Vanessa Place has listed a lovely series of aphorisms about the differences between Flarf and Conceptual Writing, enumerating these maxims for the panel at the AWP Conference in Denver—and certainly my favourite witticism by her is her claim that, unlike Flarf (which still loves poetry), “Conceptual Writing loves poetry enough to put it out of its misery.” Place asserts that, unlike Conceptual Writing (which tries newer tricks), “Flarf is a one-trick pony that thinks a unicorn is another kind of horse.” Place suggests that, if both of these avant-garde movements raise a “stink” in the world of poetry, Flarf does so with a whoopee-cushion, whereas Conceptual Writing does so with a fart. Her work has always provoked interesting controversy. And now she has even borrowed from the playbook of Andy Warhol, doing so by setting out to produce her own poetic variant of the Factory, dragooning others to write books that she in turn publishes under her own name—including, for example, the book Factory Work, ghostwritten by Kenneth Goldsmith (who, of course, merely plagiarizes the work of Andy Warhol). I continue to comment upon these modes of theft in the second installment of my “Flarfy review” (in which I plagiarize an essay by Kenneth Goldsmith—rediscovering it through the filters of the Google search-engine…).


We have chosen our profession in defiance of the monarchy. We do not live for the sake of taxes to fatten the pockets of the noblemen. We have chosen to live the only life available to those who long for freedom. We are thieves. We may never know, in what sense, the poet means what he says, for poets do not write to be understood—but it is true that, if we look closely enough at a glass of wine, we see the entire universe. In fact, another person, whom we ourselves do not know, tends, at the moment of creation, to supplant the person whom we believe ourselves to be. In fact, to speak the unspeakable, without the proper rhetorical flourishes, is to perform the unspeakable. We keep inventing new ways to celebrate mediocrity. O! from this time forth, my thoughts be bloody, or be nothing worth! I write a few sincere lines—and then I have to make fun of them. I think to myself that the letter X has never been given enough to do, so we have to promise it more work: “okay, you may not start a lot of words, but we can give you a co-starring role in tic-tac-toe, and you can mark the spot, and you can dabble with hugs and kisses, and you can make writing out the word ‘Christmas’ a lot easier, and incidentally you can start the word ‘xylophone’—are you happy now, you fucking X?” I have left orders to be awakened at any time in the event of a national emergency—even if I happen to be in a cabinet meeting. I have made these rules very simple: scissors cut paper, paper covers rock, rock crushes lizard, lizard poisons Spock, Spock smashes scissors, scissors decapitate lizard, lizard eats paper, paper disproves Spock, Spock vaporizes rock, and as it always has, rock crushes scissors. I look at you, and no speech is left in me, and my tongue breaks, then fire races under my skin. I tremble and grow pale, for I am dying of such love—or so it seems to me. A plagiarist is always suspicious of being stolen from—just as pickpockets are commonly observed to walk with their hands in their pockets….

Originally Published: April 13th, 2010

Christian Bök is the author of Crystallography (Coach House Press, 1994), a pataphysical encyclopedia nominated for the Gerald Lampert Memorial Award, and of Eunoia (Coach House Books, 2001), a bestselling work of experimental literature, which has gone on to win the Griffin Prize for Poetic Excellence. Bök has created artificial...