports survives as the content, though not as a text but as a type, an “image of a language,” to borrow Bakhtin’s terminology, the meaning of which is its conformity to the rules of its genre, the discourse in which it participates.  Bakhtin writes, “every discourse presupposes a special conception of the listener, of his apperceptive background and the degree of his responsiveness; it presupposes a specific distance.”[12]  The original meaning of the traffic reports in Traffic is obvious to any reader familiar with traffic; we know how the words mean in their original context, but it is equally obvious that this meaning is not the meaning of Traffic.

Likewise, the book of poetry that contains nothing but traffic reports is the image of a book of poetry, but as a context provided without the content it would normally convey.  Neither of these texts, however, require attribution to a specific author-function to mean; we recognize them not because they are the product of any individual but because they are forms of discourse that arrive to us ready-made, as it were, by culture.  Yet, the erasure of the original context and the original author-function, is, like all erasure, incomplete, always evocative of both what it has hidden and what it has revealed, and, though the words of each text are identical, we compare the image evoked by our understanding of the words’ original function with the image we would expect to find in the context in which they now appear.  In the context of a book of poetry by Kenneth Goldsmith plagiarized WINS traffic report, we read (not “think”) into them a host of new meanings facilitated by our understanding(s) of what it is like to read a book of poetry and what it is like to listen to a traffic report and the ways the mechanisms by which we recognize these images can themselves be recognized as a variety of content and meaning.

Length

Length further obscures the content of a conceptual work.  On the one hand, length demonstrates the ease of the conceptual work, how cheap the word is to the conceptual writer that one can fill many pages as it does with contentless text, and it is certainly sensible, if one’s aim is to create an unreadable work, to make the text as long as possible.  But more than being unreadable, the lengthy text is inscrutable.  It is not unimaginable that any roughly poem-length selection of Traffic might make a perfectly adequate found poem and a perfectly tolerable, if unexceptional, work of poetry.  However selection has an obvious limitation in that it both draws attention to what to the criteria for inclusion.  The exhaustive work emphasizes the inclusiveness of the formula over the discernment of the author while at the same time it shifts the reader’s attention to the object rather than subject of the book.  What appropriation does for textuality, length does for physicality.

Just as one might turn the volume up on the stereo if one wants to listen to the ambient static when the needle is off the record, increasing the length of the conceptual work, the volume of text, brings to the reader’s attention to the background qualities of text in book form that the reader normally ignores.  We are practiced at filtering, but when the noise is the signal, we need more noise to recognize it as signal.  4’33”, for instance, doesn’t really get going until the forty-five second mark, when we stop listening to the silence of the piano and start listening to the noises of the crowd, and Traffic doesn’t become Traffic until we stop reading the words of the found poetry and start reading the material of the book, what the elements we are accustomed to ignoring, the font, the quality of the paper, the layouts of the words on the pages and on the cover, margins and spacing, signify.  Traffic is as much a book about the physicality of the book of poetry, a study of the material manifestation of poetry as it is about the role of the author in contemporary creative writing.

We can see the words in Traffic vanishing under the deluge of text, a solid block with no physical space dividing one report from another, only a time-stamp, as a sort of erasure by addition, an erasure that demonstrates the reader’s own role in removing portions irrelevant to the messages to which one will be most receptive.  We can read what’s there; we try to, in fact, but perhaps by virtue of our new-media-addled brains or more likely because we’ve already gotten all that there is to get, our attention wanders to the other texts, other avenues of interpretation more fruitful than the fool’s errand of reading Traffic from cover to cover.  What works like Traffic expose by simultaneously providing and denying a text for interpretation is the texts beyond the text, those elements we read as text, interpret as text, but are decidedly external to the text.  These texts, from the binding of the book, to the author’s statements or oeuvre or place in literature, the publisher, the imprint, to the quality of paper that are all available to the reader for interpretation but usually ignored in favor of the more compelling, more comprehensible words are the physical manifestations of the discourse in which the text participates and no less significant, no less deserving of our (thoughtful) readership.

Reading the unreadable

How does one give a book like Traffic the thoughtful reading it deserves?  Marjorie Perloff might go too far in performing a close reading, however successful on its own terms, of Traffic, as she does in Unoriginal Genius, to decipher the inscrutable poem and determine possible hidden criteria for inclusions unmentioned by Goldsmith in his explanations of his process, not necessarily because such a reading isn’t fruitful[13] but because it treats meaning as something put there by the author rather than a necessary consequence of their context and our relationship to language.  “Goldsmith’s ‘transcription’ is thus hardly passive recycling,” she writes, citing the dubious chronology of the weekend and “illusory” quality of chapter headings that divide sections of text not discernibly different.[14]  But not even a word-processor can be truly passive in its handling of language.  It is possible that he made these decisions consciously to obscure a meaning of which only he and the most fastidious close readers are aware, but it is also difficult to imagine a way Goldsmith might have arranged the text that wouldn’t in some way influence the manner in which we read.

And this is why Goldsmith is wrong to say that his books do not require readers.  It is necessary that we can approach the text as text, in the context of a book rather than merely as an idea, because we cannot hold an idea and we especially cannot see the way that the context of the idea, the seemingly inessential details of its execution, influences its import.  Were the content of Traffic only the idea of traffic reports as poetry (the ideation of traffic reports, ideal traffic reports as if they were poetry) it would add nothing to collect these traffic reports and publish them in book form, but it does in fact add something.[15]  By putting traffic reports in poetry space, we can see their transition from traffic reports to the idea of traffic reports to traffic reports in the context of poetry, but, more important, we can see the context of poetry, the sort of book that would contain poetry, be it lyrical ballads or otherwise.

The author is dead, authorial intention is a fantasy, but these fantasies (conventions) still influence our reading of the text, the meaning of the text that Kenneth Goldsmith and not a traffic reporter or a linguistic anthropologist published.  One needn’t spend very long with the text of Traffic to get everything there is to get from it, but when approached as a book of poetry, one can see that we are not dealing with a work by a cavalier charlatan without the talent or patience to produce a serious work (though this may nevertheless be an accurate description of Goldsmith) but a work that essays the text’s capacity to mean when the words themselves are, if not meaningless, arbitrary, uninteresting, and largely at the mercy of their context.  We see what it means to be a book of poetry, a plagiarized work, a work by Kenneth Goldsmith of a cabal of “Conceptualist Poets” who ostensibly hate poetry, and how these usually hidden or ignored elements play a role in the creation of meaning.  A text like Traffic requires readers as much as any other text, but if they only read the words on the page they are only reading a small portion of the text.  The difference between Traffic, and more traditional texts is that this secondary (extra or paratextual) reading is often so natural as to be unnoticeable.  We do not need to “remember” how to read a novel as opposed to an article in Time or how to interpret or appreciate a “literary” work as opposed to burning through a trashy paperback to get to the good parts, but these processes, subtle and subconscious, influence our experience of the text and ultimately our interpretation.  Making the words as banal as possible might undermine the work’s “value,” its poignancy, its readability, but facilitates this second reading.

T=E=X=T

Why does any of this matter?  Why should we pay the slightest bit of attention to talentless, status-seeking hacks bent on the subjugation and domination of early 21st century poetry?  Conceptual writing essays two critical (and crucial) aesthetic problems to which poetry lacks adequate answers: How does a word-centric medium communicate at the level of discourse, how does it present images of languages, and what is the syntax of images of language? And what role does the author-function play at the level of discourse, where collective interpretation of images of language operates as a primary vehicle of meaning?  Poetry needs answers to these questions because they are facts of how we interpret text, dimensions of language that poetry, whether it actively manipulates them or not, utilizes.  Just as no painting uses only one dimension, no use of language does not also function at the level of discourse, and no message does not imply a relationship between a sender and a receiver.

We can see how people manipulate these dimensions in other media all over the internet.  We are all avant-garde now, communicating meanings that exist between the discourses we invoke and the context in which we invoke them.  It is the success or failure of the invocation of these discourses that we evaluate, “read” when we come across an image macro or a piece of hashtag humor, and the text, that we’d usually consider the content of the work facilitates the invocation of the discourse but it is not, really, the content of the work since it is the type of meaning, not the actual meaning, that is important for the reader to understand.

Image macros, hashtag and reference humor, and conceptual poetry all derive their meaning at the level of discourse.  The minimally intrusive approach to authorship utilized by many conceptual writers presents the images of language, the language as a sign that we can interpret without reading too closely because we all participate in the culture that has collectively assigned meaning to the conventions they follow.  Moreover, conceptual writing demonstrates that we can manipulate the meaning of these images without changing their content by changing their context and arranging them in relation to other discourses with their own conventions and meanings.  Relying on the discourses around text rather than the content of the text as the vehicle of expression is not exclusive to conceptual writers, and we would be foolish to dismiss the mechanisms they utilize as somehow less expressive, less adequate, or less meaningful than ones that rely on content simply because we have yet to develop an adequate vocabulary to criticize them.

Works Cited

Bakhtin, M.M. “Discourse in the Novel,” In The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays, edited by Michael Holquist, 259-422. Translated by Caryl Emerson and Michael Holquist. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2008.

Foucault, Michel, “What is an Author,” The Critical Tradition: Classic Texts and Contemporary Trends, edited by David H. Richter, 904-915. Translated by Josué Harari. Boston, Mass.: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2007.   

Genette, Gérard, Narrative Discourse: an Essay on Method. Translated by Jane E. Lewin. Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 1980.

Goldsmith, Kenneth, “Conceptual Poetics: On Appropriation,” Harriet the Blog, June 10, 2008, http://www.poetryfoundation.org/harriet/2008/06/conceptual-poetics-on-appropriation/.

Nabokov, Vladimir, Pale Fire. New York: Vintage Books, 1989.

Perloff, Marjorie, Unoriginal Genius: Poetry by Other Means in the New Century.  Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010.

Place, Vanessa, and Robert Fitterman, Notes on Conceptualism. New York: Ugly Duckling Press, 2009.


[1] By collage I mean appropriating and arranging (either thoughtfully by curation or thoughtlessly by cut-up) a variety of texts from a variety sources.  This is sometimes, borrowing terms from contemporary music, called “sampling,” “remixing,” or “mash-up” in reference to conceptualist writing, but I find these terms to be misleading and think conceptualism’s project usually finds more appropriate analogues in the visual arts.  Further, one can spend less time explaining “literary collage” to the uninitiated, and I would like to exclude works like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, which is sometimes (more successfully, I think, than works like “The Ecstasy of Influence” or Reality Hunger) described as a literary mash-up.

[2] Goldsmith, “Conceptual Poetics: On Appropriation.”

Though he continues “But writing — with its reception still fifty years behind visual art — is just beginning to struggle with these issues,” dismissing predecessors mentioned in the piece, Pound, Eliot, Benjamin, Acker, suggesting an interesting division between type (or genre) and technique, which may or may not be a useful distinction going forward.

[3] Perloff, Unoriginal Genius, and Dworkin, No Medium, among them.

[4] Place and Fitterman, Notes on Conceptualisms, 22.

[5] Genette, Narrative Discourse, 228.

[6] Nabokov, Pale Fire, 238.

[7] Ibid. 243

[8] Using Foucault’s term, because it is necessary to acknowledge that authorship is not a given, a necessary consequence of one having written, but rather a status assigned by the interpreter to the level of narrative at which the work comes into being.

[9] Foucault, “What is an Author.”

[10] Place and Fitterman, Notes of Conceptualism, 13.

[11] Alterations can complicate things rather significantly.  The appropriated “Declaration of Independence” by Ian Darda is a different text than the “Declaration of Independence” by Ian Darda set in Comic Sans, which is, further, a different text than the “Declaration of Independence Set in Comic Sans” by Ian Darda.  Differences worth parsing but for another time.

[12] Bakhtin. “Discourse in the Novel.”  The Dialogic Imagination, 346.

[13] Of course Traffic can be treated ‘as a book about traffic’, but Traffic can be treated as any number of books, and there is no reason to privilege one over the other when this multiplicity of possible treatments is the more obvious subject of the book.  Perloff, Unoriginal Genius, 151.

[14] Perloff, Unoriginal Genius, 161.

[15] One might comment that the real impetus for publishing them is that ideas do not pay the bills, but neither, I am told, does poetry, and anyway Goldsmith’s intention here does not matter nor prevent the work from meaning whichever way it chooses.

* * *

Ian Darda is a poet, playwright, and armchair culture theorist currently living in Chicago.

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