Poetry News

Kristen Gallagher Revisits Tan Lin's 7CV

By Harriet Staff


Jacket2 today features a sustained review by Kristen Gallagher of Tan Lin's Seven Controlled Vocabularies and Obituary 2004. The Joy of Cooking (or 7CV, or SCV) (Wesleyan University Press 2010). It's a welcome exploration, even though the book has had plenty of attention (we'd highly recommend this interview with Lin at BOMB), considering 7CV's indeterminate nature, its "future as a book" (or an event, or a republication, a co-authoring, or a mood...) and its varied reception, which Gallagher explains right off the bat:

Tan Lin’s Seven Controlled Vocabularies (7CV) is not about what many people seem to think it’s about. I’ve seen reviews that take the story of meeting his wife at a Macy’s event as if it were straight autobiography; I’ve seen its reproduction of Laura (Riding) Jackson’s Foreword to Rational Meaning taken as an affinity between his book and her theory; I’ve heard people compare it to Adorno or say that it is a manifesto. These misreadings are interesting to pursue, as they signify exactly what the style of the book does—tempts us to lapse into certain habits of reading (focusing on what is most recognizable to us, projecting our own desires and interests into places they aren’t, etc.) instead of actually reading the book for what it is, does, asks of us. This marks one of Lin’s long-standing goals: to create texts that get the reader thinking about reading environments, or how various texts trigger certain kinds of reading.

As Lin states in the BOMB interview, his reading can be dilatory, distracted:

Reading is a system of highly commodified moods, but like individual blog sites, these are variable. I do a lot of reading while doing other things, like cooking or watching Olympic alpine skiing or the Weather Channel or whatever. So SCV emulates the ambient textuality or generalized medium (the term is Niklas Luhmann’s) of reading as it is structurally coupled to other things. I’m interested in the formats and micro-formats of reading, and their coupling to other things in the world, like restaurants, yoga mats, poems, former boyfriends or girlfriends, wives and husbands (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 heterogeneity of the world can be gathered without coalescing into something meaningful—like a book. What do the stories “mean” in SCV? Not very much. Are they boring? Well, yes, sort of. Do they limit meanings? Of course. Do they prevent violence from being registered? Yes. . . .

Gallagher notes Lin's focus on various acts of reading and interpretation as well as the creation of meaning through writing (or the simple placement of words next to each other), also referring to the interview, in which Lin said, "Style is what is statistically likely to induce a reading.” All of this work--Lin's style and intention and Gallagher's study of it--is engaging stuff. Not disregarding of content, certainly, but because of it. As Gallagher writes:

In other words, a statistically significant showing of lexical elements and other features associated with a specific controlled vocabulary, say poetry, tends to produce, involuntarily, particular forms of reading. One reads differently when there are line breaks. One reads a certain way when it seems the text is guiding the reader through a recipe. Anyone might lapse into certain reading habits by way of textual cues or even the marketing strategies used to sell the book. With this realization in place, Lin’s book playfully cues, samples from, and surfs around specific structures and vocabularies, mixing and echoing and reversing throughout. The vocabularies of painting, architecture, autobiography, design, shopping, etc, slowly shift and blend.

When asked about the connection of 7CV to ambient stylistics (Lin had published an earlier edition on Lulu.com), Lin described the book as “a piece of low-level durational energy” emphasizing a long time concern of his to create reading environments, but in this one “distinctions between recipe, novel, etc are dissolved” (“Close Listening”). He compares this to visual artists like Jorge Pardo who renovated a house, presented it as art, and had an “opening” there, blurring the line between art, carpentry, and gallery. Works like Pardo’s made Lin wonder about the possibilities for a generic poetic work for today. He realized “it would be metadata/controlled vocabularies.” Using these generic terms, he says, he wanted to create a reading environment where “a novel … could be confused with or blurred with airport or architecture.”

Originally Published: May 31st, 2011