Tan Lin - A manifesto for conceptual, ambient writing, and non-reading. Part theory, part picture-poem, part airport novel

Tan Lin, Seven Controlled Vocabularies and Obituary 2004. The Joy of Cooking: [AIRPORT NOVEL MUSICAL POEM PAINTING FILM PHOTO HALLUCINATION LANDSCAPE], Wesleyan, 2010.

"Lin writes provocative prose poems, fragments of arguments designed to persuade readers (or designed not to persuade them) that art should be relaxingly meaningless, that literature should function as a pattern with a label on it, like the lines in a parking lot at the local A&P, that writing should be like a waiting area, time slot, universal market/ currency. Lin also writes fragments of memoirs, as when he remembers his first adult years in New York. He takes seriously our postmodern condition, accepting and even celebrating the idea that we ourselves are manufactured, synthetic, interchangeable, or else that we would like to be that way. Always conscious of the physical form of a book, Lin interrupts his texts not only with photographs, nearly blank pages and diagrams, but with the front and back matter of normal books (acknowledgments, permissions page). Lin is also a gallery artist with a heady record of site-specific and video works, and this new volume owes much to gallery art; its high-concept fun and its serious provocations should get much attention from the proponents of conceptualism and the wider audience for pranks, provocations, and challenges of any artful sort." - Publishers Weekly

"Tan Lin's Seven Controlled Vocabularies can be described as a metadata object in a post-reading environment. It proposes reading as a series of varied and minor practices, accessed in a network of texts and pictures. Tan Lin raises questions about what it means to be a book in an era when reading is disappearing into a diverse array of cultural products, media formats, and aesthetic practices.
The book is a post-medium field guide to the arts, where metadata containers replace conventional book chapters, and where individual reading modules access what were formally known as specific art forms: film, photography, painting, the novel, cooking, architecture, lounge music, and systems theory. As an act of reformatting in an era of flexible accumulation, Seven Controlled Vocabularies allows reading and the book to disappear—into consumer products, social networking sites, other books and various media platforms and distribution systems. It is ambient and post-medium in its orientation. It takes avant-garde notions of difficulty and replaces them with more relaxing and ambient formats and ideas, such as yoga, disco, self- help books, and meditation.

"Seven Controlled Vocabularies and Obituary 2004. The Joy of Cooking is Tan Lin’s latest book, or rather, it’s three or four books in one, linked by a Google search, a dilemma, and a tourist’s itinerary. Lin provides a provocative answer to our reading conundrum in a post-book world of Web 2.0: he makes everything into a book.
In a book filled with photos from flea markets, bar codes, and meta data tags, Lin traces the movement from reading books to reading everything everywhere: text messages, RSS feeds, your status updates on Facebook, the Company blog, tapas recipes, Yelp and Netflix user reviews, scribbles on electonic Post-It notes, tags on Flickr, fluttering balloons, and aisle signs.
What used to be called non-reading is the new reading. Lin—an intellectual trickster of a very high order—has written a book that defies categorization. It traps beauty in a bar code, on the back of a moist towelette, and in recipes for moo goo gai pan." - Thom Donovan

"A remix of modernist poet Gertrude Stein's automatic writing conceptual artist Douglas Huebler's self-reflexive appropriation of text and image, and cultural theorist Marshall Macluhan's analysis of media, Lin's work s are as readable as they are relevant." - Asher Penn

"These pieces... are written in clear prose about mystifying subjects, as if a features section has been commandeered by some late 20th-century French philosopher, and still managed to get the early edition out... Lin let's the subject morph without losing the plot." - Poetry Project Newsletter

"These recipes for literary ingestion compute and activate our era's feelings. They autofill the blankest of architectural perfumes, landscapes, cigarettes in airports, and photos of my labels. Tan Lin reads my Wal-Mart in an utterly, compellingly boring way. He cures my indigestion. He photographs my hallucinations like a book with an obituary inside it.

Tan Lin proposes a radical idea for reading: not reading. Words constitute the most fleeting engagements in our recycled textual ecology. Language is fluid and can be poured. Skim, dip, drop-in, tune out, click away. Today, they've come together between a book's covers; tomorrow they'll be a Facebook meme.

Tan Lin returns us to the most traditional idea for reading. Words, so transitory today, are fundamental elements that constitute Orphic engagements, singular among the many technologies make up the shape of our rich semiotic landscape. You get the sense that Lin's words are meant to last forever. By setting up a textual ecology - archiving and rejuvenating language - Lin makes us aware of something that is beyond both the material and ephemeral nature of words. Language is solid and palpable. Plunge the depths, close read, dwell, savor, project. Today these figments of eternity have come together between the covers of this book; tomorrow they'll be canonical.

Begin with an anecdote: We took a train to the opening of an exhibition at the Fogg Museum. The show displayed the activities of Bas Jan Ader, whose work--might include singing, filmmaking, writing, etc. But the exhibition had the most unlikely of titles, a title that to me was so strange as to be inexplicable: Extreme Connoisseurship. The exhibition intended to demonstrate work of artists who did not specialize in any so-called "medium." I did not want to bother the curator with my queries. So I cornered one of the directors of the museum. I told him that the title and the argument it reflected appeared to me to be thoroughly settled a couple of generations ago. Towering over me and looking miffed, he said, "Some of us are just more conservative than others."

Seven Controlled Vocabularies is an experience - not an argument - of the marvelous fluidity of categories. It demonstrates that any media is a quality of experience, not the definition of physical criteria. In its methodology, it might be compared to Warhol's A, A novel, which also demonstrates it own arguments - in that case about language - rather than declaring them.

Tan Lin's Seven Controlled Vocabularies is a brilliant manifesto for conceptual, ambient writing, for non-reading. Part theory, part picture-poem, part airport novel, Seven Controlled Vocabularies ceaselessly surprises us by demonstrating that language, as wallpaper, reaches into an intensely profound and engaging way of experiencing text... "poems to be looked at vs. poems to be read." Seven Controlled Vocabularies is a significant contribution to today's discourse about readership and thinkership, where the poem is "camouflaged into the feelings that the room is having, like drapes..." Use this book as a guide to non-reading reading. "Here is your Moist Towelette."

[blurb for Tan Lin]
* A mammoth composition, Tan Lin's Seven Controlled Vocabularies is a vane existing--where udders are not a road or dictionary but airport (or at least terminal).
* The saddle of a novel, where so many have stood, is no longer an objective cup.
* A musical wound is practiced, poems feed process.
* Painting (a toward action) is also part of its science, and he is a theory yelling author.
* Here Lin controls the chain to expand the film, a vaccine against harming willows.
* Unbecoming delays appear in atoms of photos; hallucination opera lisps.
* Landscape struggles so that "blandness has no boundaries"; empty plates at the book's outset comment on our hunger, a terrible volley (hand) that particularly records us.
* Running its length we are gradually filled, sating our need to see, then read, and think.
* To remain erases us.
* To peer connections is surveying the engineer and engineered.
* Readers who fear false endings will find no relief; instead, honest thoughts, psychological heads.
* Since so ideal a fortune in the assignment of memory presses the debate, a gear (drama), aggregate machinery, places us not at rest.
* When he is jazz (song landing), balance goes to speak and proteins laugh.
* Lin's writing is nodding, shades wiping so informal an element.
* A mill obtains testament.

Tan Lin's work finds us bobbing in a Great Pacific Garbage Patch of language, bits of which can be pasted together to make a raft of a design that Otto Neurath could never have predicted. It's a snapshot of how we read in 2009: terminally distracted yet managing to find, here and there, meaningful connections.

Is 7 Controlled Vocabularies like a performative manual? or an outline of flourishing conjecture? habitable (peripatetic)? I would say it "reminds me of Oulipo", but instead of Oulipo proposing performativity or some gesture, the text is enacting itself slowly, in a soft paradigm; the text becoming pink noise _with itself_. I wonder if this is via the object (book)--via its heterogeneity, architectural liminality, ambient outsourcing, dissemination--or the [potential] site in which it traverses, being-mobile, and the contingencies of the site (lighting, room temperature, humidity, decor, etc). Is a playback discrete?

Is reading production? is it viable?

(i feel like freud, asking, 'isn't this self-evident?')

Danielle Aubert, Sarah Gambito, Kieran Daly, Dan Visel, Kristen Gallagher, Chris Funkhouser, Robert Fitterman, Charles Bernstein, Kenneth Goldsmith, Josiah McElheny, Warren Liu contributed to these reviews."

"Like Tan Lin’s previous plagiarism/outsource, this is a book with a title in flux; I’m using the title on the spine, though the title page (appearing as a verso, not a recto) gives the title Seven Controlled Vocabularies 2004 [Airport Novel Musical Poem Painting Theory Film Photo Landscape], and the Library of Congress cataloging-in-publication data on the copyright page, recto, gives a further variation on those elements with different punctuation. (A first LoCC-I-PD appears on the front cover.) A spread after that gives the title as The Joy of Cooking; the next spread presents another variant. As far as I can tell, there are six different titles to this book. A foreword by Laura Riding Jackson appears, as the back cover promises, on page 162; this is not, of course, a foreword written for this book, but a photocopies of her foreword to her own Rational Meaning: A New Foundation for the Definition of Words and Supplementary Essays from 1986.
This is a book built from appropriations, from pieces of other books, as the title suggests; but more to the point, this is a book straining the forms of a book. Or possibly this is a book that explodes the bounds of books: at his recent book party at Printed Matter, Lin was a huge number of ancillary volumes created through Lulu; yet more material is floating around the web in various formats. I was given copies of Blurb and Selected Essays about a Bibliography, to which I contributed content; I’ve looked through these books and a number of the related works online, some of which, like the appendix seem integral to understanding Lin’s project. I certainly won’t pretend to have read everything: it seems impossible to tell where this book ends, or if it has ended.
How can we read Seven Controlled Vocabularies? The method suggested by the form is to dive in at random and float around for a while; to read it from front to back is perhaps to read this book against its grain, which is what I did. And one notices that despite the book’s chaotic appearance, the page numbers do march from the beginning of the book to the end in an entirely linear fashion, perhaps the most constant design feature of the book. The first text inside the book that one finds reading from the Western front cover is on what would be page 1 of the book: it says “[INSIDE BACK COVER]“. A Chinese edition of the book, available on Lulu, suggests that a front cover is sometimes a back cover; and so the front cover of this book might also be its back cover, and the back cover contains much of the same information available on the front. As one pages through the book, front matter appears, not necessarily where one might expect it; unexplained numbers (“11/07 2.21″) appear on one of the title spreads.
The first page number appears on page 9, where there appear acknowledgements. These are set in the same type (Scala Sans) as the rest of the book; on first glance, this seems like it might be straightforward. Details pop out though: the last line, a paragraph by itself, says that the photo on page 182 is by the author. Flipping to page 182 reveals a small photo, which might be by the author. The paragraph above it suggests that the illustration on page 45 is Stanley Spencer’s The Resurrection, Cookham; turning to that page reveals what looks like a photograph that isn’t of any sort of resurrection, though it might be a detail. But the illustrations that ostensibly appear on pages 237 and 256 can’t actually be found, as the book doesn’t have that many pages. Re-reading the acknowledgements, one realizes that it’s been lifted from another book; probably the book was not written when Lin was a “Post-doctoral Research Fellow at Liverpool John Moores University between 1999 and 2002″ as one might believe. Google, ever useful, suggests that these acknowledgments are from Timothy Bewes’ Reification, or the Anxiety of Late Capitalism. The following page contains an editorial note, an authorial note on methods used to produce the book; it appears to be “real” in that Lin could have conceivably written it, but the seeds of doubt have been sown. Opposite is text in Chinese; it seems to be a translation of the editorial note.
The book proceeds: there’s a blank verso, then a recto with a heading. Flipping through the book reveals seven of these, presumably the Controlled Vocabularies of the title:
1.A Field Guide to American Painting
2.A Field Guide to the American Landscape
3.American Architecture Meta Data Containers
4.2 Identical Novels
5.A Dictionary of Systems Theory
6.Various Library Standards
7.A Field Guide to American Cinema
After the last, there’s an About the Author, which seems to be accurate. But out of the apparent chaos of this book, a structure can be discerned: inside each section, there does seem to be an internal grammar. The first section, for example, pairs text on the verso pages with labels for non-existent plates on the versos; the second section pairs text with photos, though the photos seem to be out of synch (in the style of Hollis Frampton’s film (nostalgia), obliquely referenced here) with the text.
Themes emerge through the book, though they seem to disappear almost as often as they pop up: the changing form of the book, of course; the meaning of plagiarism in contemporary composition; the parallel changing world of food; metadata as it relates to reading; reality television; the obscurantism of computer jargon; and perhaps how the canon has become something personal rather than universal. The Joy of Cooking, for example, has a very personal meaning to Tan Lin (which can be understood by reading the unincluded Appendix to this book); reading this book without that leaves the reader in the dark. Parts of this book remain obscure to me: how the photos in it work, for example. Some are probably of personal significance, as seemed to be the case with the photos in Lin’s earlier books; but right now I can’t make sense of them. I suspect that there’s a definite meaning there: but it may only be as part of an ecosystem of other, related books that those meanings might emerge." - With Hidden Noise

"There are companies that sell books by the yard. Books thus sold are not to be opened and read; instead, they are a sort of set decoration. Bound law reports are advertised as perfect for adding a frisson of intellectual heft to your living room, while ancient leather-bound books with gilt titles will convey old-money elegance to all who view them nestled on your shelves. Nor is the drive to use books as accent pieces limited to professional decorators; when my husband and I recently purchased new bookshelves that allowed us to redistribute our own collection, the resulting gaps on the shelves annoyed my husband intensely – without jam-packed shelves, our living room immediately took on a less studious air.
This sort of reading – experiencing books (and other works of art) not for the information they contain ¬¬– but as mood-altering decorative objects or signifiers akin to area rugs or brand logos, is one of the central concerns of the Tan Lin’s latest book. Enlarging on his theory and practice of “ambient stylistics,” he describes an aesthetics of poems, paintings, and photographs as thermostat-like “regulators of energies,” that should not stir memories (and their attendant emotional upheaval), but permit feelings to disappear beneath a mask of superficial repetition or relaxation. “Reading a book should be like going out to a restaurant or buying a candleholder. It should enhance the mood of the space that it occupies.” Lin advances a place for art that acts not as a focal point for emotional catharsis, but as a hypnotic, repetitive and “sampled” background to the reader or viewer’s experience. “Poetry as wallpaper. Novel as design object.”
Lin asks us what might be the “forms of non-reading and the forms a non-reading might take,” wherein poems can be looked at, rather than formally read, and “the page should turn before you got there.” Paintings should be sampled, rather than sequenced – little bits of them repeated, trancelike, rather than the whole presented as a complete narrative or emotional picture. Photographs, rather than recreate the experience of something other than themselves, should reflect the blankness and non-theatricality of the world “out there,” “making visible the memories we are not having,” and our forgetting of “things that are repeating themselves beside the world. A poem or painting or landscape is beautiful at the moment it is forgotten, when it subtly accentuates a style or mood without drawing attention to itself, like drapes or a shade of paint. If poetry (and other art) is supposed to hold up a mirror to life, then, Lin advances, it should not draw attention to itself. It should be, well, boring, rather than narrative or arresting, and should convey little beyond a certain mood, or sense of style. As he says, “NIAGARA FALLS IS JUST A KIND OF PAINT.”
Reflecting his concerns, the physical structure of this book upends attempts to focus attention. The cover is a uniform dull sort of blue, without any images. The front of the book does not bear the title or name of the author as such. After all, as Lin says, things become beautiful – or, to put it another way, relevant to the greatest number of people – by being generic, empty and uniform, such that “the front of a book is always less interesting than the back of a book.” Instead of the traditional front of a book, Lin’s front cover reproduces no information other than (1) the number 11.07 – seemingly an allusion to his wife, (2) 22.95 – the price, and (3) some of the books’ Library of Congress cataloguing data, in very small, medium brown type. The title and author’s name appear on the back cover; also, images of the back covers of a number of other books appear scattered throughout the book’s third section, which compares modern, commercial architecture with books and reading. The book opens with acknowledgments that appear to have been lifted wholesale from another book; prefaces occur in the middle; there is a short section called “Direct Marketing,” which posits a number of forms and prices for the work; one essay is actually breaks off at the end of the page, only to be continued at the very end of the book, like a newspaper article that ran too long.
But the “ambient stylistics” discussed and practiced in Lin’s book does not just stand on its own; rather, the book engages in a call-and response with Laura (Riding) Jackson’s Rational Meaning: A New Foundation for the Meaning of Words. (Riding) Jackson spent more than forty years on this text, working at first with her husband, Schuyler Jackson, and continuing on long after his death. The book, finished in 1986, remained unpublished until 1997. In Rational Meaning, Jackson rejects most modern theories of linguistics (in which words have meanings that are socially or historically constructed, and thus liable to be altered). Although she also explicitly rejects any notion that words and their meanings stem from a supernatural source, she believes that words have, as Charles Bernstein explains it in his introduction to the work, “intrinsic meaning” – a meaning that is fixed, internal, and unswaying and “self-complete.” To believe or use words otherwise is to corrupt words out of their truth-value, thereby destroying and denigrating humanity’s linguistic birthright.
Bernstein calls Rational Meaning an “anti-poetics,” and Lin’s ambient stylistics could be described that way as well, inasmuch as the aesthetic necessarily posits that poetry, painting, and photography must take certain forms if they are to be “beautiful.” This mirrors (Riding) Jackson’s concern that words should be used in a certain way if they are to fulfill their “truth.” Lin, like (Riding Jackson) harbors concerns about the artistic use of words – not so much that there is a “true” use to words, but that words lose their truth as soon as they are set down in a fixed form – the book dies when it is finished. As such, the beauty of words lies in forgetting them, allowing them to be unmemorable, and to disappear. And the immortality of a book lies in its ability to never be finished, to transcend its own content and change it.
Accordingly, Lin’s affinity and engagement with Rational Meaning may have much less to do with its substance than its history. In their forty-odd years of work, Rational Meaning’s authors surely did not start on page one, and write straight through to the end (some 400 pages in the University of Virginia Edition, not counting the supplementary essays). Indeed, (Riding) Jackson wrote multiple prefaces for the book, each at different times in its writing, and finished with a foreword written in 1986. Whatever substance or form Rational Meaning had in 1986, it was also, necessarily, a documentation of its own evolution.
Lin’s book was written over a shorter, but not inconsiderable period, having been begun in 2001, and not published in final form until 2010 (although he published an earlier version through Lulu in 2005). Although readers are vaguely aware that revising and editing exist, we consume “finished packages,” and so we generally don’t think about process much. But the author must, particularly when there is no clear destination at the outset, but only a process in which the work is revised, added to, subtracted from, rearranged, and in some instances, not revised, but begun anew – repeatedly. Lin alludes to the history of his book most particularly in its middle sections, which contain, like Rational Meaning, multiple prefaces. These are all dated, and discuss particular autobiographical moments in a way alien to the first few sections, which concentrate more philosophically (and abstractly) on ambient stylistics.
Lin most clearly makes the connection between his own process and (Riding) Jackson’s in his editorial note, a re-write of the editorial note that accompanies Jackson’s book. Rational Meaning’s editor begins his note by announcing that “my part in the production of this book has consisted in editing a typescript produced and revised over several decades by two authors.” Reverentially, the editor states that he chose to hew “as closely to the original typescript as possible” – even though the idea of an “original” typescript is a downright paradox for such a book. Lin, turning that editor’s words against him, states outright in the note for his own book that “My collaborative aim in the production of this work has been to offer a series of intra-textual corrections in a typescript produced and renovated over several decades by more than one author.” Winking at (Riding) Jackson’s philosophy, he blandly states, “There is truth and there is truth.” What we have here is a history, not one that is “unfolding” – as though that had already all been there and simply needed its creases smoothed out – but one that is constantly remaking, “renovating” itself. Indeed, it’s not done yet – Lin recently released a 100-page appendix to his book, which can be downloaded for free from Lulu.com.
Although it begins with a focus on ambient stylistics, and is grounded in engagement with Rational Meaning, Lin’s book is not one that stays relentlessly on-topic – in its 219 pages (sans new appendix), it covers modern architecture; the logic-gate-like behavior of American shoppers; the “rented celebrity” of reality television; flash mobs; a theory of slow reading; avant-garde cooking; the bizarre disconnect between “Chinese” cookbooks and actual Chinese food, as experienced by someone who knows the difference; and the dissociative landscapes of airports, wherein the luxury items that crowd duty-free shops (“wasting assets”) are purchased as “counter-stimulants” to amnesia. Digressions abound, and their threads, one dropped, may not be picked up again. Philosophical explanations give way to straightforward personal history, and then to poetry collaged with photographs.
However, the substance is always engaging, and occasionally highly surprising. For example, while many people have commented on the relationship between branding and meaning – a purse with a Louis-Vuitton means something different than one without– Lin goes one step (or two or three) farther in applying this theory to buildings. Lin argues that so-called “bar-code buildings,” – those with naming rights, such as stadiums – exhibit a weird signifier-signified relationship in which the building’s physical structure is unchanged and unchanging, but its “underlying ID code” changes with its sponsorship and name. By being able to take on new names, new IDs, and thus alter their market relevance, such buildings can “outlive their data,” as when the stadium where the Washington Wizards and Washington Capitals play changed from being the MCI Center to the Verizon Center, after MCI went bankrupt in the wake of the WorldCom scandal. Compared to such “bar-code buildings,” stadiums without naming rights are “outmoded pictorial concepts” that “resemble the book,” in their inability to outlive their own information. (More shades of Laura (Riding) Jackson here: if words are supposed to have a single, unalterable meaning, then how can they outlive a meaning that has lost its “market relevance”? They can’t. But if your book’s content keeps changing – as with, say, the addition of a 100 page post-publication appendix, well, all bets are off.)
Lin is a particularly keen observer of the ways in which commerce shapes culture, and vice versa. No one had put for me quite so succinctly the fact that “variation is the mantra of the new standardization,” a fake freedom in which you can have an iPod of any color you like, so long as you have an iPod. “Irresolvable desires,” Lin writes, “are the most inefficient of market forces,” and so they are written out of the equation of modern commerce. At the same time, shopping takes place increasingly in “commercial structures that are immune to becoming historical” – think of any Wal-Mart. Function erases form, such that both commercial spaces and the commodities they house have (or will have) the function of destroying memory and history “at a standard rate.” Perversely, this may have the function of drawing people together, as “our most beautiful desires are our most unspecific ones” – that which is homogenous and generic is most likely to have widespread relevance and therefore be most valued.
The sheer multiplicity of ideas is dizzying, and although the book clearly has a few central concerns, they are not overriding: in the sections that focus on ambient stylistics, for example, Lin is not particular about ensuring that he presents ideas that can only be easily related to or squared with that theory. Instead, he riffs. He leads the reader down paths that circle, snake, and sometimes dead end. Despite the faux-academese of the sectional titles – “A Field Guide to American Painting,” “A Dictionary of Systems Theory” – this isn’t a text book. Instead, the reader winds up with the same three-dimensional feeling one gets when looking at a huge sculpture: when you can see the front, you can’t see the back. The complete picture is never before the reader; rather it is imagined and always out of sight.
But that’s a large part of the pleasure here; the book’s resistance to uniformity, at the same time that it appears to bless uniformity as an aesthetic ideal. There is a necessary paradox in writing a book while positing that books are a dead art form to the extent that they are bound to the information they contain, rather than acting as logo-like conveyors of a changeable mood information. A theory of boring art, generic feelings, and commercially valuable vagueness – because, after all, what value is there except commercial value? What price beauty? $6.99, if we measure it in cheap lipstick. What price truth (or commercial equivalent)? $22.95, if you measure it in terms of this book . I think you’re getting a deal." - Maureen Thorson

"KES: The first thing I noticed about your book, Seven Controlled Vocabularies and Obituary 2004 The Joy of Cooking, was that the title was on the back cover instead of the front. In the section of the book titled American Architecture Meta Data Containers you write, “The front of a book is always less interesting than the back of a book.” Obviously you are interested in bringing the paratext, or material surrounding the text to the forefront of our attention, especially since the back of a book reveals the bar code and other labels of classification discussed within the book itself. Can you talk about this decision, and what interests you about the backs of books?
- The titling matter is part of a book’s material format, one of the somewhat variable (i.e. seven) “standards” of the book form that are loosely coupled to the book in question, and this titling matter is the most visible element of the book’s packaging as well as its metrics: marketing strategy, production/layout/publishing decisions, dissemination (in catalogs/bookstores), and reception, i.e. flipping the cover/turning pages, scrolling a PDF, receiving RSS feeds. Not much of this was completely controlled by me. These formats induce markedly different kinds of reading. Of course I am interested in that moment when reading begins, and the different kinds of reading that take place in and around and on the back of and in the inside of a book and in particular a poetry book published by a university press. Reading is a kind of integrated software. Some of its reading functions are textual, some paratextual; some are visual, some textual, although the line between the two does not really exist in my mind, and SCV is fundamentally an examination of that blurring. Some of the reading is clearly authored by me and some is machine algorithms or library systems, and some is by others, as with the Barthes Index or Riding Foreword. The Object ID system, also in place, is Getty Institute software. Numerals are closely linked to the publishing industry and the origins of (alpha numeric) writing, and the front cover reflects this, although the two numerals are also in code. A title was “drawn” by Clare Chuchouse using MS Word’s line function and a mouse. So it became interesting for me to think of the robin’s egg blue cover as equivalent to the inattentive, unformatted, partially handwritten, generic moments before one reads the book. A lot of the book has already been read long before we got to it. Context is more important than content. There is a lot of personal and extra-personal communal history (errors of attribution: death, tragedy, etc.) beyond a book’s covers, and in this sense one can think of the book as a cancelled project or pre marital life disappearing into what the scholar Rachel Malik has termed Publication Studies. Every book is an abbreviation/revision that erects some sort of false distinction or difference between reading and non-reading, between the life lived inside and the life outside the book. I wanted to exteriorize the ecosystem of reading as much as possible. I like reading the obituaries (they seem so unplanned!) or wedding pages (they seem so dilatory!) in the New York Times, and I wanted these reading motions to inflect or become a part of the book’s environment. A book is something connected to things, many of which are not spoken or non-printed languages. How accidental, or to rephrase Rem Koolhaas, unprogrammatic, can a book be with its reader? SCV is really just one long preface to a novel, the cataloging or indexical system to a novel I “just finished” and is “now” called Our Feelings Were Made By Hand.
Like you mentioned, a title is a deliberate decision that involves many people.
- Part of what makes the title Seven Controlled Vocabularies and Obituary 2004 The Joy of Cooking so interesting is that it contains multiple titles in one, even an appropriated title, The Joy of Cooking. Can you talk about this?
A good portion of the title and thus SCV “belongs” to a titling apparatus and a brand: Irma S. Rombauer and her daughter Marion Rombauer Becker, and Marion’s husband, John, who jointly authored the Joy of Cooking. The co-authoring of this book, which I think is not unusual for any book— but especially a book of a cross-generational sort— is an utterly unkempt set of trajectories. The 1963 edition was the first paperback edition of the cookbook, and it was the first that Irma’s daughter, Marion, revised without being able to consult her mother, who had had a series of strokes beginning in 1955. When the book went to press (in 1962 I believe), it went without the family knowing it and without a contract. The publisher, Bobbs-Merrill had “instructed Alice Richardson ‘to edit the Becker’s edited galleys, but the Beckers are not to know about this.” Marion did not learn that it was in stores until she was told by someone attending her mother’s wake. The book was filled with typos that made it impossible to execute, though not imagine, a number of the recipes, which transpired both indoors and out and offered instructions as if no difference existed between amateurs and professional chefs. Thus Joy is notable not just for recipes but detailed physical instructions in how anyone can learn to “grind their own peanut butter, purify drinking water, build and cook on a campfire, roll out a pie crust with a Coke bottle, use vinegar as a bleaching agent, and clean a whole octopus”. And so the corrupt edition of this book is an imaginative how-to exercise and a collector’s item. The Joy is a very open, experiential, and experimental text, and its organizational structure is fulfilled by a simple instruction about its own reading processes: “In using the Index look for a noun rather than an adjective.” So in other words, the Joy tells you how to read. Barbeque or “Pit Cooking” is absorbed in a long methodological section entitled “The Foods We Heat.” I remember coating the underside of a pot with liquid Dove to make the soot come off easier. Like Joy, any work of literatature ought to tell you how to make the wind blow thru the V-shape in a barbeque pit.
Marion officially disowned the book, so mistake-filled was the 1962 edition in its instructions and ingredients. A book that goes through multiple and garbled editions has all sorts of unfulfilled lives in it and attached to it, and most beautiful books come to resemble the inaccurate recipes, unacknowledged rhubarb stains, and foliage pressed between the pages that a reader is forced, by the historical circumstances of cooking in America, to read. Many of the unfinished dishes in the Joy are simply unimaginable. The noun “Chinese” is followed by seven adjectives: celery, chestnuts, dressing, egg rolls, meatballs, rice (fried), and sauce (sweet-sour). Every book I have come to read since Joy bears a family resemblance to the 1963 and 1975 and 1987 versions , whose endlessly interchangeable modular arrangements and rearrangements of recipes, like so many leafs on a tree or rooms in a house are held together by something like the false appearance of sunlight through a window. A book will not boil the ocean or make Chinese cooking in a childhood appear. What does the idea of cooking come from? A few people writing down recipes and talking about a room that or a relative who no longer exists. John, Marion’s husband, had a significant role in the book, but he inhabits the sidelines, like many people, often wives, who help produce books and are forgotten. But the writing of a book never ends with a life. In this case, it is John, Marion’s husband, who is not acknowledged on the front cover.
These details about Marion Rombauer Becker are so interesting. And The Joy of Cooking is a compelling text for you as you point out in autobiographical passages of 7CV. How does Marion’s story intersect with your own?
- Joy has what marketers might call “extreme relevance” for me. I grew up Chinese American in SE Ohio: it was I think the only cook book (although now, come to think of it, there was also a Betty Crocker cookbook with a red plaid cover), in our house, and so it was a culinary Bible of things that are eaten in America. I mean my mother did not know how to cook at all when she first got to America from Shanghai (I think her family had a cook, as was common at the time for a family with some means) and my father, who cooked very well, could only cook Chinese food from Fuzhou. But of course we lived in southeastern Ohio in the 60s and were thus American, and to be American, well you have to eat American, and to eat American you have to cook it from time to time. 95% of the food we ate in our house from that era was originally Chinese, in intent and presentation. The other 4% (we shopped at Kroger’s and A&P) was what fell under the category of “exotic:” American food that came out of boxes: Rice R Roni, Noodles Romanov, Sloppy Joes etc.—basically snack-like foods that looked like an American home-cooked dinner if you added hot water. So convenience food was a misnomer really; it was not really the food that was becoming more convenient it was us, who slowly became a family of convenience starting around 1962 with a corrupt edition of a cookbook. Certainly, one (and only one) cook book taught my mother how to read in English. And you have to remember that my mother at the time was finishing her doctoral dissertation at the University of Washington as she was learning to cook. The dissertation, , completed in 1965, was titled: “Tradition and Innovation in Modern Chinese Poetry.”
Any food that did not come from a box (i.e. the remaining 1%) came from the Joy of Cooking, so it was an extremely important manual for our family in terms of reverse engineering. As an applicance like the kitchen hood my father installed to take the smells of (mostly Chinese) cooking and put them outside our house, the Joy and its use was technologically limited because my mother and father did not really know what American food “was?” and so did not really know whether they “liked” it. I mean really, what “was” American food in 1965? Was it even “likable?” So it was mainly my sister and I who ended up with our hands on the cook book, and now find ourselves reading ourselves in a protracted and desultory love affair with it. We used the cook book to make popovers, muffins and brandied cakes— mainly because Chinese cuisine does not have an extensive repertoire of desserts or alcohol. So the Joy of Cooking, really is and remains a very important document in our household about the split between eastern first course and western dessert, between wet steam and dry heat, olives and tea leaves, and English breakfast and Oriental dinner, and the book that I have photographed below is I am pretty sure exactly the book in our house circa 1975. I made my first apple pie with that book. For some unknown reason, everytime I look at the book I think of daylight savings time in Athens, Ohio, where I grew up. So 7CV is a cross pollinated ecosystem, an agrarian system with a very beautiful table of contents and pen and ink drawings of foods and the hands that make those foods. It reminds me of pots my father used to make in his studio. It is a classic example of a book that gets revised by the lives that are in turn revised around and by it, and I think that it, like all books, is beautiful only in regard the decompressions it has been put to. I have told this story, at greater length, and probably with somewhat more remorse, in Our Feelings Were Made by Hand, but it might just as easily been included in 7CV as the postface! There is no real distinction between what I am writing now and one I will be writing next. This interview is the apparatus of a novel, which will appear “shortly.” It’s the clock part of the novel.
Blurbs for 7CV will appear this summer in a separate lulu publication. This is a form of convenience, where short-form modes of writing/reading are the norm, and where things need to be corrected continuously. There are numerous mistakes (one might call this increasing market liquidity) on the two covers and in the front matter, which will presumably be corrected in “editions.” Why did Chinese stuff from Google Translate fall in? Shall I remove that from the next edition? The poems and quasi-poems at the back of the book are clearly the product of a computer and its erase/read functions, though I suppose a typewriter could recreate the page spreads, although only by moving the carriage from right to left, unlike MS Word, which is more spatial in its cut and paste orientations. Can reading be like the moment before one reads an airline boarding pass or a rental car agreement or a permissions letter? And my feeling was that yes, fundamentally it was. So Seven Controlled Vocabularies and Obituary 2004. The Joy of Cooking is three prospective titles, possibly dreamed up by the marketing folks at WUP, of a poetry book that is not quite there except in some controlled vocabulary (micro-niche) system. Or else it is a series of book titles divided or displaced by a specific publication history, distribution format, a death, classification system, meta data container, a bit of domestic tranquility, and a bar code — in other words a system of inferences or actions or recipes or typos or captions or cataloging systems directed to the heterogenity that is a “book” before it becomes a book. But what exactly is it that “becomes” a book? Maybe it was a movie. Maybe it was a family or a genealogy? Maybe it was a kind of liquidity in the market’s tail? I think a poetry book, whatever it may be, likes to find poetry, math, Chinese relatives, or handwriting in things around it.
I am very interested in your ideas about boredom, especially considering your work in a more ambient avant-garde that goes against shock aesthetic. In your interview with Chris Alexander, Kristen Gallagher, and Gordon Tapper http://galatearesurrection12.blogspot.com/2009/05/tan-lin-interviewed.html , you discuss your interest in middle range, or middle brow reading, especially material like an index and a forward, which both appear in appropriated form in this book. Do you see boredom as a by-product of reproducibility, as a vacuum space created by cultural institutions, a frame of mind that enables pleasure and creativity, a combination of these, or something different altogether?
- I thought of Seven Controlled Vocabularies as the slightly bored atmosphere or mood of reading distractedly, while cooking, waiting for a subway or watching TV. I am supposed to be a very close reader of texts because I am a professor, but I mostly skim books and read synopses of important articles, and focus on the forewords and appendixes (they are like pictures) and footnotes (they tell me the things I actually have to go out and read). Thus the general citation of 2004 in the near but not too distant past and where the book was published six rather relaxed years later, as you note, on April 1. So SCV is blogged writing, too. There is a lot of fetishism attached to the book, so I was interested in the book as ambient textuality, meta data, or maybe just the allusiveness of the bibliographic referenced by a title, which I suppose is the book itself and its various ecosystems of reading. And so I was interested in non-print forms of reading: architecture, paintings, strip malls, potted plants, spoken words, back stitching on a Margiela blouse, traffic lights, WD50, reality TV, etc. Reading is a system of highly commodified moods, but commodified moods, like individual blog sites, are variable. I do a LOT of reading while doing other things, like cooking or watching NBC alpine skiing or the Weather Channel or whatever. So 7CV emulates the surround of reading, or maybe it would be more accurate to call it the generalized medium or ambient textuality of reading as it is structurally coupled to various things. So I’m not really interested in books per se in a vacuum, but in formats and micro formats of reading, which are standardized, anodyne and loosely/mechanically coupled to other things in the world, like restaurants or yoga mats, poems, former boyfriends or former girlfriends, wives (and their photographs), and of course other books (and their photographs and the photographs they contain within them). So I would say boredom is a very loose medium in which the heterogenity of the world can be gathered without coalescing into something meaningful—like a book. What do the stories “mean” in 7CV. Not very much. Are they boring? Well, yes, sort of. Do they limit meanings? Of course. Do they prevent violence from being registered? Yes, and this is particularly true of the last section, which describes the 1993 attack on the WTC.
When you say that your stories “prevent violence from being registered”, what do you mean? A lot of writing that we classify as avant-garde, by it’s very nature, is argumentative or aggressively defending its position. The writing is used as a tool of violence against certain schemas and social constructions. Do you feel that preventing violence is a feature of just your work, or do you feel the very nature of controlled vocabularies like literature, film, architecture, paintings, etc. makes violence impossible to register?
- In 7CV, the violence is symbolic, i.e is never registered as “violence” per se (what is that?) but as something that yields specific symbolic meaning in, for example, a legal system. Thus, the little violence that occurs, occurs only in the cinema section or in the Library of Congress subject headers, both of which I associate, as mediums, with violence. But the Cinema section is also a cut and paste job in MS Word, and it’s thus specific to a certain interchangeability between cinematic montage/editing and cut and paste functions in word processing software and avant garde poetry, and the book is all about those technical/material parameters for processing the book’s content/titling/subject headers and for suggesting the connections between filmic violence and certain kinds of avant garde poetry. Most of the modular items in 7CV are untitled, though they are tagged. Violence is not merely something that is inconceivable outside certain systems; violence is the meaning holding such systems together, and thus is hard to visualize, it is tied to the reproduction of the system itself as a kind of “meaning.” There are different kinds of violence in the section but none are registered as physical “acts” or as taking place between individuals: bombing of the WTC, jealousies born of being childless, beating or bruising, racism, petty theft, FSH injections, etc. All this (bodily) violence is processed seamlessly as a single whole by the system at work, so I was interested in visualizing (in language) what might be regarded as an undifferentiated violence, a generalized form of violence as symbolic meaning that permeates an entire culture, and this is I suppose what happens in the Cinema section: a specific set of visualizations or codes for violence are activated, but very bluntly but with very little “meaning.” And this is in keeping with certain monolithic apprehensions of terrorism post 9/11 and connects directly to use of the ‘93 event. The pictures don’t depict connectiveness or causality in a “literal” sense (pictures are stupid in this sense) because it is already in the system of representation: all photos in Part II are a single b/w photo from a fleamarket, repeatedly sampled,. They don’t describe violence in racial or other terms, though one might be able to read some of this into the photos, peripherally, as one would in a painting. I guess this is a bit like Michael Haneke’s movie Cache, this scene when a man suddenly slits his own throat. This is witnessed by a man, Georges, who has been sent a letter and “invited” to the apartment where the action occurs, but who does not in any way “expect” what he is about to see—and this “causes” him to experience emotions that are impossible to organize i.e. experience. In other words the act is of both blindness and surprise. Georges in some ways “caused” the action (when he was a child, Georges told a lie out of banal childhood jealousy, thus leading his parents to put up the other man, then also a child, for adoption), but Georges, who from his own perspective is I suppose both intelligent and conscientious, is blind to this violence (like the earlier one) and it flashes extraordinarily quickly on-screen because Georges does not feel as if he is the cause but rather the victim, and because from the standpoint of the legal system, or the social system which processes all actions, Georges is not guilty of any legal crime, so the act is “unprocessed” or unregistered, just as events are unprocessed emotionally by Georges. Can the surveillance camera open up an ethical ground? Probably not. So where do we go: to the movies, to law or university? Law is not about ethical/non-ethical issues; it is about legal/illegal issues. There is no mechanism within law for processing emotions (and that is why you have Court TV), or violence as “just violence” or violence as an ethical issue. The cinematic apparatus is coupled to the legal/social system, but admits of emotions correlated to replaying surveillance tapes, i.e. forms of memory, which are the only kinds of memory one is allowed to have in Cache. Georges spends no time remembering how his childhood action might be linked to the suicide. Moreover, the social system does not care who in particular is the victim or the perpetrator in this or any case, or what the individual racial identities (they figure voyeuristically) are; the system exists only insofar as there be a victim and, as a result of this, someone else who expects to be punished for his actions. Moreover, the social system cannot see or process an individual’s psychic life or causes. They simply do not exist. Perhaps the university offers consolation, but the ending reads as a faux-Hollywood cop out tethered to a dated cinematic apparatus. Is the university fundamentally independent of legal systems or cinematic apparatus? Only in the cinema’s eyes, which are relieved of their surveilance function in the final shot. Hanecke supplies a little space to entertain the possibility, in a movie with a movie ending. It’s hard not to read this cynically. Images are never seen; they are read according to protocols. The usefulness of our era is that it finally allows us to see the paratexts as the underdetermined, decompressed images that they really are.
You often talk/write about creating ambient text. By creating such a text, the reader feels a sense of relaxation, ease. That was definitely my experience in reading 7CV. What was interesting to me was that even the cultural critique within the book has certain friendliness to it. Given this approachability, who do you feel is the main audience for 7CV? Is it only those who are interested in the avant-garde, or does the work attempt to open up to a wider audience?
- That is complicated. 7CV involves softening the avant garde or at least exploring underlying conditions of avant garde poetic practice, suggesting how certain things, for me mostly technologies, social networking platforms, lean production, pre- and post-war developments in systems theory, etc, might be seen to alter what Peter Burger has termed neo-avant garde practices, or at least allow different modes of self-reflexivity. This is not something performed by only experimental writers; it marks the culture at large, so I do not think of 7CV as isolated to the writing sphere, but as part of a mediatory apparatus. Lev Manovich talks about how avant garde principles have become integrated in computer software etc. So on the one hand the book is neo avant garde: a speaking subject is displaced across a series of minor narratives, the book lacks a coherent narrative, authors are aligned with specific discursive practices. Moreover, the book, as a modality of software, is not about gut-wrenching emotions but minor feelings/moods that are not quite our own, and is thus consonant with culture or distraction today, but also with modes of cognitive or pre-cognitive processing and affective attunement. I mean the book is kind of about growing up Chinese in Ohio and moving to NYC and trying to become a writer! So the book is about bridging or integrating certain neo avant garde principles with contemporary life, whatever that may be. It is modular and easy to digest. As a platform, OS or MS Word .doc it is a fast read: 67 minutes or so. It’s easy to look at, like a scrapbook, but of course most of the photos are found photos, they’re random and only partially functional. It’s a collage but it is nonetheless structured or mildly de-activated like a card catalog or textual and visual data system, or maybe a life. What activates a life? There is a mild return to an English-speaking subject, who recounts anecdotes about life with a Mercedes 280SE, a father, and Chinese cook books. Some of the passages are translated back into Chinese by a computer and software program cued to the scanning of UN documents. There are a few pictures to help the reader along i.e. to visualize, but what exactly? The subjectivity feels standardized and normal and informal in the way that Claude Shannon’s Printed English approximates English from time to time. Likewise, SCV periodically “approximates” a novel or a poem. It has a life span. Style is what is statistically likely to induce a reading. The majority of readers will read this and not think it difficult. That was not true of BlipSoak01, though I tried to make it hypnotic and relaxing, like yoga. It was too IDM to be avant garde, too trance to be mainstream.
And also it seems like mainstream aesthetic is overly simplified, like you bring to the surface in 7CV, mainstream is about beauty vs. ugliness, where beauty means repetition, reproducibility, something that fits well into a controlled vocabulary and can make copies of itself while ugliness is something we have never (en)countered before or cannot register. How does beauty function in this book?
- 7CV is inseparable from the commodification of the beautiful, where the image is a commodity, and a (corresponding) anti-aesthetic (ugly) was modernism’s antidote to a domestic version of a post-modern “beautiful” to come. The book is a Field Guide to dedifferentiated cultural production, and it’s a controlled vocabulary system. These are oppositional but I’d like them only mildly oppositional. Of course, the move from beautiful/ugly to interesting/non-interesting, or “boring,” has been detailed convincingly by Language Poetry, the historical avant garde and Conceptual Art. Much of LP simply cannot be labeled ugly. Donald Judd fuses the retinal/perceptual with the conceptual/material logic of steel and the mathematical finishes of autobody paints, and while there are a lot of words I would use to describe this dialectic, beautiful is not the first that comes to mind (but it does come to mind!) Thus within LP, “boring” becomes “interesting” in an inverted sphere dominated by cultural capital, where there is a shift from imagery/image to texts/discursive practices. In that sense, 7CV emerges from and tries to make a-g practices and discursive tactics visible (there are a lot of photos in 7CV to make things easier), and specific—as regards the neo-avant garde’s own institutionalization as well as the technological shifts mentioned above. Like avant-garde writing, I’m not interested in the sublime emerging “in the wrong place” or the sublime as a mode of the Absolute/Failed Beauty. But on the other hand, and here there are differences with LP, I am interested in the beautiful as décor (I have no problems with that!), as “culinary” image, and I am interested in how one might self-reflexively reflect upon how a dedifferentiated condition is produced culturally, and yes, even in experimental poetry—as decor. I suppose the absolute is just one meta data container among many. The question, and I don’t think I can answer it, is whether the work retains a vestigial attempt, as Jameson notes, to “crack open the commodification implicit in the Beautiful.” (87) Foucault’s bureaucratization of the beautiful leads to a social space where everything is acculturated and the category of the aesthetic terminated, where the “Foucauldian hetertopias of the unclassed and unclassifiable all have been triumphantly penetrated and colonized.” (111) And yet anecdotal details in 7CV evade bureaucratization; their dissociativeness and off-handedness offers a toe hold for the perceptual, even sensual, and the historical: the Macy’s smart mob directive ends in my getting married! Marriage is accidental, pluralistic, socially scripted, date-specific, institutionalized, and visibly orchestrated with a hand typed text! Maybe that’s what poetry (or marriage) is, some kind of mediated technological note linked to commodification, leisure, and (not) going shopping at Macy’s. With others. But again, I would reiterate, it’s text based and its shared experience, communal. Maybe it’s like that little space of generic happiness accorded the viewer at the end of Cache. It would seem to share something with Koolhaas’s almost perverse celebration of the generic and bigness, with allowing things to happen in a non programmatic way, and allowing a mode of collectivity to emerge from that. It is precisely unregulated ugliness, un-decorated cheapness, the rampant, throw-away elements of (architectural building codes) textual production and non-directed reading that open up the non-alternative, non-autonomous spaces that we actually live in. Ditto Nature and Poetry, which are just commodified genres that occupy the already closed spaces of our attention.
How does this fit into the idea of montage or collage? Of juxtapositioning the beautiful with the ugly, the interesting with the boring? Isn’t the tension caused by these pairings anti-boring?
- SCV is very much an ADD kind of reading experience but it is absorptive and I hope affective in a communal way. The montage/shock pairing—this meant something different to Adorno than it did to Benjamin, and it means something different in contemporary practice. BlipSoak01 is all montage or sampling, putting Laura Riding right next to George Oppen, but I wanted transitions not to be shocking but seamless, easy, absorptive—and here the models were disco, sampling, remixing. This is not new. I think T.S. Eliot did this with The Waste Land, which is one EP gramophone (music) produced and subsequently recorded by a culture regarded as a whole i.e. culture regarded in an explicitly anthropological sense. Eliot was offended not so much by the production of the young man carbuncular (dialogue) but by its being recorded, as literature, which partly explains the “explanatory” or contextualizing function of footnotes, and why Eliot loved vaudeville and concert hall but hated the gramophone!
7CV’s orientations are utterly away from live music, phoneme, polyphony, spoken voice and into another register involving the seamlessness of printed and non-printed language/reading systems, the generation of imagery via text, parsing of all language as statistical/cybernetic systems, and the time stamping of bodies with a host of technological systems of reading, etc. So in this general sense, one could say that 7CV is about historical avant garde and neo avant garde practices as they integrate with post war information science and contemporary textual practices. Debord remarked that the image is the final form of commodity reification, but I feel like today text or code activates that function, i.e. we inhabit a textual turn, dominated by languages and reading/writing practices cued not to deconstruction or the play of signifiers but to a host of material technological shifts involving scripting languages, SMS texting, RSS feeds, page ranking systems, Markov chains, and reflected in academic disciplines focusing on software studies, code work, network culture, cognitive capitalism, etc. Jonathan Beller talks about how the commodification of attention implicit in Google is conditioned by a “cinematic mode of production,” but here, though the argument is enormously provocative, I am not sure the commodification of attention is image based since nearly all the images I see link back to codes and scripting languages. John Johnston talks about how Lacan’s registers are linked to his thinking on the circuit. The word “avant garde” is incredibly odd in relation to these things! I mean could anyone possibly conceive going up to an artist in a gallery and saying something like “you are a wonderful avant garde artist?” And I can’t think of one experimental writer who would announce her affiliation with “I am an avant garde poet.” I mean it’s unthinkable! The avant garde is the historical avant garde as Burger noted.
7CV asserts itself very early as intertextual. Not only does the text refer to itself, but there are even contradictory statements within it. What is the role of this contradiction within the book? Are these multiple voices? One voice changing in time? One voice deliberately contradicting itself? Or are we dealing with a text that is self-editing?
- Reading, like voices after the phonograph, is mediated in platform-specific, materially-dependant ways: books, grocery lists, indexes, subject headers, photos, captions, genres, etc. Another way to think of this, but this is only one way, involves visualizing what a reading experience actually is, because reading is visual i.e. it is done with the eyes, and so SCV in interested in mirroring textual matter that is bracketed by and organized by Indexes, Forewords, LC classification system, and also images—i.e. things pertaining to visual infrastrcture of books, normally associated with preservation, codification, or housing something in a place where one could definitely find it, with say a page number or subject header. We normally think of books as containing something inside it, but of course these things are, properly speaking, outside the text, as is an RSS feed or an endnote, and so I was interested in what Jonathan Sterne (though he was addressing the audio field) terms the exterior constructs of texts rather than their interiority. The Index and the Foreword are exported in from other books; moreover, they exist within SCV as photographic images, and very specific kinds of images: “photographed,” (but what does that word mean?) digital images, rather than say scanned (flatbed) images. They float around the text a bit, untethered, and that untethering derives from specific material sources that are, in their flea market origins, non-digital. So the book puts printed reading material in a context of (more ephemeral) printed non-reading material, and vice versa, and treats all textual material as visual material, and vice versa. So in this sense, the book’s organizational structure, its reading systems are highly self-reflexive and self-mirroring—and in a state of non-fixity. On a basic level, reading a book with pictures is different from reading “just text,” which in the end is a highly self-dissociating rather than self-defining field. The book’s modular arrangments coincide with reading systems that I associate loosely with self-reflection and ongoing cataloging: photo/caption, meta data/content, and text/paratext, writing/editing relations. These can be tracked in time as patterns of largely economic distribution. The book thinks or as you say edits itself. The above category oppositions are mostly dissolved in activities of reading e.g. meta tags are often embedded in a text (n a digital environment). There are so many intersecting blank areas, time frames, publication/editing phases in a reading, I mean reading is a mode of visual skimming, i.e. a historically forgetful procedure, and I wanted a text that made blankness (ambience) appear sporadically as material and historically-specific parts of the text: its printing, composition, plagiarism, and distributional practices, its organizational structure, subject headings, etc, and its reception history as something read by me and later by you. The Chinese cooking of my childhood, that episode, is on the verge of disappearing into an Index or LC subject header. The Joy of Cooking episode recounted above is absent from the book proper but is part of the post-print reading environment and RSS distribution. Warhol once talked about one of those be-ins in Central Park, a desultory space where people would just come and go and get high and notice things:
The Easter Sunday be-in in Central Park was incredible; thousands of kids handing you flowers, burning incense, smoking grass, taking acid, passing drugs around right out in the open, taking their clothes off and rolling around on the ground, painting their bodies with Day-Glo, doing Far East-type chants, playing with their toys—balloons and pinwheels and sheriff’s badges and Frisbees. They could stand there staring at each other for hours without moving. As I said before, that had always fascinated me, the way people could sit by a window or on a porch all day and look out and never be bored, but then if they went to a movie or play, they suddenly objected to being bored. I always felt that a very slow film could be just as interesting as a porch-sit if you thought about it the same way. And now all these kids on acid were demonstrating the exact same thing. (Pop 207)
Warhol’s subject is a kind of collective memory trace of Easter Sunday in Central Park but it describes the hang time of the Factory as well And in a sense SCV is about that Warholian condition: the text is just one big space. The line between text and image, object and meta data, well I cannot seem to find it anywhere in this book. We’ve left the track changes textual variants on in this section, and we’ve transferred it to Bomb’s website as a kind of mirroring. Why? It is a visual distraction in the reading, but reading is by nature distracted as a historical activity, and the text was composed between these two registers and two individuals. The interview is a textual environment preserved as an “interior” landscape organized by software codes, attendant textual interfaces, and the format known as the interview, which is about talking and reading in some vaguely public or open or exteriorized space vis a vis the book “proper.”
Controlled vocabularies and what you call “management systems” impose a set of limits on our consciousness. Some of these limits are artificial, such as the vocabulary we use to talk about a book, like plot, voice, character, etc. But then you also refer to Miller’s Number Seven, the supposed natural limit to most people’s short-term memory. What is the interplay between these artificial and natural limitations?
- For me reading is a machine, an artificial system, and when the mind reads, it is part of this artificial system. It is impossible for me to think of any limitations that are natural, except those that are specific to particular reading systems, i.e. all limitations are of the same sort. In other words, there is no distinction between a natural and an artificial distinction.
I like this idea of strobe light consciousness, or a reader understanding things in timed intervals (110). Can you elaborate on this idea? How is this a feature of your writing?
- writing takes place in time, that is one of its material constraints, like the Joy of Cooking. It has numerous genealogies working through it, punctuating it, sometimes literally, and the book in turn reproduces those punctuations visually, graphically, ideationally, abstractly: that process you very sharply term self-editing. Of course at the proofreading level, I wanted to eliminate most punctuation, especially commas. I wanted to work against certain temporal elements not in the sense of making someone forget the time they were reading in (suspension of disbelief) but rather to make the time of reading approximate something like a stopwatch, so that the reading is only believable when a stop watch is ticking next to it. Commas slow down reading artificially, just like the line break or medial caesura, and poetry in general where commas are a typographic (i.e. graphic or visual) device that slows down language in order to make the certain kinds of language content appear inexpressible, ineffable—the typical domain of poetry. But this is not really the case, it’s a hallucination that most poetry works to create quite deliberately. SCV is meant to be a reading under the sign of a rapidly ticking clock and ease. Instead of slowing a reading down, its aim is to speed it along its way. There is nothing ineffable or inexpressible in reading, especially the time it was read in. Therein lies a bit of historical materialism, as it returns to text." - The Bomb Interview


"Poetry. Cross-genre. HEATH (PLAGIARISM/OUTSOURCE) exists somewhere between a Project Gutenberg version of Samul Pepys Diary and a minute-to-minute news feed and blog of Heath Ledger's death. Sad, appropriated, lyrical and confused, the book contains a brief history of recent performance art, a legal defense of plagiarism, the diary of a poetry workshop at the Asian American Writer's Workshop, an MP3 protest song, and an examination of SMS and GMS technologies as distribution networks for human sadness. Multi-authored, and with numerous text blocks and photos, HEATH (PLAGIARISM/OUTSOURCE), NOTES TOWARDS THE DEFINITION OF CULTURE, UNTITLED HEATH LEDGER PROJECT, A HISTORY OF THE SEARCH ENGINE, DISCO OS is in full color."

"In plagiarism/outsource Tan Lin presents a massive accumulation of language and graphics from diverse sources, nearly all available from the Web, including commercial ads (i.e. Jackie Chan hawking green tea mix), information for theatre programs at the Museum of Modern Art, blog, RSS, Facebook, and MySpace news about and reactions to the 2008 death of Australian actor Heath Ledger, material pertaining to the Gutenberg Project’s online version of Samuel Pepys Diary, and bits of academic articles. There are corporate logos, pictures of the drug Ecstasy, and a great deal of print common to internet platforms (and not books of poetry). Lin’s eight students in an Asian-American Writer’s Workshop are listed on the back cover, presumably as co-authors, and index cards with their personal information are reproduced, along with a few other references to some of them. My concern here is not to analyze the intricacies of the relationships between juxtaposed elements, but to ponder how the book addresses the issue indicated in its title.
In a passage following the French phrase, “hors-texte” (outside the text), probably an allusion to Derrida’s declaration in Of Grammatology of omni-textuality, the ability of all worldly events to be read, Lin or someone (let’s say, “Lin’s speaker”) seems to “confess” to plagiarism in a less self-accusatory passive construction and an odd use of a gerund clause: “numerous works were plagiarized while writing this text, in terms of ideas or turns of phrase, which the author attempted to imitate.” (Lin will not let me perform page-citation, as there are no page numbers. And it would be tedious for me to tell you repeatedly whether I am quoting from early or late in the book, or in the middle. Therefore, let’s forget about imagining that an argument “progresses” in this text.)
But does this “confession” of plagiarism stand, or does the text-assembler see himself as “outsourcing,” employing something or someone outside a previous context with remuneration? In “Tan Lin Interviewed” by Chris Alexander, Kristen Gallagher, and Gordon Tapper, Galatea Resurrects 12 (May 2009), an online exchange that, I am told, will become part of the next edition of plagiarism/outsource, Lin problematizes the notion of his authorship and, hence, of his “plagiarism”:
And I wasn’t trying to pretend that I was authoring the Heath thing [the book’s full title on the front cover includes “Notes Toward the Definition of Culture , Untilted Heath Ledger Project , a history of the search engine , disco OS” following what I take to be the main title], I just took it and pasted portions of it in, enabling its recirculation, which was its intent: to be seen by as many eyes as possible. Can material be plagiarized if there is no claim to authorship or if notions of originality and/or “literary” uniqueness are weakened or regarded as undesirable? . . . . It’s pretty clear that much of the material wasn’t written by me and this is reinforced by the copy and paste mode of design. . . . But am I violating some sort of copyright law here? Does the work deserve some other sort of citation format. . . ?
For Lin, “this touches not on who physically authors a text. . . but,” instead, on “who is more generally ‘responsible’ for certain texts,” something that can be “hard to see.”
If plagiarism profits a student or an author seeking market value on the basis of (faked) “originality” only if it is secret, one who is happily and openly derivative, not only of his sources, but of an experimental tradition of literary collage profits from membership in that tradition. Oulipo or LangPo practitioners do not hide their source-texts, and when Ashbery wrote “Europe,” the long poem in The Tennis Court Oath, about 50 years ago, he did not hide the fact of his direct borrowings from popular fiction and magazine articles when interviewed by David Shapiro, the first person to write a dissertation on him. However, as Lin’s speaker suggests, academic citation methods seem unnecessary: “since most sources have been rewritten and are no longer recognizable, the original page references are omitted or part of a page range that suggests” [not identifies] “the frame in which the passage was released into the present text. . . .” It is fair to say that experimental writers are appropriators and not plagiarists, but there is a passage in plagiarism/outsource indicating that Lin’s speaker might consider the distinction relatively unimportant in light of large cultural trends:
Both plagiarism proper (unacknowledged appropriation) and sanctioned appropriation redeem the individual from the market’s binding mechanisms. Much literature today is principally a rebranding or packaging device, as How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life, textbooks, packaged books, and celebrity books all make clear.
Sitting next to the “sanctioned appropriation” of “textbooks,” Lin’s specific example of “unacknowledged appropriation” is deliberately provocative. In 2006 a Harvard undergraduate named Kaavya Viswanathan, whose novel is cited above, was exposed as a plagiarist of extensive passages from the work of an established writer in the lucrative world of publishing for the adolescent market (and later, various others) and was drummed out of it. The plagiarizing
author was “redeemed” as an “individual” from “the market’s binding mechanisms” only before she was caught. From what I can tell, Indian-American adolescent experience was “successfully” squeezed into the conventions of the (white and black?) young adult novel to achieve a temporary “rebranding” that, if sustained, could have enriched the author and her corporate sponsors. At the time, while understanding a little about copyright infringement, I remember thinking that Viswanathan’s plagiarism was probably just a repetition of already formulaic language and plot elements and, hence, not as distressing as the theft of intellectually and aesthetically energetic discourse.
If “much literature today” is comparable to Viswanathan’s approach, I would rather turn away from such a “majority” of texts than assert that the anti-market features of “plagiarism proper” can be celebrated rather than damned, because in this case, the plagiarist’s authorial desires existed strictly within a market-based context. Instead, I would focus attention on the “minority,” experimental literature that uses “sanctioned appropriation” creatively to generate a surplus of meaning or a dynamic indeterminacy out of “lifted” material. However, if I place too much emphasis on this distinction, I am ignoring the idea that Lin is developing a “Notes Towards the Definition of Culture” rather than justifying a canon, and to take such “notes,” what we traditionally think of as literature is too narrow a category upon which to focus.
While King Lear produced an accounting of his material and spiritual holdings in/on a heath ledger, the heath for which Lin accounts in this ledger is Web 2.0, and this is where the plagiarizing and/or appropriating individual’s “redemption” from the constraints of the market takes place: “. . . emails and SMS and text messages, . . . constitute an ever increasing proportion of today’s written universe, today’s affective ecology of language, and it feels very ambient to me. I mean, basically, one wants one’s feelings distributed” (“Tan Lin Interviewed”). In the contexts of “networked redistribution,” exemplified by YouTube and Facebook, “social networks become theatre and text reverts to the oldest forms of truncated, telegraphic, obscene, and ephemeral forms” (plagiarism/outsource). In the “visual performance theatre” of MySpace, a “version of digital romanticism,” “standardization and generic production are reprogrammed with ‘uncensored’ complexity, static, noise, difference, human hand, accidents, etc.,” and “creating content is less useful than passing on existing content or re-creating a context for re-use.” Thus, “plagiarism” is justified as “one parameter to define this recontextualizing mode. Ditto with outsourcing or image defamiliarization.”
It is hard to argue with the kind of democratization of culture that broadens accessibility of “existing content” without sounding like a hopeless fuddy-duddy or elitist. And the performance of “image defamiliarization” is part of a widespread championing of the experience of process over any static telos: “what is the effort of a language? something that disperses an image.” This continual dispersal is like the experience of surfing on the Web. But why does “creating content” have to be considered “less useful”? And why does Lin’s speaker have to call “originality. . . the last remaining waste product (muda) of creative practices,” an inefficient concept that should “be eliminated within aesthetic production and/or distribution systems”? This line of reasoning seems to posit re-creativity as the only possible creativity, as creators are always already belatedly situated in a textual milieu, and, furthermore, “everyone” is “an artist.” And if the concept of “originality,” implying an origin that is never present, is jettisoned and replaced by a process of ceaseless recontextualization—something like “what George C. Williams, the evolutionary biologist, describes as the principal functioning of the gene: ‘that which segregates and recombines with appreciable frequency’”—then the standards for ascertaining plagiarism seem irrelevant:
. . . in the end, plagiarism has costs that are nominal, illusory, and often gratuitous when stacked against the no-less illusory concept of “originality.” Regarded thus, plagiarism is a rear guard deterrent like the tactic of disabling right clicking on websites, both of which are designed to protect notions of originality that are presently in decline. What after all is the true economic “cost” of plagiarizing clearly unoriginal work whose value is increased not decreased by further (uncited) circulation patterns or by syndication across networks? Such activity should probably be regarded as value-adding rather than either theft (removal of value) or fraud (deception), the two crimes most closely associated with plagiarism.
If one plagiarizes from bits of internet text to which no one would assign literary or commercial value, these bits acquire cultural capital (not money for their anonymous authors) through “further (uncited) circulations patterns.” However, even though the assessment of literary value is fraught with imprecision, especially in its relation to concepts of originality, people will keep invoking it, tacitly or openly, in publishing, promoting, and rewarding some works and not others. What publisher will say that his/her criteria for selection are entirely arbitrary? In cultural products that do not strive to be “transparent” “communication,” judgment often comes from a minimal aura of originality within the juxtaposition of “recycled” parts. A (re-)creator who painstakingly composes a text with a particular pattern of recombination of sources in order to establish a value for his/her text that emerges from intersubjective social exchange is probably going to endure “value-subtraction” if someone else plagiarizes a large chunk of this work and receives recognition before the former’s accomplishment can be digested. Doesn’t such a cultural producer need protection against “theft” and “fraud”?
And yet. . . Lin as a reader may want to give up the temptation to judge literary value in order to enjoy a particular kind of reading/cultural reception that typifies web surfing:
People don’t read text so much as look at it or download multiple reading formats for text. Such practices are not new to ebook reading: skimming, fanning, page flipping, reading books about books, blurb reading, browsing or locating a book in a spectrum of colors, . . . or even simple forgetting, etc., constitute earlier non-reading, pre-digital formats of text processing.
Ebooks dramatize that no one reads a book word for word, where reading is regarded as a format of forgetfulness. Such a project, romanticized since the voice-to-scroll and scroll-to-codex transitions, was never accurate; the retina processes textual matter by silent reading, by jumping from one letter/word group to another in what are termed saccadic leaps. All reading is format-dependent scanning i.e. controlled forgetting.
Even Roland Barthes in his seventies classic, The Pleasure of the Text, confesses to the delight of jumping from one part of a “great book” to another. On the basis of talking to a number of my college students and reading earnest articles on multitasking in magazines like Time, I can acknowledge that this description of what many people often do while reading seems reliable. And the notion of “saccadic leaps” has scientific authority. Further, can anyone dispute that the reception of reading material is “format-dependent”? How could one imagine the absence of format? “All reading” surely involves the displacement of prior units in order to focus on the words that are present, and such “forgetting” is “controlled” to the degree that one voluntarily agrees to the “contract” of the temporal process of reading. Many readers might like to practice “controlled remembering,” but have a lot of trouble doing so.
Nevertheless, the “i.e.” generating a parallel in the above passage’s final sentence may occasion skepticism. Lin’s speaker’s rhetorical gesture—“all reading is. . .”—involves a “controlled” omission (encouragement of “forgetting”) of the possibility that the text can become an occasion for relatively slow reflection (even study) rather than semi-automatic sampling. One who wishes to read critically (or with old-fashioned aesthetic appreciation!) must compensate for the forgetting by rereading, which includes comparing/contrasting adjacent and distant passages.
At this late juncture, to try to shed some light on this omission of critical reading, I call attention to the “doctrine” of “ambient stylistics” in the introduction to Lin’s previous book of poetry BlipSoak01 (Atelos, 2003), because in the Galatea Resurrects interview, he invokes this concept while suggesting that plagiarism/ outsource “is about a softer, ambient avant-garde that works against radical disjuncture or the montage/shock effect,” which he considers “dated to a specific period of the historical avant-garde or the neo avant-garde. . . .” “To question some of these assumptions,” Lin seeks to produce “work that might be relaxing, boring, absorptive, sampled freely and without effort, easy, etc. This kind of textual material is appealing for reasons specific to particular text production and distribution formats.” Not wanting “this to be avant-garde,” the poet appeals to democratization of culture as “fresh air” (to cite Kenneth Koch or NPR): “I wanted YOU or me or her to read it like web surfing, or a mash up or something we do all day long, or like Pepys' Diary.”
For one thing, some may consider critical (re)reading more “relaxing” than the tedium of relatively unreflective perception of a stream of disparate sensory or textual data. And then there’s the matter of complex irony. Tan Lin, you dwell so often in your work at the meta-level and are preoccupied with the critique of orthodox “assumptions.” So do you always or primarily want to valorize effortless sampling as a reading practice over painstaking sociocultural reflection, long slow demystification (lsd), etc., or are you setting in motion an energetic antagonism between two or more modes? And do you consider these forms of nearly unlimited relaxation (and relaxation of deliberate critical faculties) a good baseline practice for our world citizenry, or are you tacitly exposing Web 2.0’s implications on your heath ledger so that others can experience surfeit and eventually mount their own critiques? Hold on—this is not an interview. I’ll just conjecture a both/and." - Thomas Fink

Tan Lin: PLAGIARISM: A response to Thomas Fink

"I am ever positively-disposed to Tan Lin, partly because back in 1996 or so, when I had just begun paying attention to poetry, he didn't show any derision at my belatedness when I asked him, "What is Language Poetry?"
Instead, he patiently answered. I've since met many poets who are most eager to show their smarts and who sometimes do so by displaying contempt at those not in the know of what they know. I share this because that lack of derision indicates something, it seems to me, about Tan's world-view and how such affects his poetry. It seems to me that Tan is willing to pay attention to anything and everything. And that though he clearly has opinions about what he experiences, he tries not to bring judgmental preconception to initial encounters....in order to fully engage such. He is open to a lot, and that openness doesn't lend itself to the kind of derision from someone who is concerned about showing his smarts.
But of course Tan Lin is smart. His conceptualization of projects like plaigarism/outsource shows a non-facile understanding of the subjects at hand. For example, his explications of ambient sound -- which is a logical offshoot of distancing from the authorial, personal, fixed "I" as displayed in his first book LOTION BULLWHIP GIRAFFE (Sun & Moon, 1996) -- reflects a consideration of notions of privilege and authorship and ego. Still, I perhaps would not have bothered to write an engagement for Galatea Resurrects if I hadn't heard him in a Conversation with Charles Bernstein at PennSound. Click on the link yourself and listen, I enthusiastically suggest. Do you hear the same thing that struck me when I listened to him? That is, Tan is talking (in part) about ambience even as the very sound of his voice is smoothly....ambient; Merriam-Webster's definition of "ambient" includes "music intended to serve as an unobtrusive accompaniment to other activities (as in a public place) and characterized especially by quiet and repetitive instrumental melodies".
Tan's voice is, as they say, soft-spoken: you can fall asleep to it. It's not obstrusive. Which is to say, it doesn’t raise attention to itself. The poet's voice manifests the poems' voice: form = content.
(I wonder if he's always sounded like this. After all, when he began as a poet, he won a national contest sponsored by Mademoiselle magazine, if my memory is correct. I wonder what he sounded like when he was writing in the more traditional narrative vein: did he grow into his current tone-sound partly due to his poetry's development? In our very first encounter, I had asked him how one reads out loud a language poem and he said something along the lines of, for himself anyway, trying to read a poem without displaying emotion.)
I actually can probably blather on and on about plaigarism/outsource. But let me just note the generativeness of Tan Lin's work in order to observe something else about the brilliance of plaigarism/outsource. You see, I wrote the first draft (okay, only draft) of this review (or the first half of the review) weeks after I first read his book and without opening it again. (Upon returning to the review which I then continued,) I didn't expect -- though am not surprised -- that his book would stick like a piano note permanently elongating after it was struck from a neighboring building. It's paradoxical, of course -- the text seems like notations from various backgrounds. The words don't present something that believes in being in the foreground of attention. They seem plucked from margins, from outside of what is the center of some frame. Yet they dig into your mental skin and, weeks later, you haven't forgotten them -- in fact, are rather irritated by their stubborn demand for your focus.
The effect, however, makes sense if one is to consider plaigarism/outsource to be a manifestation of ambient noise. If these are notations for the ambient, defined as all-encompassing, what we learn from plaigarism/outsource is that there are things happening beyond what may be taking majority focus at the moment -- and that such happenings can be equally compelling. That says something not just about reading/writing poetry but about how one might experience -- how one might live.
By not consciously privileging (or mostly not privileging) one topic over another, one can become more open to many topics. And one also thus widens one’s expanse: in his conversation with Bernstein, it’s worth noting artist Jorge Pardo’s influence on Tan (who’s mostly influenced by visual artists). Tan mentions how Pardo, for one exhibition, simply renovated a house -- “when you look at the art object, it’s not clear that it’s an object instead of just part of the environment … but the difference between the art object and the environment in which the object is found has been blurred.”
It thus follows that Tan would be interested in something like a “book [that] would no longer be contained within the book…transcended the covers” (to quote again from the conversation with Bernstein). In this sense, all of Tan Lin’s books have demanded a deep engagement by the reader in order for the works to be effective. What is note-worthy about his type of call for reader-response is the freshness of his approach (e.g. the integration of internet reality to the page or the use of Powerpoint to “flood” the screen with text) in order to uplift the book which he considers (without being dismissive) “old technology”.
plaigarism/outsource is one manifestation of what happens when one expands one's vision. One becomes more lucid....and at times the result is Poetry.
Okay, at another future point in developing this review, I opened the book for some excerpts to see if my above thoughts have any accuracy or relevance based on my memory of first reading the book. Here's an excerpt:
There are over a thousand footnotes in the
printed text that were
added by the editor. Most of these are very
short biographical
and similar notes, and have been inserted into
the etext in square
brackets close to the point where they were
originally referred
What do you know? Tan Lin pays attention to footnotes -- those things, I belabor, in the margins and background. But I also draw attention to how the lines are broken in the above. These line-breaks don't seem to me to have been the author's choice. It seems like Tan cutnpasted the above as they appeared from whatever source text. You see this sometimes when you copy-and-paste from certain emails into, say, a non-email from like a Word document: I don't know how the line-breaks get translated but it seems to me that Tan Lin didn't bother to change them -- he just accepted them as he found them. (This is the truth: I wrote this paragraph before stumbling across, in the back of the book, "A Note on the Design" which confirms that Tan Lin, as designer, did indeed import text from the internet into Microsoft Word and deliberately did not alter inherited formatting. I hadn't read the Note the first time I perused his chap.)
Another excerpt--this reference:
i, genre: UNREAD NOVEL
followed by text that seems to be an outline/description for said novel. But it's telling that it's titled "UNREAD NOVEL" because of course as the book unfolds the novel becomes read. (I've read Tan Lin's ambience is a novel with a logo (katalanche press, 2007) and I'm not willing to believe that a description of something cannot be the thing itself in the Tan Lin universe).
Or how about the section that's titled "NOTES" followed by the page remaining blank? This implies to me that there's no need to differentiate (privilege) subject matter between a topic and then background to such topic. Or is it an invitation for the reader to author the "NOTES", in which case "NOTES" becomes ever-shifting depending on the reader and occasion of being read? It makes sense, too, that the section called "Bibliography" is a replication of various handwritten, autobiographical (or seemingly-autobiographical) notes by other people.
No derision. No preconceived privileging of topics (plaigarism/outsource smoothly references a multiplicity of seeming unrelated subjects, ranging over Pepys Diary, Heath Ledger, a history of recent performance art, a legal defense of plagiarism, the diary of a poetry workshop, an MP3 protest song, and an examination of SMS and GMS technologies as distribution networks). Acceptance. Openness. All this is why Tan Lin's poetry always interests me -- because his poetry has a huge brain and, in that pleasingly poetically paradoxical twist to the more obvious surface of dispassion, an equally big heart." - Eileen Tabios
Tan Lin, ambience is a novel with a logo, Katalanché 2007

"It's vital to read material that is not inherently appealing to keep your game up and running. Likewise to write it. As a poet-novelist, you might think it profitable to string sentences together like paste rubies and artificial pearls that are deliberately mismatched, almost passé. Each sentence would shine in gloom as the ends won't quite match up with the beginnings, each sparkle dulled into a thought containing falsehood but contextualized by the faintly plausible, as if draped over a bowl of fish hooks, a near accident or an accident-in-the-making. You might desire to push a personal datum into the narrative, your opinion on having sex as linear or the death of a family member, for instance, so that it achieves the same (but no higher) level of emotional force as boilerplate taken from a corporate manual or website. This produces a scrubbed textual surface, sobriety typical of social-democratic utterance, open to interpretation as Euro-ambience. The arbitrated décor of your short text can then be looked after in "poet-novelist" ways (as this is a sketch toward a novel you are attempting), and the ways that Tan Lin deploys include weighting the bottom of many pages with semi-extraneous footnotes -- beginning with number 31 (presumably footnotes 1-30 were fully extraneous) -- as well as dropping in random elements -- mostly fuzzy photos but also variations in font, lists, and a couple of equations. Humor is allowed; it should be twisty and self-referencing. "One can never stop a clock from ticking, even in a novel." Humor justifies the enterprise but it is only one facet of the supraordinate design. Process description, Chinese-American ethnicity, John Cage, touring Germany, attending Carleton, "a face derived by software," all these are material fit to be twisted, falsified, or erased, as Lin fictionalizes with what he sees as ambient, again self-referencing "a condition of transitory structures, lounge architecture, and books with photos in them." - Jack Kimball
Tan Lin, Lotion Bullwhip Giraffe, Sun & Moon Press, 2000.

"Lin's debut collection can aptly be called "language" poetry, for it playfully manipulates language's mechanics, turning semantic inconsistencies into opportunities for aural delight. While he is identified here as a Chinese-American poet and University of Virginia faculty member, such labels are not part of Lin's lexicon. The "I" of these poems is made from the gleeful associations that seem to arise naturally out of words ("say, scream, scrim, savvy,/ sexy, sinful, scintillating,/ scared, separated, spent,/ slippery, slack, slapped") and which may turn out to be empty, meaningful or inscrutable?and funny: "In early 1983 Caravelle was the name of a Dodge Mini-Van and a girl." While working the gaps between writer and reader by way of pop culture is fairly common, Lin's efforts carry elegant tonal inflections and possess a lyric sense that coaxes readers on: "Options bark apart like rubies. I touch/ my wrist into everything, a painting,// a star's rust in a room, everything/ flaps from horror, in the flame// your fine chipped/ hands or shoulders." Many of the poems and prose pieces read like cut-up bits of consciousness held together by sound and the boundaries of the page: "Crippled inks./ Flavor of milk imposters,// resumption of the cuff-link./ A bee hems the horizon or swordtail." Some readers may rejoice in the multitude of possible meanings; others will see a steadfast refusal to articulate emotions within the language." - Publishers Weekly

Tan Lin, Blipsoak01,Atelos, 2003.

"Poetry. Asian American Studies. BLIPSOAK01 is a creative endeavor not only in the use of language but also in the use of the page as more than a backdrop for words. Lin plays with the effects that the visual placement of words has on the reader, adding an extra dimension to already fascinating poetry. Lin is a writer, artist, and critic whose art and video works have been exhibited at Yale Art Museum, as well as New York and Copenhagen."

"The author of the acidly neo-dada Lotion Bullwhip Giraffe (Sun & Moon 1996) here offers a poetry that is, on the one hand, designed to be "very very easy and relaxing at the synaptic level," and on the other, works as a mammoth study of the "lateral" page break—forcing a line of poetry, often in the middle of a word, across the gutter of a verso-recto spread. Lin's concept of "Ambient Stylistics" (explored by Brian Kim Stefans in his recent "A Poem of Attitudes" from Fashionable Noise) here gets exhaustive treatment, with the book's Brownian motion allowing everything from "Byzantine legs" to "A halo" that "barks an allusion to water." After a few pages, one gets the feel that what shows up in the work probably correlates directly to whatever the poet happened to see at that moment, on the Web, out the window, or within his rather detached emotional registry, and that the work is boring on purpose. In a book where one might spend a few minutes contemplating how "photos" become "hotos" or how "data points do not p" gets extended by "lay off each other," Warholian boredom makes the book's rather ordinary formal properties stand out more starkly (or soothingly). Probably the most ironic take on stoner aesthetics ever imagined and put into print, this book lazily flips the bird to poetry, mainstream and avant-garde alike, in favor of "The local-grow of nothing-slow.... A hallway of po-po." - Publishers Weekly

Edit Publications, 2010, twelve POD books with free downloads expanding 7CV, July 2010

Tan Lin: Enhancing the Book by Asher Penn

Interview with Jeremy JF Thompson, Keiran Daly, and Danny Snelson, Talk:7CV Event Inventory and Documentation, Edit Wiki, June 2010

Interview with Kristen Gallagher, Chris Alexander, and Gordon Tapper, Galatea Resurrects #12, May 2009

Tan Lin: Anachronistic Modernism, Cabinet, Winter 2000/2001

Tan Lin: Warhol's Aura and the Language of Writing, Cabinet, Fall 2001

Tan Lin: Disco as Operating System, Part 1, Criticism, Winter 2008

Tan Lin: Eric Baudelaire's Sugar Water, the Deleuzean Event, and the Dispersion of Spectatorial Labour, [PDF] Reading Room, February 2008

Information Archives, the De-Materialization of Language, and Kenneth Goldsmith's Fidget and No. 111 2.7.93-10.20.96.

Tan Lin: "Diary/Blog", The Brooklyn Rail, May 2007

Tan Lin: from "Ambient Stylistics", Boston Review, April/May 1999 (with an introduction by Charles Bernstein)

Tan Lin tumblr

Tan Lin homepage

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