This summer I taught ENG 460 The Art of Compost again, the course the blog is named for. This time I included more avant-garde & conceptual writing than I have, wanting that they sharpen – thicken? – their historical sense of their own work.
So we assembled an oddball constellation on the fly, stars plucked out of formations named Dada, ’Pataphysics, Oulipo, Fluxus, Flarf, Conceptual Writing. Names I didn’t forget, they’re fine for context, & now & then as shorthand for ideas, actions, orientations; but we didn’t belabour them.
One of their projects for the 1/4’s end is to come up with a generative practice of their own. Here it is. Links added to make a resource, a compost-conceptual nexus.
Assignment: Generative Procedure
We’ve looked at some creative works that use a procedure to create material, or to bring material on hand to form:
- Dada poem (Tristan Tzara)
- cut-up methods (William Burroughs & Brion Gysin, Jena Osman)
- homophonic translation (Louis & Celia Zukofsky, David Melnick)
- erasure (Ronald Johnson, Wave Books)
- illumination (Tom Phillips)
- worm in the compost bin (CP)
- Google poet search (Google Poetics)
- Google Translate lyric telephone (CP)
- transcription in a new context (Kenneth Goldsmith, Vanessa Place)
- writing-through (John Cage) (& Marjorie Perloff sort of explains)
- structuring ambient sound or a thought stream (John Cage)
- N+7 (Oulipo, Sara Rabold, Lauryl Hicks)
- lipogram (Oulipo, George Perec, Christian Bök)
- anagram (Christian Bök)
- visual transform of a verbal object (Derek Beaulieu, and Beaulieu again)
- however Caroline Bergvall got to where she got (print, video)
- creating a con-script (DavidEllingsen & Michael V. Smith)
- mining a dataform (Nasser Hussain)
A few more I’ll tell you about now:
- Robert Zend, Hearsay
- Moez Surani, ةيلمع Operación Opération Operation 行 动 Oперация
- Biblioklept, one-star reviews of Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian
Some are cool, dry, conceptual. Some, warm & visceral. There’s no one way to do this. There’s only, for this assignment, sticking to your procedure, once you’ve conceived it.
Devise and employ a generative procedure.
Your submission will have two parts: (1) an account of the process you’ve devised, and (2) a work or set of works created through that process. Part (1) will in turn have two parts: (a) a description of how the process works, and (b) a rationale for the process.
We’ll work one-on-one to refine your process and to decide on what you’ll submit.
In your rationale, explain what makes your process interesting, legitimate, relevant, useful – or whatever values (extravagance? uselessness?) you want to argue for. What sorts of verbal objects does it produce? Connect it to other processes we’ve looked at, and its results to other artworks we’ve studied.
It’s the Art of Compost, so your procedure should be a composting practice: it should digest, break down, repurpose, remix, or some such action, an extant source. Your source can be nearly anything – a searchable database, a literary text, overheard street noise. Andreas Serrano composted Christ by sinking His ikon in his own piss. Don’t do that – I just mean, the range of possibilities is wow.
And, it’s a writing course, so the result of your procedure should have a language dimension, though we can understand language generously. To my sense, Beaulieu’s Local Colour and Flatland are both language objects, while Cage’s 4’33” and Serrano’s Piss Christ are not. I’m open to persuasion.
As we’ve noted before, successful generative practices are often simple in their form – elegant even – but complex in the results they produce. However, often is not always, and simple does not mean easy to come up with.
Many of the procedures we’ve looked at have a chance or aleatory element – maybe all, if you define aleatory broadly. Everyone’s looking to get out of their head! The Greeks invoked their Muses; Surrealists fell into dream and automatic writing; Yeats channelled spirits; Jack Spicer invited Martians to rearrange the inner furniture. Maybe all these chance operations are an effort to recover spontaneity, by outsourcing it.
I look forward to their engagements with this. They know far more than they know.