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Johanna Drucker: A Postscript to Beyond Conceptualisms
Conceptual writing may or may not be played out. Certainly the works that have come to define it, by Kenny Goldsmith, Caroline Bergvall, Christian Bök, Vanessa Place, Craig Dworkin and many others, have created a recognizable framework for critical appreciation and insight (such as Marjorie Perloff’s fine Unoriginal Genius). If I see many much younger writers taking up its approaches in what feels like a formulaic way, that seems to signal a phase of exhaustion to me, but perhaps not to others. What I was addressing was the ways conceptual writing is the indicative aesthetic in our time—for reasons that have to do with larger cultural shifts—points that align with some of the positions outlined in Notes on Conceptualisms, Place and Rob Fitterman’s text, which I reviewed last year for its suggestive arguments and their connection to and marked distance from the terms brought into play by conceptual art. Not everyone will remember the resistance to conceptualism’s place in art history, but in the 1990s, when I wrote “The Crux of Conceptualism,” it was in response to the prevalent notion that minimalism had been single most important development of the 1960s. Saying that conceptualism is the central tenet of aesthetic practice for the last fifty years got me roundly trounced by Hal Foster and others. What poetics and aesthetics are and how we understand them is not unrelated to what they do, or how they show and indicate other changes. I sense emergent phenomena in the current culture that are expressions of collective, aggregate, voice, at a scale and with a willing participation in group think that is different from that which characterized modernism, romanticism, and contemporary work. Will it displace other modes? Take its place alongside? Change values and aesthetic practices? Questions as yet unanswerable. The answers are not an attack on poetry, poets, or individuals unnamed (or mentioned), but questions raised in response to observations of phenomena observed and noted. The provocation is not to call forth defense for the already established, but to suggest ways the thought streams of poetic expression already contain harbingers of its transformation and ours.
Johanna Drucker, April 2012