New anthology writes the history of conceptual writing

By Harriet Staff

The introductions for Against Expression, the new anthology of conceptual and procedural writing edited by Craig Dworkin and Kenneth Goldsmith, are available as a free download on Ubu. Goldsmith’s intro addresses the question of “why now?”:

Why are so many writers now exploring strategies of copying and appropriation? It’s simple: the computer encourages us to mimic its workings. If cutting and pasting were integral to the writing process, we would be mad to imagine that writers wouldn’t explore and exploit those functions in ways that their creators didn’t intend. Think back to the mid-1960s, when Nam June Paik placed a huge magnet atop a black-and-white television set, which resulted in the détournement of a space previously reserved for Jack Benny and Ed Sullivan into loopy, organic abstractions. If I can chop out a huge section of the novel I’m working on and paste it into a new document, what’s going to stop me from copying and pasting a Web page in its entirety and dropping it into my text? When I dump a clipboard’s worth of language from somewhere else into my work and massage its formatting and font to look exactly like it’s always been there, then, suddenly, it feels like it’s mine.

And Dworkin’s intro historicizes the writing in the anthology in terms of both literary and artistic precendents:

Conceptual art’s willingness to distance the artist from the manufacture of the artwork and to discount traditional valuations of originality is another vantage from which to compare contemporary writing with its art world precedents. Precedent is itself a key factor in assessing creative originality. In this case, attempting the most uncreative repetition ultimately disproves the possibility of a truly uncreative repetition.

Click the PDF if you're into it.

Originally Published: February 17th, 2011