Di­a­gram­matic and Stochas­tic Writ­ing and Po­et­ics

Di­a­gram­matic Writ­ing (Eind­hoven: Ono­matopee, 2013).

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Stochas­tic Po­et­ics (Los An­ge­les and New York: Gra­nary & Druck­w­erk, 2011–12). Out of print but avail­able to down­load on www.jo­han­nadrucker.com.

What are the iden­ti­ties and func­tions of po­etry and po­et­ics at this point in cul­tural time? And how do we un­der­stand the way a book works, now that we look at its fa­mil­iar form through eyes ac­cus­tomed to nav­i­gat­ing the for­mats of linked, net­worked dis­play? How can we even rec­og­nize a work of po­etry when we en­counter it among the heated en­er­gies of rapid com­mu­ni­ca­tion ex­change, the es­ca­lat­ing rates of me­di­a­tion and re­me­di­a­tion, and the com­plex land­scapes of noise cul­ture and tech­no­log­i­cal hy­per­bole with their pumpedup ex­pec­ta­tions sup­ported by du­bi­ously grounded re­al­i­ties? Ex­tremes of plen­ti­tude and poverty suf­fuse the aes­thetic do­main as surely as they or­ga­nize the eco­nomic and po­lit­i­cal ones of our “ad­vanced” and “late” con­di­tions of cul­ture. And yet, in all of this highly charged and fre­netic ac­tiv­ity, the pro­duc­tion of spe­cial­ized texts and or­ga­nized dis­courses around their op­er­a­tion and value con­tin­ues to cre­ate its own nodes of at­ten­tion. Frac­tious, frag­mented, con­tentious, or riven as the com­mu­ni­ties of pro­duc­tion and re­cep­tion may be, the ded­i­cated en­gage­ment with po­etry and po­et­ics cre­ates its unique vor­tices of at­trac­tion. Ques­tions, cru­cial and com­pelling, con­tinue to arise from this gen­er­a­tive field. In some ways, these are con­cerns that have charged all of moder­nity, the epoch in which in­dus­trial pro­cesses threat­ened to erase the bound­aries be­tween craft and prod­uct, be­tween in­di­vid­ual voice and mass cul­ture, be­tween tra­di­tion and com­mod­i­fi­ca­tion. In­deed, ever since the full-on ad­vent of mod­ern aes­thet­ics as a field, in the work of Alexan­der Baum­garten in the eigh­teenth cen­tury, the terms of dis­tinc­tion by which an aes­thetic work might be dis­tin­guished from other ob­jects or dis­courses in our cul­ture and then its op­er­a­tions rec­og­nized as in­te­gral to that dis­tinc­tion have been ei­ther im­plic­itly or ex­plic­itly re­for­mu­lated by ev­ery in­stance of po­etic ex­pres­sion. For what­ever else it may be, a book is al­ways an ar­gu­ment about what a book is (as ob­ject, text, dis­course), as surely as any novel, poem, paint­ing, sculp­ture, per­for­mance

al­ways pro­ceeds from an as­sump­tion about what that form per­forms in its ini­tial com­ing-into-be­ing. Di­a­gram­matic Writ­ing and Stochas­tic Po­et­ics, two of my re­cent projects, were each made to ex­am­ine as­pects of po­etic and aes­thetic is­sues that are cen­tral to my en­gage­ment with books and vis­ual epis­te­mol­ogy in their cur­rent cul­tural con­di­tion. Di­a­gram­matic Writ­ing makes ex­plicit in­ves­ti­ga­tions I’ve been in­volved in with crit­i­cal and cre­ative prac­tice through print­ing, re­search, and his­tor­i­cal study about the way the book works as a com­plex field. Stochas­tic Po­et­ics takes up the­o­ries of com­plex pro­cesses and events as they form an un­der­stand­ing for the very ground on which aes­thetic ob­jects gain iden­tity and value. They share cer­tain prop­er­ties. They are both graph­i­cal ar­gu­ments, works that make use of the vis­ual and spa­tial fea­tures of page, open­ing, and bound codex as ac­tive el­e­ments of their se­man­tic field. Each makes a case for the ways a book works at a mo­ment in cul­tural his­tory when the codex is fre­quently char­ac­ter­ized as an out­moded for­mat, eclipsed by the tech­nolo­gies of screen and net­worked de­vices. Each pro­poses to ex­plore un­fin­ished as­pects of mod­ern po­et­ics, the po­ten­tial for the di­a­gram to be the par­a­digm of po­etic pro­duc­tion, and for ques­tions about the iden­tity of po­etic lan­guage to be cen­tral to po­etic prac­tice. Be­yond that, the sim­i­lar­i­ties end. Di­a­gram­matic Writ­ing is a meta-study of the work­ings of a book. It is de­signed to demon­strate that a book is not a static ob­ject but a dy­namic space, not a fixed and fi­nal ex­pres­sion but an or­ga­nized ar­range­ment of el­e­ments whose spa­tial re­la­tions en­code se­man­tic value. The work is a com­pletely self-ref­er­en­tial ex­am­i­na­tion of the codex as a graph­i­cal space in which the struc­tur­ing prin­ci­ples of its for­mat fea­tures are ex­plic­itly ex­posed and de­scribed. It has prece­dents in other printed works I’ve pro­duced, namely From A to Z (1977) and His­tory of the/my Wor(l)d (1989), though it is the first fully self-ref­er­en­tial ar­tic­u­la­tion of the dy­namic re­la­tions that con­sti­tute a codex. The ear­lier projects were demon­stra­tions of these prin­ci­ples, not ex­plicit state­ments of them.1 Stochas­tic Po­et­ics was pro­voked by a dif­fer­ent ques­tion: how does po­etic lan­guage reg­is­ter against the larger field of lan­guage prac­tices? This project also has prece­dents within my work, par­tic­u­larly in Prove Be­fore Lay­ing: Fig­ur­ing the Word (1997), whose the­o­ret­i­cal premise is a for­mu­la­tion of a prob­lem I track back into child­hood when my mother told me that all the words and state­ments in our lan­guage could be formed from the fi­nite let­ters of the al­pha­bet. But un­like Prove Be­fore Lay­ing, Stochas­tic Po­et­ics is not about the com­bi­na­toric po­ten­tial of let­ters (and the ap­par­ent para­dox of the in­fini­tude of ex­pres­sion that arises from a lim­ited set

of el­e­ments). In­stead, it fo­cuses on the cul­tural iden­tity of po­etry and the lega­cies of con­cep­tual writ­ing as prac­tices that edge to­ward era­sure of the dis­tinc­tion be­tween aes­thetic pro­duc­tion and other uses of lan­guage. Stochas­tic Po­et­ics also asks and an­swers another set of ques­tions about the na­ture of po­et­ics as a prob­a­bilis­tic process and the iden­tity form of aes­thetic ac­tiv­ity in our cur­rent cul­ture and spec­tac­u­lar ma­trix of sound-lan­guage-graphic pos­si­bil­i­ties. Di­a­gram­matic Writ­ing is a for­mal, an­a­lytic project, Stochas­tic Po­et­ics an emer­gent com­po­si­tional one. Each has his­toric prece­dents whose po­et­ics de­fine spe­cific co­or­di­nates in the realm of aes­thetic prac­tices by which I lo­cate and cal­cu­late my own po­si­tion. The dif­fer­ence be­tween the terms di­a­gram­matic and stochas­tic is not one of bi­na­ris­tic op­po­si­tion. These are not two poles of a sin­gle sys­tem against which one de­fines the other. They are two very dif­fer­ent modal­i­ties. But in­so­far as the in­stan­ti­a­tion of any in­scrip­tional work be­comes em­bod­ied in graph­i­cal­ity (whether in dig­i­tal or ana­log trace), the anal­y­sis of for­mal fea­tures of for­mat that are the sub­stance of Di­a­gram­matic Writ­ing ap­plies to its per­for­mance on the page, screen, book, sur­face, or sub­strate. The or­ga­ni­za­tion of a text, its graph­i­cal en­cod­ing as a text within a space that plays with the de­lim­it­ing prin­ci­ples of bound­ed­ness to any de­gree, is sub­ject to the sys­tem­atic play of these se­man­ti­cally struc­tur­ing el­e­ments. Pre­cisely what that means, and how the di­a­gram­matic comes to epit­o­mize these prin­ci­ples in ways that are rec­og­niz­ably dis­tinct from other graph­i­cal modes, has to be teased out a bit. But I would sug­gest that the di­a­gram­matic is the con­di­tion of any po­etic work in its in­scrip­tional in­stan­ti­a­tion. By con­trast, the con­cept of the stochas­tic mode goes to the crux of aes­thetic iden­tity—how does the fig­ure of po­etic work emerge from the broader field of lin­guis­tic po­ten­tial? Our era is char­ac­ter­ized by a seething, spec­tac­u­lar, hy­per­trophic ex­treme of noise dis­trac­tion and fre­netic ac­tiv­ity. Against such a ground, the chal­lenge of an aes­thetic work is to fig­ure its iden­tity. The ac­tiv­ity has on­to­log­i­cal di­men­sions—what is and makes a work an aes­thetic work—and epis­te­mo­log­i­cal ones—how do we know or sense (to pose this phe­nomeno­log­i­cally) that we are in the pres­ence of an aes­thetic ob­ject or ex­pe­ri­ence? Each of these ques­tions could be an­swered by draw­ing on a dif­fer­ent in­tel­lec­tual lin­eage, and the var­i­ous trans­ac­tional, par­tic­i­pa­tory, po­lit­i­cal, and ex­change-driven cur­ren­cies cur­rently in vogue in the var­i­ous arts would align around them. This is an ex­er­cise worth do­ing, but it is not the task here. In­stead, I want to sketch the anec­do­tal and the­o­ret­i­cal frames from which these two works arose.

I came to the study of di­a­grams through a long­stand­ing in­ter­est in prob­lems of vis­ual forms of knowl­edge pro­duc­tion and to stochas­tic pro­cesses from an equally long­stand­ing in­ter­est in is­sues of emer­gence, com­plex­ity, and the re­la­tion be­tween po­et­ics/mak­ing and aes­thet­ics/ per­ceiv­ing. Start with di­a­grams. What is a di­a­gram? How is it dif­fer­ent from other im­ages and/or vi­su­al­iza­tions? To put it sim­ply, di­a­grams are schematic draw­ings that work— they do some­thing rather than rep­re­sent some­thing. The squares of op­po­si­tion used in clas­si­cal and me­dieval phi­los­o­phy to con­struct syl­lo­gisms are di­a­grams—draw­ings that can be used to ad­vance an ar­gu­ment. They are gen­er­a­tive be­cause they struc­ture pos­si­bil­i­ties for think­ing. They do not rep­re­sent an al­ready ex­tant bit of knowl­edge; they are not pic­tures of things in the world. They are not vis­ual rep­re­sen­ta­tions of knowl­edge that ex­ists a pri­ori or a pos­te­ri­ori. They are schematic struc­tures that use spa­tial­ized or­ga­ni­za­tion to con­struct se­man­tic value. They are struc­tures that bear se­man­tic val­ues in their graph­i­cal or­ga­ni­za­tion. And they ar­tic­u­late re­la­tions through the play of el­e­ments within that struc­ture. Though they are ap­par­ently static im­ages, they are dy­namic be­cause the read­ings they gen­er­ate do not stand in a sin­gle, static re­la­tion to the im­age. The codex book, the page, the graph­i­cal or­ga­ni­za­tion of lay­out on the screen—these are all di­a­gram­matic for­mats. How they work, how they make use of the spe­cific prop­er­ties of graph­i­cally struc­tured re­la­tions is the sub­ject of Di­a­gram­matic Writ­ing. Di­a­grams be­long to the world of vis­ual epis­te­mol­ogy, to the do­main of knowl­edge design and pro­duc­tion. They are part of the tech­nolo­gies and in­stru­ments through which knowl­edge be­comes tractable, con­ven­tion­al­ized, for­mal­ized, and used. Stochas­tic pro­cesses be­long to the phys­i­cal world, the realm of emer­gent, com­plex sys­tems. They have a math­e­mat­i­cal iden­tity that dis­tin­guishes the ways they can be mod­eled as non­lin­ear, prob­a­bilis­tic pro­cesses. Un­like lin­ear pro­cesses, which progress in pre­dictable ways ac­cord­ing to the changes in value in a vari­able, prob­a­bilis­tic sys­tems (think of dice games or weather) do not. The math­e­mat­ics of stochas­tic sys­tems are com­plex, but the phe­nom­ena that con­form to these mod­els are com­mon—the fluid dy­nam­ics of the at­mos­phere, so­cial sys­tems and re­la­tions of in­flu­ence, traf­fic pat­terns, and chaotic be­hav­iors are stochas­tic. Po­etry, I sug­gest, is fun­da­men­tally stochas­tic along a his­tor­i­cal con­tin­uum, but also as an emer­gent phe­nom­e­non in any lin­guis­tic cul­tural field. Stochas­tic Po­et­ics is the study of po­et­ics as an event space in the field of lan­guage.

Di­a­grams and stochas­tic pro­cesses are both prob­a­bilis­tic, and both find their most renowned prece­dent in Stéphane Mal­larmé’s Un Coup de Dés ( A Throw of the Dice). This means that we can also think about di­a­grams as a start point for an imag­ined al­ter­na­tive his­tory of mod­ern po­etry. The dom­i­nant par­a­digm of early-twen­ti­eth-cen­tury An­gloAmer­i­can po­etry, Imag­ism, im­printed its for­mu­la­tion of the poem as a thing meant to be and to be as self-ev­i­dent an im­age as pos­si­ble. What if—as all good coun­ter­fac­tual tales be­gin—the course of his­tory had taken its in­spi­ra­tion from a di­a­gram­matic ex­em­plar? Imag­ism fa­mously, rightly, wrongly, mis­tak­enly, but dog­mat­i­cally took up a the­ory of the ideogram as one of its aes­thetic prin­ci­ples. Mod­ernist Imag­ism starts from the mis­un­der­stand­ing by Ernest Fenol­losa that Chi­nese ideograms were self-ev­i­dent signs whose mean­ing was im­me­di­ately com­mu­ni­cated through vis­ual form.2 (This ex­tended a long tra­di­tion in Western cul­ture that imag­ined Egyp­tian hi­ero­glyph­ics in the same way.)3 Ezra Pound used the con­cept to an­chor a the­ory of po­etic com­mu­ni­ca­tion in form, make it con­crete (in terms the Noigan­dres group would ex­ploit). Ab­strac­tions were to be ex­pressed with the great­est pos­si­ble econ­omy of means. Jux­ta­po­si­tion, col­lage, and vis­ually spe­cific evoca­tive terms were the in­stru­ments of Imag­ism. Its com­po­si­tional ap­proach was de­lib­er­ately an­tidis­cur­sive and dis­tinctly de­signed to re­ject the the­matic sen­ti­men­tal­ity and ex­pan­sive, even dec­o­ra­tive, rhyme struc­tures of late Vic­to­rian verse. It was also a re­ac­tion against the emo­tional themes and ex­cesses of Late Ro­man­tic po­et­ics, em­pha­siz­ing for­mal prop­er­ties of po­etic work rather than its ca­pac­ity to ex­press in­te­rior life. Pound’s con­cept of the ideogram dom­i­nated An­glo-amer­i­can mod­ernism. Wil­liam Car­los Wil­liams’s “no mean­ing but in things” and Archibald Ma­cleish’s suc­cinct mod­ernist for­mu­la­tion, “A poem must not mean but be” ex­press this ap­proach and demon­strate its im­pact. Pound’s dis­like of the Sym­bol­ist aes­thetic is well known, jus­ti­fy­ing his de­sire to get away from its vague­nesses and meta­phys­i­cal as­pi­ra­tions and, in short, to con­cretize po­etic imagery. But the di­a­gram­matic op­er­a­tions of Mal­larmé’s work of­fer a rad­i­cally dif­fer­ent set of pos­si­bil­i­ties for po­etic ex­pres­sion.4 They do not de­pend upon the rep­re­sen­ta­tional and con­crete vi­sion of the ideogram but in­stead sug­gest a ki­netic, mo­bi­lized field of ar­tic­u­lated re­la­tions that ex­presses the be­lief that the very con­di­tion of po­etic form is its sus­pen­sion be­tween the ar­bi­trari­ness of lan­guage (“hasard”) and the tem­po­rary con­fig­u­ra­tion of mean­ing (“con­stel­la­tion”) through the fig­ure of the poet (“mas­ter”). The themes that run through Mal­larmé’s un­prece­dented and un­par­al­leled work, Un Coup de Dés, first con­ceived

and sketched in 1896, re­flect the poet’s in­ter­est in sta­tis­ti­cal analy­ses of chance pro­cesses. His work is far from ran­dom; it in­stead an­swers the chal­lenge of chance by cre­at­ing a work that pro­duces mean­ing prob­a­bilis­ti­cally. It presents the reader with a di­a­gram­matic for­mat, one that uses frag­ments and phrases sus­pended in a field of dy­namic pos­si­bil­i­ties—the po­etic prob­lem staged by the work. That prob­lem is re­peat­edly ex­pressed as a ten­sion be­tween the prob­a­bil­i­ties of mean­ing pro­duc­tion and those of en­tropic dis­si­pa­tion held in dy­namic play by the struc­ture of a poem whose main—per­haps only—ob­jec­tive is to re­flect upon the way po­etry can be ex­pressed in lin­guis­tic form as a field of po­ten­tial mean­ing. Mal­larmé shifts our en­gage­ment with philo­soph­i­cal ques­tions of ne­ces­sity (mech­a­nis­tic de­ter­min­ism) onto the field of lan­guage, where the prob­lems of chance are all posed as chal­lenges to mean­ing as form. If de­ter­min­is­tic mod­els of lin­guis­tics ac­tu­ally ex­plained the op­er­a­tions of lan­guage (they do not), then the prob­lems of the ar­bi­trari­ness of lan­guage would never have reared their scary heads with such vengeance. While Mal­larmé does not write ex­plic­itly about di­a­grams or di­a­gram­matic forms, com­men­ta­tors on his work have drawn at­ten­tion to the way the graph­i­cal for­mat of his design ar­tic­u­lates re­la­tions among el­e­ments of the po­etic work by mak­ing use of spa­tial or­ga­ni­za­tion. Prob­a­bly the best crit­i­cal en­gage­ment with Un Coup de Dés in this re­gard is the Mar­cel Broodthaers artist’s book that con­sists of translu­cent vel­lum sheets on which the in­di­vid­ual phrases of the French poet’s text have been trans­lated into solid black bars.5 The weight, move­ment, or­ga­ni­za­tion, and dy­namism of the whole work leap into view. Broodthaers makes it glar­ingly ev­i­dent that Mal­larmé’s poem is de­signed to demon­strate the way po­etry cre­ates mean­ing in a field of po­ten­tial­ity staged as and through spa­tial re­la­tions. Mal­larmé’s work was posed against the back­ground of sub­stan­tive philo­soph­i­cal dis­cus­sions in the 1880s and 1890s. The chemist James Clerk Maxwell, for in­stance, a de­vout Pres­by­te­rian, was deeply en­gaged in try­ing to think through the trou­bling con­nec­tions be­tween mech­a­nis­tic rules at work in the design of the uni­verse and ev­i­dence of prob­a­bil­ity.6 Chance posed a threat to mean­ing, to design, to a divine or­ga­ni­za­tion of the uni­verse that was still on the mind of Al­bert Ein­stein when he de­clared that God did not play dice with the uni­verse. In 1892, Charles Sanders Peirce, the Amer­i­can philoso­pher and lo­gi­cian, pub­lished a pa­per in the philo­soph­i­cal jour­nal Mon­ist ti­tled “The Doc­trine of Ne­ces­sity Ex­am­ined,” chal­leng­ing the “com­mon be­lief” that the nat­u­ral world was pre­cisely de­ter­mined by law.7 The con­fronta­tion be­tween

mech­a­nis­tic and prob­a­bilis­tic ma­te­ri­al­i­ties was un­set­tling to the nat­u­ral sci­en­tists and philoso­phers, but Mal­larmé chose po­etry as his in­stru­ment for in­ves­ti­gat­ing these de­bates. The con­cept of the di­a­gram­matic that comes for­ward from Mal­larmé meets another tra­di­tion in which the study of read­ing, bib­li­o­graph­i­cal de­scrip­tion, and book design pro­duces a dif­fer­ent prob­a­bilis­tic en­counter. While the study of book struc­tures and for­mats is largely mech­a­nis­tic (both foren­sic and for­mal, de­scrip­tive of the ma­te­rial ob­ject and of its struc­tured fea­tures), the study of read­ing pro­voked by such codes stresses prob­a­bilis­tic out­comes. A book, like any highly struc­tured graph­i­cal work, is an en­coded space of mean­ing pro­duc­tion. It pro­vokes a read­ing, and the read­ing pro­duces the work anew in each in­stance. Re­cep­tion is pro­duc­tion, and the pro­duc­tion of the work al­ways sits some­where within the bell curve of a nor­mal dis­tri­bu­tion. Ever since the for­mat fea­tures of the codex be­gan to emerge from the scrip­tura con­tinua of late an­tiq­uity and the early Mid­dle Ages in the West, the recog­ni­tion that the design of a text was part of its se­man­tic op­er­a­tion as a mean­ing-pro­duc­ing field has been im­plicit in its graph­i­cal struc­ture. The de­vel­op­ment of the elab­o­rate con­ven­tions for the para­tex­tual ap­pa­ra­tus, the sep­a­ra­tion of text into header and footer, chap­ter and sec­tion head­ing, foot­note and margina­lia, ta­ble of con­tents and in­dex, ti­tle page and half-ti­tle, and so on, all ev­i­dence the set of codes by which a text is com­posed. Each zone, each line, each frag­ment and phrase is al­ready des­ig­nated to a role and given a se­man­tic in­flec­tion even be­fore it is placed on the page. But then, its mean­ing is cir­cum­scribed and de­ter­mined by that place, that role. Di­a­gram­matic Writ­ing com­bines these two—the prob­a­bilis­tic com­po­si­tional tech­niques of the spa­tial­ized po­etic work and the highly struc­tured com­po­si­tion of the codex book. It is a fully self-ref­er­en­tial work— at least, as much as pos­si­ble. The book is about its for­mat fea­tures, about the graph­i­cal re­la­tions that pro­vide an ar­ma­ture for mean­ing that is in it­self mean­ing­ful. It came into be­ing be­cause my en­gage­ment with book design and prac­tice over four decades had al­ways been in­fused with this un­der­stand­ing, but the un­der­stand­ing had been im­plicit, a set of rules, rather than ex­plicit, a self-ref­er­en­tial de­scrip­tion of the op­er­a­tions in play. Di­a­gram­matic Writ­ing is the ex­plicit ex­pres­sion of the rule set of graph­i­cal re­la­tions en­coded in the fa­mil­iar for­mat of the codex book. The ori­gins of Stochas­tic Po­et­ics were very dif­fer­ent. This project was in­spired by an ex­pe­ri­ence I had dur­ing the first sum­mer I lived in Los An­ge­les, when I went to a po­etry read­ing at L.A.C.E., a space for con­tem-

po­rary art in Hol­ly­wood. The night was warm, and the cir­cu­la­tion from street to gallery was lively. The crowd for the event cut across the hip­ster down­town scene; some old reg­u­lars and many young peo­ple milled in and out. On the side­walk, a man rid­ing an ex­er­cise bike spoke into a mi­cro­phone, ped­al­ing away and paint­ing can­vases while he hawked his wares. A num­ber of im­per­son­ators, in­clud­ing Su­per­man and Mar­i­lyn, were wan­der­ing for­lornly, ex­iled by some whim of the po­lice from the area near Grau­man’s. A huge fire truck, part of some in­stal­la­tion, sat out­side, and there were food trucks and other ve­hi­cles, traf­fic of course, and noise, lights, con­stant mo­tion. In­side the gallery, the store­front space was filled with pseudo-gift-shop para­pher­na­lia, par­o­dic com­modi­ties, but for sale all the same, self-con­sciously crit­i­cal of the very items they them­selves be­came. Fur­ther into the ac­tual ex­hi­bi­tion space were in­stal­la­tions by three po­ets, one us­ing Charles Reznikoff’s Holo­caust tes­ti­mo­ni­als, one in­vok­ing the his­tory of slav­ery and racism in re­la­tion to the re­cent eco-dis­as­ter of an oil spill in the Gulf near Louisiana, and another ap­pro­pri­at­ing tran­scripts from sex­ual abuse cases as the unedited and un­medi­ated con­tent of works writ­ten on the wall in soft putty. The Holo­caust works were pro­jected to fit in­side the shape of a Hello Kitty pro­file, and the oil spill was rep­re­sented by an enor­mous fall of black, drip­ping paint al­most cov­er­ing the text on the wall. Peo­ple were ev­ery­where, and on dis­play stands through­out were cakes dec­o­rated to ref­er­ence celebri­ties—black and red dec­o­ra­tions for O.J. Simp­son, white and gold for Lib­er­ace, etc. A cook and pub­lic art ac­tivist had ar­ranged a scavenger hunt that would send vol­un­teers into the neigh­bor­hood to for­age for in­gre­di­ents for a dish he would cook when they re­turned. He was or­ga­niz­ing the teams through a mi­cro­phone and di­rect­ing them to their tasks while try­ing to en­gage the au­di­ence with the pur­pose of the en­tire foraging-through-food-sur­plus ex­er­cise. Though there was go­ing to be a read­ing, no chairs were in sight, and the noise, chaotic ac­tiv­ity, and sheer den­sity of the psy­chic at­mos­phere were over­whelm­ing. The read­ing did even­tu­ally be­gin, and I was with old friends, in­clud­ing a very se­nior critic whose own his­tory in­volves em­i­gra­tion from Vi­enna in the years when Hitler’s ag­gres­sion was al­ready be­ing felt. The critic, ded­i­cated to art, aes­thet­ics, po­et­ics, was a liv­ing ex­ten­sion of the Euro­pean elite cul­ture of mod­ernism, sin­cere in its sub­scrip­tion to the be­lief in the value of es­o­teric work. A cham­pion, but un­able to hear the po­etry be­ing read, or, if seated on the one chair pro­vided out of re­spect, to see the read­ers. The noise was im­pos­si­ble. The read­ings were over­shad­owed by the event. And it dawned on me that if work pitched at such a high level of emo­tional in­ten­sity—abuse, holo­caust, slav­ery,

eco­log­i­cal dis­as­ter—could not gain pur­chase on an au­di­ence, then how could more del­i­cately nu­anced ob­ser­va­tions or for­ma­tions ever be per­ceived, rec­og­nized even, within the swarm­ing mass of dis­trac­tions and dis­re­gard? Mean­while, the critic, dis­ap­pointed and dis­traught, was run over by the philis­tine mood, com­pletely crushed and done in by its bru­tal­ity. Con­cep­tual writ­ing, dif­fi­cult, re­sis­tant, at­tached to the lin­eage of the pol­i­tics of aes­thet­ics, could not even be heard, let alone reg­is­ter any mean­ing­ful crit­i­cal com­ment or en­gage­ment. Thus does neg­a­tive aes­thet­ics meet its struc­tural im­passe. These were the in­ci­dents that spawned Stochas­tic. How, I asked my­self, how does aes­thetic work come to fig­ure against the jeal­ous ground of noise cul­ture? And be per­ceived? Iden­ti­fied? Given place and value? Stochas­tic was un­der­taken with these is­sues in mind, but also with a straight-on en­gage­ment with the the­o­ries of com­plex­ity and emer­gent pro­cesses. Con­vinced that po­et­ics is an emer­gent ac­tiv­ity, a for­ma­tion that arises out of and against the field of lan­guage, I was in­ter­ested in show­ing that in graphic form. The com­ing into and out of con­fig­ured and mean­ing­ful or­ga­ni­za­tion—at the level of let­ter, word, line, stanza, verse—within an ever-shift­ing field of stochas­tic pro­cesses be­came the cen­tral theme of the project. I staged its print­ing to en­act some of those pro­cesses, set­ting type with a cer­tain ne­go­ti­a­tion be­tween rules and ran­dom­ness, want­ing to make a work that could not be ac­counted for by the con­straints un­der which it was com­posed. These themes con­nect Stochas­tic with Mal­larmé’s fas­ci­na­tion with chance and con­fig­ured mean­ing, with the pro­duc­tive and gen­er­a­tive ten­sion be­tween po­ten­tial­ity and prob­a­bil­ity. The texts in Stochas­tic in­clude a rewrit­ing and para­phras­ing of Aris­to­tle’s Po­et­ics in which I sub­sti­tute the words grav­ity and lev­ity for tragedy and com­edy. Other ap­pro­pri­ated phrases and vo­cab­u­lary come from texts on stochas­tic pro­cesses, into which ref­er­ences to po­etic pro­cesses and aes­thetic prin­ci­ples and fig­ures are in­serted. A nar­ra­tive that de­scribes the events of the orig­i­nal art event and then po­ems com­posed of re­worked and mis­heard snatches of works per­formed a few months later at a large po­etry read­ing in Los An­ge­les are jux­ta­posed in the cen­tral sig­na­ture of the book, which is struc­tured in three move­ments: the open­ing an­nounce­ment of the theme, the full-blown, on­stage po­etry read­ings, and the fi­nal re­ca­pit­u­la­tion and sum­ma­tion. The themes are dis­tin­guished by their fonts and their lay­out, their graph­i­cal treat­ment, and their se­quenc­ing and the sep­a­ra­tion of the folded leaves into sewn sig­na­ture, the ba­sic phys­i­cal group­ings of the codex book. The ac­tive, gen­er­a­tive field of lan­guage, as a kind of pri­mal mass of let­ters, cre­ates a

ran­domly mov­ing cloud from which words emerge and back into which they dis­solve. The graphic demon­stra­tion of dis­solv­ing bound­aries as blur­ring per­cep­tual and cog­ni­tive cat­e­gories re­in­forces the themes of the work. The tech­ni­cal fea­tures of the book’s pro­duc­tion are in­ter­est­ing mainly to print­ers, since the forms laid onto the press had to be de­formed in or­der to be printed. Set with leads and spac­ers, which were re­moved once the lock-up was partly se­cure, the forms were pressed and pres­sured into non­align­ment. No lines in the book con­form to the rules of quad­ra­ture that are the fun­da­men­tal re­quire­ments of let­ter­press. In­stead, the lines wan­der and roll, mov­ing across the page with a cer­tain ran­dom mo­tion. Over­print­ing cre­ates a sense of dy­namic mo­tion as well, and the forms were re­ar­ranged be­tween print runs so that the move­ment would ap­pear more dy­namic. No two printed pages are the same, and the edi­tion is an en­tirely and fully in­con­sis­tent edi­tion. A bib­li­og­ra­pher’s dream? Or night­mare . . . Fig­ur­ing the word against the jeal­ous ground—nei­ther mech­a­nis­tic nor prob­a­bilis­tic, strictly speak­ing, but mo­ti­vated by a hu­man­is­tic im­pulse—the work moves to­ward re­al­iza­tion, an­i­mism, self-per­ceiv­ing tele­ol­ogy, to show the com­bined forces of sen­tience and sen­ti­ment. In sum­mary, the two works de­fine the poles of my prac­tice, two rad­i­cally dis­tinct ap­proaches to com­po­si­tion and the graph­i­cal se­man­tics of the codex as a spa­tial­ized field of pro­duc­tion. Di­a­gram­matic Writ­ing is a struc­tured ex­plo­ration of struc­ture. Stochas­tic Po­et­ics uses the vol­u­met­ric field of the codex as a site to per­form the pro­cesses of non­de­ter­min­is­tic com­po­si­tion that pro­duce the work. Each, as I have said, has prece­dents in other books I’ve pro­duced, and each, of course, also res­onates with his­tor­i­cal works that pro­vide the aes­thetic co­or­di­nates by which I lo­cate my own prac­tice within a larger field of po­et­ics, aes­thet­ics, and the com­po­si­tion of the book.

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