Notes on Conceptualisms schematizes three kinds of Conceptual writing:

1. Pure appropriation

2. Hybrid/impure

3. Baroque

‘The primary focus moves from production to post-production. This may involve a shift from the material of production to the mode of production, or the production of a mode.’

Production Mode Material Post
Pure appropriation + +
Hybrid / impure + + +
Baroque + +

1. So pure appropriation is on one end of the scale, beginning with a focus on ‘the mode of production, or the production of a mode’ and ending with a statement concerning the post-production (the (or a) sense in which the work is allegorical; points from the work’s underlying concept (whatever that may be), to an allegory that traverses the work). – Kenneth’s Goldsmith’s Day (called in NoC the Ur-text of Conceptual writing)

2. Hybrid / impure writing involves both some focus on the tension between the mode of production and the post-production, as well as working with the material itself. The balance between these three values can of course differ a lot from work to work. – Rob Fitterman’s This window makes me feel, would be a good example of Hybrid Conceptual writing. The poem is a series of paragraphs with (Googled) sentences that all start with the phrase of the book’s title: it uses and complicates a mode of production, sculpts the material, and also invites reflection on the post-production.

3. Baroque writing is on the other end of the scale from pure appropriation, where all focus on the mode of production is shifted to the material of (language) itself, but as with 1 and 2, finally to post-production. – Vanessa Place would be the most remarkable example of Baroque Conceptual writing, using Baroque to engage the excess of language.

So. Part of me is a dull romanticist at heart, but I like the idea of using some kind of conceptual underpinning to frame a poem. That is why part of the reason that Day scared me to hell was that I find it completely relevant yet completely alien to my natural inclination (‘natural’ meaning what here?). What I like about the notion of hybrid writing is that it involves all three elements and that these elements can be faded in or out (more/less focus on mode of production / material of production).

I like the sound of Lyrical/Electric Conceptualism (as a subset or variation of Hybrid/impure: Lyrical to emphasize this mode’s quality of affect/sensation as a result of manipulating the material of the work). A work that can be formally rigorous, yet at the same time allows for the contingency of language/subject-position to seep through. Or rather does not try to hide / actively recognizes the fact that there always will be traces of impurity even in pure Conceptual writing (something Kenneth Goldsmith – the Purest Conceptual writer around – has brought up himself on several occasions (e.g. the many inevitable, un-editable mistakes in Day)). So in fact, this recognition (in a hybrid work) of contingent factors, is like a second level of appropriation, the detournement, the rerouting of quirks of language or the lyrical subject. In this sense Hybrid Conceptual writing is actually even more comprehensive – more of its elements are immanent to it, have been taken account of – than in Pure Conceptual writing because not only does it envelop the scale from Mode to Post-production, it also traverses the seams of the work itself by the manipulation of its material, language.

Alain Badiou writes, in a great sentence, (the 12th of his 15 Theses on Contemporary Art) that ‘Non-imperial art must be as rigorous as a mathematical demonstration, as surprising as an ambush in the night, and as elevated as a star.’ However, I think the Lyrical bit is not fully covered in this statement. It is true of course that affect, sensation and intensity are not prominent parts of Badiou’s philosophy, and he agitates against what he calls the Romantic-Formalism of the 20th Century. But when I say Lyricism here, I mean non-personal affect/sensation (and this Badiou also mentions, ‘Art is the process of a truth, and this truth is always the truth of the sensible or sensual, the sensible qua sensible. This means: the transformation of the sensible into an happening of the Idea.’). If art is to be (and I think it should be, or is), ‘the impersonal production of a truth that is addressed to everyone’, then I like the idea of it including affect, of it speaking to the senses, as well as being as ‘rigorous as a mathematical formula’. Lyrical Conceptualism is then writing that is as exact as a mathematical formula while simultaneously also openly and joyously (not just ‘hybridly’ or ‘impurely’, we need more joy) allowing a manipulation of language, the materiality, rhythm, metre, etc, prosody, force, etc etc, virtual potential of language.

So an example of Lyrical Conceptual writing would be to take a slice of language (like Day is), but then to double that movement and take a slice of that slice (like the reading through texts that John Cage did). Add to that a splash of jouissance, loveliness and gristle. And oempf, a lyrical conceptual, electric acid poem

3 thoughts on “Lyrical/Electric Conceptualism

  1. nice post. i have been wondering lately if such a term ‘appropriation’ exists, or is in a phase of becoming-obsolescence.

    what exactly is one appropriating? i am appropriating as i type here. i’m appropriating the ‘comment’ structure, the ‘response’ structure, the ‘cordial’ structure ..? etc. i’m not sure if appropriation as i conceive it is as micro or on such a phenomenological level, but i think it should be taken into consideration. i myself employ objects (almost exclusively) in my own work that i have not physically ‘made’, but when i happen to ‘find’ this object, it some how contains a *trace*, *stain* of my signature, yes? where am i in this text? ‘i am in this picture’ as lacan would say. anyway i’m rambling a bit but i am very concerned with the state of appropriation in text or any sort of art being made now; the 21st century ‘literature’. i may dare to say that i cannot conceive of a pure appropriation at this point.

  2. Thanks for the feedback, yeah I like that idea. Maybe ‘establishing temporary relations of interaction’ instead of ‘appropriation’ (I think Remix theorist Mark Amerika says something like that, but not sure exactly). Yeah, maybe Place/Fitterman would have been better off writing ‘pure concept’ instead of ‘pure appropriation’. Anyway, I personally am not concerned with appropriating in order to make a point about appropriation, but because there are so many interesting sources for language other than oneself.

  3. He, I asked my friend and yes it was Mark Amerika I was thinking of:

    ‘The artist is the medium, the media flow through him and play the artist as medium:

    (…) The artist is the medium or instrument, and the networked space of flows play this instrument to facilitate the development of creative compositions.’ (Spontaneous Theories – Cyberpsychogeography, 19)

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