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Gauss PDF Interview with J. Gordon Faylor

By Tan Lin

Gauss pdf

Tan Lin: Can you tell me how Gauss PDF got started? and when exactly?

Gordon Faylor: GPDF’s inaugural release came about in November 2010. By that point, I’d made a good number of friends/acquaintances in both the NYC and Philadelphia experimental poetry scenes (and elsewhere, naturally) who I thought were producing very engaging work, and wanted to present a platform through which they could publish their strange projects in toto, quickly and easily.

The original scheme was a pun on the namesake—PDF (i.e. Probability Distribution Function, masquerading as its Adobe-laced counterpart)—via which I would only publish “audiobooks” of friends reading.

As I later found out, calmaplombprombombbalm was pursuing a similar route at the same time; I was already interested in the way that labels like Leaving Records and Cleveland Tapes structured their catalogs—but it didn’t seem as though there was a publishing entity simply open to filetype as its primary differentiating factor, so I went with it. More recently, sites like orworse.net have appeared to develop or serve as ripostes to a similar gesture of aesthetic instability.

TL: Can you talk about Gauss’s relation to the filetype–the fact that there are .mov, .rtf, jpegs, mp4s, etc. Does this imply both file type specificity as well as a levelling of conventional genres, although it’s useful to think of genres in terms of John Frow’s notion of genres as porous forms/modal delimiters that fade and cross over into various other genres. But this aside, where once we had (an idea of what constituted) poetry, fiction, non-fiction, epic, now the primary cataloging agents are filetypes. Is this a fair assumption that directs cultural production more generally and thus literary production–though the implication is that the distinction between literary and non-literary production is neutralized i.e. a weak dichotomy.

GF: A good way to begin thinking about this is in terms of the compatibility between genre and filetype. Is a(ny) zip file isomorphic with the genre of zip files? How does one reconcile a GPDF Edition (i.e. POD book) with its PDF iteration? This could obviously be extrapolated toward older forms you mention like poetry and fiction. But because those forms can now be contained and presented in so many ways, I do think filetypes represent an ascendent tool in categorizing manifold forms of art production.

This is not to contend that the advent of a filetype or data structure necessarily overwhelms its content. Such a stance would recommend flatness where porousness might play the more apropos/generous term, as the tendency toward filetyping only begins to hint at the myriad sources girding each set of materials. Kieran Daly’s output is exemplary in testing such properties and their bounds: the document, 4kb wav, and “cover” jpg comprising his non-titled GPDF089 entry incur different programs. Their component parts are opened across iTunes, TextEdit, etc. As such, it quite subtly undermines the ontological interpretive frameworks that would strive to situate it philosophically or otherwise.

Another example: when Joey Yearous-Algozin makes his Air the Trees available as a Word document, there’s nothing preventing someone from editing it and redistributing it under Joey’s name—not to mention that Word or Open Office or whatever allow for easy filetype reassignation. How does this vulnerability interface with Yearous-Algozin’s appropriation and ghosting of Eigner’s originary authorship?

I agree with your assessment of the dichotomy between the literary and non-literary as a weak one, but let’s say severe categorization or scientization portends a way out of that loop—shouldn’t one then be wary of strengthening a technocratic bias? I prefer to see the structuring of difference between GPDF catalog entries as a sort of gaming—an accommodating of the incorrect, the incomplete, the pretending. This strategy ideally germinates an erratic multiplicity of forms.

TL: Can you talk specifically about how calmaplombprombombbalm is doing things vis a vis filetype classification? There the file system is reminiscent of Excel and other database visualization software–but these visualization strategies are not particularly pronounced at Gauss. Is Gauss into data visualization and customization of data?

GF: I love how much of a mess the site is. By some (apparently) random construction, an mp3 by Suzanne Stein will land in the same row as a Matthew Timmons jpg, confusing their parts and interrupting their continuity.

I do think GPDF visualizes, albeit in the way a gallery visualizes: by sequestering a supposedly neutral area over which paintings can be hung and installations constructed. This comparison is of course tricky (mostly for economic reasons) and hastily managed, but seems like a start. Visualizations are slight, for instance the width of the image for each Tumblr post being about the same width. As we’ll later discuss, these visualizations attempt to sustain a bare minimum of uniformity. If customization occurs, it precedes publication and is collaboratively construed.

TL: What in particular is interesting in terms of the cataloging system at LR and orworse.net? How would you characterize the operations of these two sites as data cataloging operations and thus data management systems? I’ve suggested elsewhere the current literary production is now becoming visible principally as a subset of communications (and thus highly time-sensitive) mediums and that they are as much about managing data as they are about producing it. Or to put the matter more bluntly, what sort of system is Gauss positing? Systems obey a certain level of predictive capacity? Is this present in the Gauss template?

GF: LR’s model was helpful to me in how it distinguished physical and digital releases within its catalog, as well as through the example of the homology it established for various sub-genres of music/audio (e.g. beat-oriented, ambient, collage), production techniques and performance apparatuses (e.g. podcasts, videos).

orworse.net meanwhile conflates editor and contributor, making some works available and others elusive. They both maintain their data assets, of course, and both also issue physical products (orworse is dropping a book soon, I hear).

Also pertinent to this question would be the excellent audio journal Lateral Addition, the austerity of which paradoxically calls attention to a multifaceted decentering of its contributors’ eclectic methodologies and productions—a feat ably demonstrated across its first three installments.

GPDF’s own system oscillates between the modular and the sequential; furthermore, it is conducive to processes of both delivering and distorting consistent systematicity. It’s true that this system is predictable in some sense, though its looseness and speculative qualities remain more evident in the non-narratological potential of its discrete entries and the platform’s asymptotic relation to them. One might dub it a non-systematic publication.

Or: GPDF is the treatment group; its contributors the control.

TL: I am particularly interested in the idea of the catalog here as it pertains to the codification and distribution of “literary material.” Can you elaborate on how the cataloging function operates at Gauss? Is it a residual sign of bibliographic control or are you imagining it in specifically digital ways, i.e. as related to “discrete systems.” I tend to associate digital catalogs with content parsing and meta-data–do these elements play any particular role at Gauss? and do they touch on the longevity of particular digital objects housed in the Gauss library?

GF: There’s a tension that I want to exist between the implications given to editing and archiving, and one I want to exist between myself and the contributors who decide have their material hosted by GPDF—though this tension relates more to the incoherent taste exhibited across the catalog (non-taste?) than to a finicky back-and-forth about how such work should/could function (“change this,” “codify the material this way,” etc.). But it happens.

I say all this because I’m fascinated by cataloging and certainly inspired by the swiftness with which its scaffoldings can reframe content. However, GPDF tends to be somewhat passive in this regard—the “residual sign” you mention is more like it, and it is fairly innocuous: a catalog number, a Tumblr-generated url. Experimentation and provocation on this front is always encouraged, and one could refer to the .nfo file for Steve McLaughlin’s Puniverse or Tonya St. Claire’s cannibalistic archival backup of a portion of GPDF as examples for displacing and challenging data semantics.

Sequence is the more representative structuring force utilized by GPDF. Emphasis on sequence allows for imminent play with juxtaposition, as well as for vague resonances across diverse productions—all without requiring that any information be added or any undue alterations be asked of their creators.

TL: Can you elaborate on the sequence or what I would term the temporality of production. We are perhaps talking about a varied number of interlocking elements: large data sets (that require management or classification), reverse ordering of content (with newer works listed at the top of the page), digital mediums as a mode of producing large quantities of data (i.e. upending of conventional economies of scale–traditional EOS are invalid in a digital ecosystem), systems marked not by sameness but endless variation. A large data set, by definition, is subject to data analytics and is thus susceptible to predictions, or what I would term operations upon a data set. I tend to see a lot of “poetry” that is fundamentally about or actually is an operation conducted in real time upon data. Is it fruitful to call Gauss an “operation” or what used to be termed a performance event? Of course reading is a performance or operation performed upon a text.

GF: As I mentioned earlier, this incurs a sort of non-narratological fiction. As I’ll mention later, GPDF does indeed host a number of works characterized by their exhaustive qualities.

It seems a stretch to nominate GPDF a performance event—or if it is, then this implies a radical and possibly animist reading of composed matter. I’m open to this, but for the sake of convenience don’t usually call objects and ephemeral entities performances. Either way, it’s a very helpful and generative idea; the plasticity it evokes feels aligned with GPDF’s intent to obfuscate genre and publication.

TL: Can you say something about obfuscating genre–is the notion of genre as a device or social contract about the handling of materials less than useful in the context of Gauss?

GF: Content must abide by a principle of minimum sufficiency in order to qualify as grist for whichever genre subsumes it. But who or what regulates this principle? The impossibility of an answer only confirms the ideology—a conservative ideology all-too common in poetic discourse, in spite of its tendency toward leftist politics. Unusual work in prose gets hastily referred to as fiction by one publisher; elsewhere a progressive critical journal refuses “poetry or fiction,” as though the criticism it publishes is incommensurable to them. I don’t mean to take a moral stance, as I am empathetic to the sentiment that one own a genre and manipulate from within—but it is a constant source of frustration.

So yes, it is less than useful in the context of GPDF, unless one is willing to adopt a new collection of genres (i.e. filetypes), in which case they’ll be tasked with the unsavory puzzle of assigning traits and exemplars.

Here’s an example of clouding genre: Feliz Lucia Molina’s A Letter to Kim Jong-Il Looking at Things renders a single piece of her writing in every extant Word font; it also appears (in singular fashion) in her book, Undercastle. Where it appears in the latter “poetry” (at least contextually), the former seems more akin to conceptual art in its emphasis on the visual and the repetitive. To argue genre is to argue that a delineation between the two make itself known; to willingly obfuscate genre means not having to answer.

Enacting these agitations allows a producer or worker to sneak outside the confines of such interlocked sufficiencies, and it is doubtless outside that lines of communication open up—between poets, artists, musicians, filmmakers, programmers, scientists, etc.—and allow them glimpse what these insularities have kept at bay.

TL: what was the idea of starting Gauss PDF as a publishing platform ? was it geared specifically to some element of the poetry world that you wanted to address? or was it directed more generally at web-based content or specific delivery platforms? I’m interested in the initial focus.

GF: I was increasingly perplexed by the ways cross-media platforms coded input data/content as “work” or “artwork”—like the unclearly designated products a Tumblr or a DIY label frames. Or by other problems: how Terms of Service can restructure social media labor, for instance—every tweet the expression of an IPO. And so on.

When starting out, the goal was not so much to “address” an element of the poetry world as to contest and unreliably demonstrate poetry-as-elemental genre (i.e. its medium) and to challenge a categorical inertia among other genres of cultural production.

Recently, the Volta reviewed Mark Johnson’s Pink Lotion, a collection of unsettlingly corporatized dancehall 45s. A release almost completely bereft of language—a mix of instrumentals, reviewed in a poetry journal. That differentiation is encouraging, if not a cause for outright enthusiasm.

TL: Can you clarify for me? A differentiation between what exactly?

GF: A categorical one. I’m drawn to subversions of compositional requisites or genre, as mentioned earlier. Is Pink Lotion a work of poetry? If it’s not, what does it tell us about that which constitutes poetry? Is it a matter of intent, etc.

There’s that Bressonian admonition—something like “don’t force it. The poetry will seep through the cracks.” Does such a statement imply a distinction between “poetry” and the intentionally “poetic”? Is all poetry always-already “poetic”? What makes, say, linebreaks inherently poetic? Such considerations can be helpful in generating unusual work.

Given the looseness/inexistence of categorical assertion on GPDF—beyond filetype, that is—the releases therein may effectively challenge such formal Decisions (per Laruelle), and possibly embolden similar breakdowns elsewhere.

TL: How are works commissioned or selected for publication by Gauss?

GF: I’m quite pleased that the split between commissioned and non-commissioned works is mostly equal at this point. It’s all a matter of networks, like anything—writers/artists unknown to me take the initiative to get in touch; others I’ll discover somehow.

One of the advantages to this approach is its natural undercutting of a coherent curatorial aesthetic. Because I don’t entirely know what I’ll receive, and because sometimes I do, GPDF tends to operate with warm indifference and curiosity. It’s not meant to be subsumed in a single subject (i.e. J. Gordon Faylor). There’s no face for GPDF aside from its header image, ideally; controls stay shaky.

TL: Can you tell me what editorial work is done on the texts before they’re uploaded? Is there any descriptive markup of the files? In other words, are issues having to do with say Text Encoding Initiative (TEI) standards for markup of digital objects relevant to how you see the works published on the Gauss platform, or on how you envision digital objects that are text-based.

GF: Again, as little as possible. I sometimes lend assistance, or design covers for the GPDF Editions. Occasionally, when a submitted piece does not seem to fit an upcoming sequence, I’ll ask the contributor in question whether they have other works or—to more interesting effect, I’ve found—works in other media. The descriptive markups are minimal: tag the contributor’s name, the title of the piece, the filetype, and catalog number (with some exceptions). And then there’s the acronymic titling standard, selected for its simplicity and brevity.

I can’t say TEI standards have been too relevant to GPDF, though guidelines like that are pleasurable to explore, and may pose a worthwhile conundrum for someone concerned with distribution.

TL: In the last two years, has that focus shifted at all, in relation to the poetry world or to the platforms used to disseminate poetry?

GF: My (science-fictional?) desire is for the editorial vetting process to vacillate randomly in terms of taste and appreciation, but one can never avoid demographic intrusion.

Given the accessibility and contemporaneity of its affect, Conceptual methods have accrued a wider audience since 2010, doubtless. But despite precipitating some misleading characterizations of GPDF (e.g. that it only publishes Conceptual work), this has mostly been an invigorating development.

GPDF operates in contradistinction to the economy of poetry journals, wherein individual poems are placed amidst many others like them. GPDF only publishes completed projects/collections, in some ways a provocation to its contributors. You must establish a partition or boundary for the content therein, however insignificant or contesting of the platform.

TL: I am specifically interested in how you see the relation between digital works and print publication–in terms of how works are commissioned, how they are distributed, and how they are consumed.

GF: The goal is to make GPDF releases as available as possible. The best physical equivalent for this is print-on-demand, and the most user-friendly POD marketplace I’ve found belongs to Lulu. It’s not ideal (e.g. they charge way too much for S&H and the paper stock isn’t so hot), but it’s the most efficacious way to manage hasty production at a relatively low cost. I bet TROLLTHREAD agrees.

Also, PDFs of all print releases can be handily downloaded at GPDF. I’d love to get into the publication of other kinds of objects, but sadly don’t have the funds right now.

As for the relation between digital/print distribution and consumption: I’m tempted to reference the Uncertainty Principle—the relation between an object and the instrument of that object’s measurement as one of inverse accuracy. What fascinates me is that any GPDF release (or any web-based release, for that matter) is inevitably shot through so many layers of media, be it the OS used to manage it or the browser used to download it or the software used to open it—that the work gets autocontextually framed in many small ways, regardless of whether it establishes correspondence with other entries.

To exercise this awareness is not a requisite, though it does aid in revealing ideological tendencies (e.g. PDFs formally and legally result “from” Adobe Systems), and could mirror the critical-meditative malleability imbuing a so-called literature disclosed by logo, contemporary or otherwise.

TL: You have mentioned Conceptual writing as being affiliated with Gauss PDF. Is this an accurate assessment? Or more particularly, what is the relation between conceptual practices and the majority of the work that appears in Gauss PDF? This is a question about Conceptual writing in short. What other broad categories of work would you say are present in Gauss PDF and are to be distinguished from Conceptual practices?

GF: GPDF acts merely as a feasible place for Conceptual works to land among other types of work; there is certainly no direct or overarching affiliation.

Some releases—like Angela Genusa’s Tender Buttons or Andy Sterling’s Supergroup—have been championed by various figures in that scene as representative of Conceptualist developments in literature. Others, like Anna Vitale’s Street View Lyric or Kit Schluter’s without is a part of origin, would appear to resist such anointments, or at least argue a more complicated relationship with them. In many GPDF works, there is indeed a demonstration of techniques/strategies valorized by Conceptualism, like appropriation, but I think such assessments have to be taken on a case-by-case basis, as it’s difficult to posit broad categories for such heterogeneous work.

And besides, there’s already so much theory about what Conceptual writing is, what it does, its political allegiances, etc., that I think GPDF could simultaneously resist or fit these ambiguous strictures, depending on who you ask. If anything—in GPDF’s emphasis on an integrated awareness of technological carapaces and literary/artistic suppleness—Conceptualist writers/artists may find GPDF more agreeable than conservative or sluggish outlets elsewhere.

TL: I wanted to situate Gauss in relation to issues having to do with digital literacy: increased citationality, what Milad Doueihi, in Digital Cultures, terms an “anthological” dimension, decentralized networks of distribution, heightened flexibility in terms of editorial or non-editorial work, increasing informational density. Or to put this question more simply, what is a work of literature, what does it look like, how does it perform, in a digital age? I have tried to suggest that poetry/poeisis is now perhaps best conceived of as an “operation upon data.” But this may not be accurate. I’m curious on your take of what constitutes the “literary” today.

GF: I like that reading. GPDF is more formal than the average microblog, which can deftly integrate works from other blogs and unattributed sources and so forth without recourse to a continuum of “labeled” works by others.

The term “literary” implies a tradition with a complex and contradictory set of self-perpetuating qualities—which do you choose? Literacy, however, impels the development of a subject’s potential to recognize one type of data or recorded material from another. To operate upon has no implicit moral—it is research and reconstruction; the literary does. It’s from their social tension that new forms emerge and refract.

TL: I’m interested in, as you mention, the intersection between the two as it plays out on the Gauss platform. What is the relation of Gauss works, more generally, and newer patterns of reading/consumption promoted within a digital landscape? i.e. how are Gauss works read and how do they condition reading patterns. Here I want to return to your use of “formal” here—can you elaborate on that phrase–are you talking about more extensive tagging, commentary etc, that are largely absent from Gauss? And I’m interested in hearing how or even if you see most of the works in Gauss as being part of the “literary”–how and in what ways have the literary changed. There are obviously people who would say that many of the materials at Gauss are not “literary” though those individuals might be quite digitally literate.

GF: The bare accessibility of these new forms already connotes nascent reading patterns, which, if one accepts the rapid explosion of technological advancement in the last century, must confirm a similar explosion of literacies. The implications of these reading patterns are surely intricate, from the level of physiology to the more broadly social. As such, I usher work in and allow it to take what effect it will, possibly dumb to its long-term implications. Some may substantiate more ingrained reading practices, while others will frustrate them.

Formalism has a temporal aspect, being rooted as it is in notions of ceremony; of course, it could more simply signify a set of requirements. In this way, in most cases, formalism exogenously treats its subjects. The resulting exposure of the work to the formal is inevitable, and it’s difficult to find exceptions to this, even in the realm of experimental art. GPDF’s porousness fluctuates necessarily, else it would stifle or dissolve.

I do come from a poetry background, and much of my own writing is invested in literary progression—how certain techniques and mechanisms construe a text in ways they haven’t before. Yet as you seem to suggest, digital literacies on the rise may not even recognize literary tropes as such. It’s not for any lack of criticality or intelligence, only that the way one reads now is conditioned by so many media, textual and otherwise, that is becomes difficult to say which medium is precipitating which literacy.

That subjectivity begets formalism should be clear; however, the waters get murkier when one recognizes that in the negative reflection of formalism persists its holed presence, its overdetermined materials.

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Posted in Featured Blogger on Sunday, May 4th, 2014 by Tan Lin.