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Jenny Holzer Throwing Textuality Outside of Itself
“The Anteproportional” is a thoroughly felt piece on artist Jenny Holzer’s texts and her relationship to poetics; take a read at Big Shiny Poems. “Holzer seems like a forerunner to the things so many people, myself included, have been struggling with in poetry lately. I won’t repeat the old chestnut about poetry’s tarry-along relationship to art or get into questions of conceptual writing as such, since that’s not what interests me. What interests me in her work is what I might call an anteproportionality.” Her work is also looked at next to similarly inclined poetry by the likes of Joseph Mosconi, Steve Roggenbuck, Mei-Mei Berssenbrugge, Kevin McPherson Eckhoff, and Tan Lin. More:
Proportion as an aesthetic guideline has historically been linked to propriety, a word currently out of fashion, and logic, a word very much in fashion, to such an extent that play with proportion never seems to be far from what is formative for the kind of poems I find interesting. Questions of proportion are essential to radical translation (McCaffery to Mouré); they are obviously essential to visual poetry (Copithorne to Morin); and to poetries of ideological/political subversion (Mancini to Clover), in the sense that targets are prioritized or not; as well to what you might call lyric postmodernism (Robertson to Bressenbrugge) when it comes to interrogating the degree of porousness in a given ‘lyric’ relationship between self and world. Conceptual and chance-based poetics need a functional idea of proportion too, but more as an enemy – something to exhaust, in the case of conceptualists, and something to neuter, in the case of chance poets. The thing is, as much as one might want to reject the inevitably moral and reactionary implications of proportion’s root in propriety and the proper, poets moving in all of the aforementioned directions are in my view dependent on an intact concept of proportion, either as something that has been/must be occluded, or as something to resist/abandon.
Holzer seems to have avoided this false choice.
For some context, here are Holzer’s full “Inflammatory Essays,” which are referred to further in:
The contingency of the colour chosen for each background goes toward what I was talking about when I talked about the anteproportional’s enslavement of propriety. We have such an instantaneous and intuitive reaction to colour-schemes that making the connection between ‘how colours make us feel’ and ‘how to say what we feel’ is easy. The proportions here – of text to colour, of text size to background, of sentential or linear power to the overall block of text, etc. – are all beside the point. It is as if the proportions obediently wait for the moment they can finally touch the QVIDS they are supposed to align/reference/qualify, but the waiting never ends. This is anteproportionality. The proper is not sought out or discovered, and propriety is not demolished or defeated. In viewing and reading these works we are put in a position where there is nothing but proportion, nothing other than a bundle of harnesses, and so we wait, we wait, we wait and watch, thinking “surely what this is making me feel will make something happen.”