“There is no perfect polished rounded whole. It is precisely excess that is the universal part of a whole, like Badiou’s set of all sets, or Ranciere’s part of no part” Zizek claimed during a recent lecture in the Volksbuhne in Berlin, explaining where for him Hegel was not Hegelian enough.
This point of excess is also visible in works of Conceptual poetry whose ostensible genesis is a purely rational concept. Some striking examples Eunoia by Christian Bök, Day & Fidget by Kenneth Goldsmith, Parse by Craig Dworkin, Dies: a sentence by Vanessa Place. Some of these moments of excess are intentional (Parse, Dies: a sentence) semi-intentional (Day, Fidget), or unintended but apparently unavoidable (Eunoia).
Eunoia Christian Bök’s insane Oulipean project containing five chapters of univocalic words (words containing only one vowel). Thus there are chapters for A, E, I, O, U. Additionally, each chapter narrates the same four stories, “a culinary banquet, a prurient debauch, a pastoral tableau and a nautical voyage”. The moments of excess here are 1. the fact that Bök does not use all univocalic words 2. Some words are repeated; 3. That not all “Ys” are discarded. To be fair, the constraints Bök imposed on himself do not specify that all univocalic words must be used, & that none of the words may be repeated, or that all”Ys” must be used. The actual constraints on the wording are: include as many possible words in it as it can, the text must avoid repeating words as much as possible, the letter Y is to be avoided. Now this is speculation that I expect that (& I believe Bök even said as much somewhere but I forget) had it been possible, he would have used all univocalic words & not just most of them (I believe there are only a handful that did not make it into Eunoia). Either way, it is a nice illustration of the squirming of language traversing the writing of pure concept.
Kenneth Goldsmith fully embraces excess in his work often emphasising that he thinks of language as fluid, flowing, mouldable (one can often recognise in his language is beginnings as a sculptor). To pertinent examples are his Day (called in notes on conceptualisms the ur-text of Conceptual writing) & Fidget. Day – the transcription of the complete text of a newspaper (including about 40% of stock quotes), resulting in a 900-page book – is, as Kenneth Goldsmith himself has stated, full of typos (not that he actually typed out the whole book; apparently he scanned most of it). He has even stated in interviews that the book is so teeming with mistakes that they would be impossible to correct (again I forget exactly where, so no source, sorry..).
Fidget is a transcription of one day of all of Goldsmith’s bodily movement, from 10 AM to 11 PM. Excess overtakes it in the last chapter which is printed backwards. Goldsmith explains that the exercise of speaking all of his movements into a recording device was driving him insane:
The exercise becomes harder and harder, the verbal equivalents to physical motion more and more abbreviated. By 6:00 PM, “as a defense my body put itself to sleep.” When Goldsmith awakes and realizes he had another five or six hours to go, he panics:
I went out and bought a fifth of Jack Daniels, walked over to an abandoned loading dock by the West Side highway and drank the entire bottle, all the while continuing my exercise. Needless to say, I got trashed. I found my home and fell asleep by 11:00 PM, never once having stopped my narrative.
Later, when he plays the tapes, Goldsmith finds that in the drunk sequence, his words have become completely slurred and in the last chapter (22:00), quite incomprehensible. So, in a Beckettian move, “I ran the first [sic? not last?] chapter backwards, mirrored it, then reversed every letter.” For example, “Tongue runs across lower lip, moving from right side of mouth to the left following arc of lip,” becomes .pil fo cra gniwollof tfel ot htuom fo edis thgir morf gnivom pil rewol ssorca snur eugnoT.
The sentences from this last chapter were then put into reverse order with the last actions coming first, and the first coming last. The only exception is the very last line of the book, “Eyelids close,” which is printed in standard order, “creating a full circle of closure for the day” (source)
A second example is the unseen excess; the very fact that it is impossible to describe all of one’s bodily movements (in the same way that is impossible to describe all qualities of any object). This is precisely what was driving him crazy. Thirdly, there is the given that Goldsmith apparently felt it necessary to rigorously edit the tapes. Marjorie Perloff: “all unnecessary words such as “the” were removed as were all possible literary and art references. The aim was to make the text “very dry and very descriptive” and “to divorce the action from the surroundings, narrative, and attendant morality.” In other words, excess trumped the writing of concept but was subsequently swept under the carpet.
Finally, two examples of fully intentional use of excess are Parse by Craig Dworkin & Dies: a sentence by Vanessa place. Parse, in true pure conceptual style, was a five-year exercise in tedium.
Parse is a translation of Edwin A. Abbott’s How To Parse: An Attempt to Apply the Principles of Scholarship to English Grammar. First published in 1874, the book played a leading role in the pedagogic debate over whether English should be analyzed as if it were Latin, and thousands of copies were printed as textbooks in the last quarter of the 19th century.
When I first came across the book, I was reminded of a confession by Gertrude Stein (another product of 1874): “I really do not know that anything has ever been more exciting than diagramming sentences.” And so, of course, I parsed Abbott’s book into its own idiosyncratic system of analysis.” (from K. Silem Mohammed’s blog)
The funny thing is that apparently; “Dworkin occasionally retains an entire phrase or sentence from Abbott without “translating” it, often creating the effect of editorial comment (“plural first person subjective case pronoun used in bad faith to suggest a camaraderie with the reader auxiliary verb adverb” etc.)”. in this case there for the excess is fully intentional part of the work, yet not of the initial concept. As K. Silem Mohammed points out that working seems to be poking fun at the sourcebook & perhaps the whole exercise that he is putting himself through. It reminds me as well of Lucretius’ famous clinamen, the swerve of atoms that causes them to bump into each other & without which there would be no matter.
Finally, Vanessa place employs a baroque/impure conceptualism, namely one that emerges from self-expression & is not based on pure concept. Dies: a sentence is a 50,000 word sentence monologue of a dying man who has lost his legs in the First World War (if I recall correctly). This might more properly be seen as a case of concept intersecting excess.
These are just some examples of the personal, the lyrical subject (the animal trapped in language (Zizek), the whimsical, the unplanned for, emerging through works that are grounded in concept; grounding, in turn, the concept in the real.