Ripples in language

Dmitri Prigov, 18-я азбука: Камень и круги на воде (18th Alphabet: Stone and Circles on Water), courtesy of the Centre for Artists’ Publications, Weserburg, Bremen and the Estate of Dmitri Prigov. Photograph by Bettina Brach.

Дмитрий Пригов, 18-я азбука: Камень и круги на воде (Dmitri Prigov, 18th Alphabet: Stone and Circles on Water), courtesy of the Centre for Artists’ Publications, Weserburg, Bremen and the Estate of Dmitri Prigov. Photograph by Bettina Brach.

Stone and Circles on Water (Камень и круги на воде) is the eighteenth in Dmitri Prigov’s series of poems built around the Russian alphabet, or azbuka, and the work that for me most clearly encapsulates Prigov’s “iterative poetics,” about which I’ve recently written in Russian Literature. I’m posting a photograph of the work here (courtesy of Bettina Brach and the Centre for Artists’ Publications, Weserburg, Bremen), along with an edited version of my remarks on the piece in the hope that this extraordinary work of art might reach a broader audience.

Prigov’s book describes and depicts a stone dropped into a pool. The book or work of art overlays five textual iterations, five carbon-copies––each with a circle of increasing diameter cut out––on top of the original typescript sheet, inverting their order so that the nearly illegible bottom layer precedes the others, while the original layer lies at the bottom and is visible only through the smallest hole at the centre––the point where the stone hits the water. Prigov thereby utilizes the samizdat mode of small-scale multi-copy reproduction as his mode of production. The samizdat mode of reproduction necessitates thin paper, which here allows the overlaid layers to show through each other, further adding to the smudged look of the text and so to the illusion of the blurring produced by a ripple passing over formerly smooth water. The stone’s trajectory is described by the vertical movement of the text down the page from a to ia (a to z). The text describes the stone striking the face of the water in the center before touching the bottom of the pool at the bottom of the page––a movement emphasized by the columns of alphabetically ordered initial letters and the “ėto” that follows in most lines (an effect made possible by the zero-kerning of the type-script medium). Just as the work gains power from the intersection of its inter-media iterations––at the point where the vertical axis of the text and the outward and circular axis of its visual appeal meet––so the moment of the stone’s impact becomes a metaphor for such intersections, a unique instant in time frozen between iterating movements and between the two-dimensional image and three-dimensional sculpture produced through the medium of the samizdat book.

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Compared to What?

You can now download  in MP3 and MP4 formats the fourth and final talk delivered by the incomparable Haun Saussy as the as 2014 University of Otago De Carle Distinguished Lecturer. In “Compared to What?” Saussy argues that “comparative literature grew from interdisciplinarity in the late eighteenth/early nineteenth centuries, struggled to become an autonomous field and in the process lost its interdisciplinary dimensions, then has been recovering them on new bases, but in an academic environment that is slow to reward risk-taking, unlike the moment immediately after the French Revolution when the gesture of sweeping the slate clean and inventing new sciences came naturally to so many of our predecessors.” In the process, we learn what eighteenth-century comparative astronomy has to do with late-1960s popular music, and why Saussy is not a fan of world literature as a discipline.

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Defining poetry

Screenshot 2014-09-30 21.28.41I’ve been anything but quick in answering Katie Price’s “quick question” on Jacket2. Now, my response finally joins those of Amy Catanzano, Bob Perelman, and Brian M. Reed. Each of us was asked to write a 500-word response to the question: “What is at stake in/when defining poetry?” Many thanks to Katie Price for inviting me to join the conversation. I also recommend checking out the responses to her other quick questions, the second of which is: “What is the relationship between Conceptual art and conceptual writing?” For more on this question, look out for Postscript: Writing After Conceptual Art, edited by Andrea Andersson, and forthcoming from the University of Toronto Press (the book builds on the exhibition of the same name that originally opened at the MCA Denver in 2012 and that has since been touring).

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Zhang Longxi on Comparison and Ethics

photo 3Zhang Longxi’s talk at the University of Otago on “Comparison and Ethics” is now available for download in MP3 and MP4 formats. The talk formed part of the “Comparing Comparisons” symposium, sponsored by Otago’s Comparative and Cross-Cultural Studies Research Theme (CCCS). I hope in the near future to make available Haun Saussy’s keynote address to the symposium, “Compared to What?”

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Haun Saussy on History-Writing and Moral Community in China

HUM-De Carle Lecture Saussy Poster 14The third in Haun Saussy’s series of De Carle Lectures, delivered in Dunedin, New Zealand, on Thursday, 2 October 2014, is now available for download as an MP3 or MP4. In “History-Writing and Moral Community in China,” Saussy argues that, “the Chinese claim, seen with increasing frequency in current soft-power propaganda campaigns, of ‘5000 years of history’ needs to be read in light of a process, over 2000 years long itself, of consensus-building by, of and for historians. How does such a thing as the Chinese Empire become, first an imaginary solution, then an inescapable reality, for a large part of humanity? The arts of rhetorical reading help us to see the successive articulations of what we now know as ‘China’ or ‘Zhongguo.'” Saussy’s first two lectures can be downloaded here. His fourth and final lecture will be posted shortly.

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Dmitri Prigov’s iterative poetics

Prigov 22-ia azbukaMy article on Dmitri Prigov’s “iterative poetics” (free download to 17 Jan. 2015) is just out in a special issue of Russian Literature, which also includes illuminating articles by Mary Nicholas, Ksenya Gurshtein, and Dennis Ioffe, who edited the issue. In my essay, I discuss––amongst other things––a few of the lesser-known works in Prigov’s famous Azbuka or Alphabet series, including his 22-ia azbuka (22nd Alphabet), pictured here. For a very different example of Prigov’s alphabet works, see the extraordinary video of Prigov performing his 49-ia azbuka or 49th Alphabet with the musician Vladimir Tarasov in the apartment studio of Ilya Kabakov in Moscow in 1986, along with Gerald Janecek’s commentary. My article focuses on how Prigov uses serial forms, exemplified by the alphabet series, to combine performance, sculpture, installation art, literary text, bookwork, and other genres and media in a single multimedia or post-media artistic practice. It also interrogates the wider implications of this practice for media and art theory and for conceptions of freedom.

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Haun Saussy and Olga Solovieva in Dunedin

From left to right: Olga Solovieva, Ulrich Timme Kragh, Haun Saussy, and Zhang Longxi in Dunedin, New Zealand, 10 October 2014.

From left to right: Olga Solovieva, Ulrich Timme Kragh, Haun Saussy, and Zhang Longxi in Dunedin, New Zealand, 10 October 2014.

I was lucky enough to host Haun Saussy, Olga Solovieva, and their three children in Dunedin during September and October. As the 2014 University of Otago De Carle Distinguished Lecturer, Haun delivered four brilliant public lectures in Dunedin, the first two of which are now available to download from the links below. The first lecture gives listeners/viewers a sneak preview of his book-length investigation into the rise of the concept of orality in twentieth-century thought.

“Oral vs. Written: The Curious History of a Cultural Distinction,” 18 Sept. 2014, MP4, MP3. Though it has become part of our common-sense understanding, the idea of a deep and comprehensive difference between the ways of thinking in predominantly oral and predominantly written cultures dates to the early twentieth century, at the most, and received its impetus from polemics now largely forgotten. By retracing this history, we can work out a genealogy for media studies that will accommodate a larger definition of the human.

“Doctoring the State: Plato, Hobbes, Humboldt, Hegel, Virchow,” 22 Sept. 2014, MP4, MP3. Western political philosophy, at its beginning (Plato’s Republic), introduces an analogy between medical treatment and political reform that, like all metaphors, has consequences on both the supposedly different domains that it incorporates. As long as the metaphor is viewed as a mere analogy, however, the practical relation of medicine to state survival is obscured. The historical development, through a series of political theorists, some of them physicians, explains the in-between status of the field of public health.

The photo above shows Haun and Olga with Zhang Longxi and Ulrich Timme Kragh, who also visited Dunedin in October for a symposium on comparative literature and interdisciplinarity. Recordings were also made of Haun’s and Longxi’s talks from this event and they should be available for download soon.

While in Dunedin, Olga also generously gave two wonderful talks on Kurosawa and Russia––from her forthcoming book on the subject. The image below is from her first talk, to Otago’s Department of Media, Film and Communications.

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