Make It the Same released

make it the same hardcoverIt’s official: Make It the Same: Poetry in the Age of Global Media is in the world. It is available now from Columbia UP (use the code CUP30 for a 30% discount), Amazon, and other booksellers.

The book has been a long time in the making. The origins of the project go back at least as far as a 2010 talk that I gave on Caroline Bergvall’s iterative poetics at the incredible Greenwich Cross-Genre Festival, organized by the amazing Emily Critchley. It was a great privilege to speak about the poetic uses of repetition, versioning, and appropriation at a forum that featured many wonderful contemporary writers, including Caroline herself.

That festival helped set me on the path to writing a book about poetry’s turn to copying, sampling, versioning, remediation, and other forms of repetition. Nine years later, and after countless other instances of encouragement and support from writers, artists, and scholars from around the world, I’m relieved and excited to be able to hold Make It the Same in my hands and so to make good on their faith in my work.

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From Strangeness to Sameness

make it the same circleI have created a new website and blog for my new book Make It the Same: Poetry in the Age of Global Media, which is due out in June from Columbia University Press. The new site contains details of the book’s contents, including brief chapter descriptions. From now on, I will shift my blogging energies to this new site, where I hope to post regularly not just about the book but more generally with thoughts and announcements relating to contemporary poetry, comparative literature, new media, and globalization. The Common Strangeness blog will remain online but I won’t be adding to it often.

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Make It the Same: Poetry in the Age of Global Media

make it the sameI’m delighted to announce that my new book, Make It the Same: Poetry in the Age of Global Media, is due out from Columbia University Press in June of this year. A brief blurb appears below. For further details, click here.

Our world is full of copies. This proliferation includes not just the copying that occurs online and the cultural copying of globalization but the works of avant-garde writers challenging cultural and political authority. In Make It the Same, Jacob Edmond examines the turn toward repetition in poetry, using the explosion of copying to offer a deeply inventive account of modern and contemporary literature.

Make It the Same explores how poetry—an art form associated with the singular, inimitable utterance—is increasingly made from other texts through sampling, appropriation, translation, remediation, performance, and other forms of repetition, as opposed to privileging “innovative” or “original” works. Edmond tracks the rise of copy poetry across media from the tape recorder to the computer and through various cultures, languages, and places, reading across aesthetic, linguistic, geopolitical, and media divides. He illuminates the common form that unites a diverse range of writers from dub poets to conceptualists, samizdat wordsmiths to Twitter-trolling provocateurs, analyzing the works of such writers as Kamau Brathwaite, Dmitri Prigov, Lev Rubinstein, Caroline Bergvall, . NourbeSe Philip, Yang Lian, John Cayley, the Mongrel Coalition Against Gringpo, Vanessa Place, Kenneth Goldsmith, Christian Bök, Brandon Som, Hsia Yü, and Tan Lin. Edmond develops an alternative account of modernist and contemporary literature as defined not by innovation—as in Ezra Pound’s slogan “make it new”—but by a system of continuous copying. Make It the Same transforms global literary history, showing how the old hierarchies of original and derivative, center and periphery are overturned when we recognize copying as the engine of literary change.

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Russian lessons for conceptual writing

Tot kto poet n s nami Prigov A-Ya 071.001.027

Dmitri Prigov, Tot kto poet ne s nami––tot protiv nas, ego unichtozhauiut [He Who Does Not Sing with Us Is against Us and Is Destroyed]. Typewritten text on paper. 29.6 x 21 cm. A-Ya Archive, Lettrist series. Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers University, Norton and Nancy Dodge Collection of Nonconformist Art from the Soviet Union, 071.001.027. Photo by Peter Jacobs. Reproduced with the permission of the Estate of Dmitri Prigov.

I’m delighted to see that Postscript: Writing after Conceptual Art, edited by Andrea Andersson, has just been published by the University of Toronto Press. I’ve contributed a chapter (available here through JSTOR) in which I attempt to give anglophone conceptual writing some Russian lessons. Here’s a brief extract from the introduction:

To recognize the diversity and historically and culturally inflected nature of conceptual writing, we would do well to take some Russian lessons. In this essay, I turn to a form of conceptual writing that developed in a radically different social, political, and historical context: the text-based works of Moscow conceptualism and in particular the writings of conceptual poet Dmitri Prigov. Emerging out of the social and political environment of the Soviet Union in the 1970s and early 1980s, Moscow conceptualism appropriated aspects of Western conceptual art, but also responded to very different institutional structures for art and contrasting understandings of the relationship between words and things. These differences can help us recognize the contextual and institutional framings that shape and are addressed by conceptual writing. Moscow conceptualism’s particular emphasis on literature and its literary conceptual practice contain lessons for how we understand the later rise of conceptual writing as a literary practice in the anglophone world. The Russian example reveals conceptual writing’s deep but still insufficiently acknowledged engagements with ideological discourse, literary and artistic institutions, and authorship.

Amongst other works, I take as an example two works from Prigov’s Stikhogrammy (Versogrammes, or Lettrist series), including Tot kto poet ne s nami – tot protiv nas, ego unichtozhaiut (He Who Does Not Sing with Us Is against Us and He Will Be Destroyed; pictured above). Here’s my take on the work:

Prigov emphasizes the promised destruction by having the capitalized phrase “ЕГО УНИЧТОЖАЮТ” (HE WILL BE DESTROYED) override the lowercase text diagonally from right to left down the page. The first part of the text, “He who does not sing with us is against us,” is an almost exact quotation from Vladimir Mayakovsky’s poem “Gospodin, ‘narodnyi artist’” (Mister “National Artist”), an attack on the Russian émigré opera singer Feodor Chaliapin published in the Soviet newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda in 1927. Combined with the meaning and literary allusion of the first quotation, the final phrase echoes the title of Maxim Gorky’s article “Esli vrag ne sdaetsia, – ego unichtozhaiut” (If the Enemy Will Not Surrender, He Will Be Destroyed), which appeared in the newspaper Pravda in 1930 – the year of Mayakovsky’s death – and was later quoted by Stalin in a statement issued during the Second World War. Prigov here performs the unconditional surrender of the poet to the state through the transformation of the writer into a machine-like producer who sings for the state (“with us”) by retyping a prescribed text. Underscoring the connection between the poetic word (which in Mayakovsky’s poem becomes “a bomb”) and totalitarian ideology, Prigov locates the origins of Stalin’s totalitarianism in the Russian avant-garde. Prigov invokes the Russian avant-garde through the citation of Mayakovsky, the echo of his innovative stepped line, and the geometrical abstraction of the concrete poem’s shape. He connects the avant-garde to Stalinism by having the geometrical abstraction emerge through the interplay of Mayakovsky’s ominous phrase and Gorky and Stalin’s capitalized words of total destruction.

Just as he connects totalitarianism to avant-gardism, Prigov inserts official discourse into the unofficial realm of the samizdat text, which was fetishized by many in the Soviet intelligentsia. By repeating phrases on a typescript page, he links the repetitive clichés and slogans of official propaganda to the retyping required for the reproduction of samizdat texts. Prigov presents non-literary appropriated material and discourses within the institutional structures of samizdat literature. Though dependent on the cultural and historical specificities of samizdat, Prigov’s literary framing of non-literary texts anticipates anglophone conceptual writing such as Kenneth Goldsmith’s Sports, Traffic, and The Weather, Rob Fitterman’s Metropolis series, Vanessa Place’s Statement of Facts, or even Bruce Andrews’s less strictly ordered appropriation of media and political discourses in precursor works like Give Em Enough Rope. Like Komar and Melamid’s verbatim reproduction of slogans, Prigov’s approach also presages Vanessa Place’s emphasis on repeating “the discourse of the master.” More humorously and perhaps even more mercilessly than Place, Prigov alerts us to the implicated relation of conceptual writing and the avant-garde as a whole to discourses of power.

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The Elephant in the Room: Literary Theory in World Literature

крылов слон любопытный

V. A Favorskii’s illustration to I. A. Krylov’s fable “Liubopytnyi” (“The Inquisitive Man”)

My article “The Elephant in the Room: Literary Theory in World Literature” has just been published online here. It will appear soon in print as part of a special issue of Orbis Litterarum entitled “Literary Studies across Cultures: A Chinese-European Dialogue,” edited by Svend Erik Larsen and Cao Shunqin. In my essay, I have some fun spotting elephants while exploring one problem with current theories of world literature: they pay too little attention to how literary theory shapes literary practice. I illustrate theory’s crucial role in world literature through the work of two influential contemporary poet–translators: Chinese poet Bei Dao’s 北島 use of Russian Formalist theory; and Anglo‐Canadian digital poet John Cayley’s deployment of aesthetic theory derived from Huayan 華嚴 Buddhism.

Here’s an extract from the introduction:

We often think about the challenge of translating literature in terms of form and content. Should one attempt to preserve the semantic content of, say, a Chinese poem in English translation, or should one attempt to replicate such formal devices as rhyme, rhythm, and wordplay? This form‐content way of thinking also inflects discussions of literature on a global scale. Franco Moretti has influentially argued that the story of modern literature is largely one of foreign, primarily European forms, such as the novel, inflected by local content, be it Chinese or West African. Jahan Ramazani likewise depends on the form‐content binary in his four‐part taxonomy of the various possible permutations of the foreign and the local in contemporary poetry: foreign form and local content, foreign form and foreign content, local form and foreign content, and local form and local content (Ramazani, 2016, 122). Ramazani’s taxonomy is finer‐grained than Moretti’s, though, as he admits, even this variegated account of “local‐global enmeshments” in contemporary poetry has its limitations, since “most poems will fit into several of these slots at once, and no amount of long‐distance squinting can accurately reduce them to one or the other” (p. 123).

Like Krylov’s inquisitive man, instead of squinting harder at our existing conceptual objects, we need to step back and recognize the elephant in the room of world literature. Moretti’s, Ramazani’s, and many other accounts of global modernism and world literature neglect a third critical term that profoundly shapes how writers and their translators conceive of and negotiate between form and content: literary theory. The main problem with both Moretti’s and Ramazani’s accounts is not that they fail to capture the complex negotiations between form and content, and between the foreign and the local, but that both their schemas ignore this crucial third term in cross‐cultural literary exchange and globalization.

And here’s the essay’s conclusion:

When it was proposed that Vladimir Nabokov be appointed to the faculty of Harvard University, Roman Jakobson quipped, “are we next to invite an elephant to be Professor of Zoology?” (quoted in Boyd, 1991, 303). In fact, it is the persistence of this way of thinking that has contributed to theory’s position as the elephant in the room of current accounts of literature on a global scale.

The history of literary theory belies a clear distinction between theorist and practitioner. Theories of literature respond to literary practices, and those theories can in turn spur new directions in verbal art. The Russian avant‐garde, for instance, inspired the theories of Jakobson and of his Russian Formalist colleague Shklovsky, whose experiments in prose fiction in turn exemplify many of the literary devices that his theory describes. In Third Factory, for example, Shklovsky deploys the device of estrangement in describing his son’s first impression of a horse: “he thought it was doing four legs and a long nose just for fun” (Shklovsky, 1926, 13). And yet amidst the conflicts between creative writing and literary theory that continue to plague the study of literature today, it is easy to lose sight of the mutually enabling role of literary theory and practice, even if, like Jakobson, your work emerges through their intermingling.

As the examples of Bei Dao and Cayley illustrate, we need to overcome this divide if we are to recognize the role of poetic theory in the translation and adaptation of literary practices across geographic and linguistic borders. We ought not to be able to write a history of modern and contemporary poetry in Chinese or English—let alone a history of global modernism and world literature—without recognizing theory’s role in shaping both how writers translate the form and content of poetic texts into new languages, cultures, and media, and how they question what we mean by form, content, medium, translation, and comparison in the first place. It’s time, in other words, to make room for elephants.


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The Frightening Translatability of Censorship

the_china quarterlyI’ve just published a brief essay on censorship inside and outside China on the Critical Inquiry blog, “In the Moment.” Poetry and Translation in Times of Censorship; or, What Cambridge University Press and the Chinese Government Have in Common reflects on the experience of having my words translated and edited for publication in China and in the Cambridge University Press journal The China Quarterly, which was earlier this year mired in controversy for bowing to Chinese government censorship.

The essay concludes:

It is easy to become worn down or even blind (as I was) to the many silent and insidious operations of censorship in the world today. Perhaps the one advantage of engaging directly with overt censorship in China is that it can make one aware of the broader workings of censorship and self-censorship that operate in contemporary culture. These lessons are, like censorship itself, eminently—and frighteningly—translatable.

You can read the full essay here.

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The Indiscipline of Comparison


Doppelmayr, Atlas coelestis, “Astronomia comparativa,” 1. An image from Haun Saussy’s contribution to the exchange with David Damrosch in the special issue.

I’m delighted to announce the publication of “The Indiscipline of Comparison,” a special issue of Comparative Literature Studies. Many thanks to the contributors, David Damrosch, Rita Felski, Haun Saussy, Shu-mei Shih, Karen Thornber, and Zhang Longxi. My heartfelt thanks also go out to CLS editor, Thomas Beebee, and to editorial assistant Kendra McDuffie. Thanks also to the University of Otago’s Asian Migrations and Comparative and Cross Cultural Studies Research Themes and the Humanities Division’s De Carle Lectureship whose generous support brought several of the contributors  to Dunedin.

Here’s a brief extract from my introduction:

Are we similarly entering an age of post-discipline comparison? Or at least, would it be fruitful to think of comparative work as having no discipline but the singular set of rules and constraints that constitute the work and that define its relation to a range of disciplines? The articles here collectively make the argument for the work of comparison not as a single discipline but as a discursive strategy for engaging and rethinking disciplinary relations. The key test for such work would be not just whether it changes the rules of the game within a discipline but whether it alters the relationship between disciplines, surprising us into a new way of seeing the world.

You can view the issue on Project Muse here or on Jstor here.

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