Tag Archives: authenticity

John Bloomberg-Rissman and ‘In the House of the Hangman’

The following is taken from an e-mail exchange with John about his ‘In the House of the Hangman’ which is a fascinating and very much ongoing sequence:

JA-I’m currently carrying around ‘House of the Hangman’ on my Kindle and am finding it really hard to put down- I think it’s an important piece of work and I’d like to blog about it once I’ve read some more. I’m especially interested in appropriation and the criteria we use (if any) to select what is appropriated and the way we elect to ‘frame’ these selections. It is remarkable and I’d be very interested to know more about your practice in this regard.

JB-R– I’m very happy to hear that you are getting along well with In the House of the Hangman. You write: “I’m especially interested in appropriation and the criteria we use (if any) to select what is appropriated and the way we elect to ‘frame’ these selections. It is remarkable and I’d be very interested to know more about your practice in this regard.”

I don’t know how much of what follows is repetition, so apologies in advance. But.

It wasn’t until I began to “abandon” my lyric self as the almost-sole voice in my poems and to include appropriated and/or reworked material that I began to come into my own, I think. It’s not just that I’m not that interesting a person, it’s that the lyric self occupies too small a world (I’m speaking of me, now, not generalizing). I don’t know if you read Sina Queyras’ recent Lyric Conceptualism manifesto, but I see a bit of myself in that. My art is a bastardized and dirty mix of self-and-other (based on the principle that my self is just one of the others, and it need not be silenced any more than anyone else need be). So the criteria I use is a bit of a mix of “algorithm and contingency” to steal the title of Robert Jackson’s blog. The “algorithm” side is a combo of what shows up in my RSS feed every day (and I have shoved lots of sites into that feed for just this purpose – there are political sites, and art sites, and poetry sites, and science sites, etc – whatever will bring the the micro and macro news of the day). I add to that what comes to me via links from the sites in the RSS feed, email, via the books I’m reading, by what I hear on tv, what’s on my mind (current young radical british poetry, e.g.) (yesterday it was an old guy, Bill Griffiths – I was reading his Lion Man book …) etc etc. But it’s all happening in real time, meaning everything that goes into the bit of ITH I’m working on is from that day’s “feed”. The contingency aspect is this: I have given myself the freedom to choose whatever seems to be “of use” from that feed. What do I mean by “of use”? Well, I’m trying to tell the “tale of my tribe” so to speak – what it’s like to live these days. I think I told you that the title of ITH comes from Adorno, “But in the house of the hangman one should not speak of the noose, one might be suspected of harboring resentment.” He wrote that in the 50s, after returning to Germany. I think that it’s true now everywhere. So we all live in that house. And I am determined to speak my resentment. So what I choose is “of use” for that purpose. Tho of course I’m not an idiot, and I know that whine whine whine for even 2 pages would bore the hell out of anyone, so I try to hold a very wide sense of resentment, which encompasses all kinds of tones, etc. This is one reason the poets you write about are so important. They have found ways to carry the weight of living in these times without killing the reader with it. “Instruct and delight”, as the Augustans said. I don’t know about instruct, and I can’t be sure I delight, but I always recall that I’m not trying to cure the patient, just report on her/his condition. My ultimate audience, by the way, is twofold: one, my contemporaries; two: my grandsons, so that when they inherit hell from us, they will be able to say, “Grandpa knew it would be like this, sort of. He wasn’t a complete idiot.” I have found that some sources that come over my feed are used more frequently than others. That’s because what they say is on the right wavelength. The whole thing will be comprised of 2012 “sections”, which aren’t really sections, they’re just that day’s work. It’ll all be blended into one. That’s how I’m writing it. And 2012 is for obvious and quite terrifying and humorous reasons (ah, my people, the things you believe, and the things you ignore. I could weep!) (that was meant to be extravagant!)

I think that goes some way towards beginning to answer your questions. I’d like to know more about what you mean by frame. All I can this is “how do I decide what goes where?” Well, I just pretend I’m Hannah Hoch redecorating the Sistine Chapel …

JA-I think we need a much longer discussion on the ‘House’ but I’m grateful for what you’ve said which intrigues me even more. What interests me at this stage of my reading is the way that you present or frame the appropriated material and how much of this is deliberately undercut by the authorial voice- this might not make sense but I am really interested in notions of authenticity and whether ‘straight’ appropriation automatically diminishes our very partial sense of the real. It also strikes me that you’re compiling a narrative in real time, I’m certainly reading the material as a record of my recent past- was that part of your intention?

JB-RYes we need a longer discussion. So ask away, anything. It’s kind of hard for me to understand what it looks/feels etc like to its readers. After all, to me it’s entirely transparent! (Just because I was there when I made it, so to speak). (Which doesn’t make it the last bit transparent, really)

You write: “What interests me at this stage of my reading is the way that you present or frame the appropriated material and how much of this is deliberately undercut by the authorial voice- this might not make sense but I am really interested in notions of authenticity and whether ‘straight’ appropriation automatically diminishes our very partial sense of the real.”

I have real problems distinguishing between the authentic and the inauthentic. To paraphrase a Wolfgang Tillmans book title, if one thing is authentic everything is. And vice-versa. I tend to lean towards this is as real as it gets round here, in the Simulacrum. Which, contra Baudrillard, I don’t see as a new mediated invention.I think we’ve lived within a mediated simulacrum since the day we became conscious. It’s just sped up now to the point where the focus is so blurred we notice it.

I certainly hope that what you call straight appropriation does indeed diminish “our very partial sense of the real”.* As I wrote somewhere (either in ITH or its predecessor, Flux, Clot & Froth), “I can’t make up this shit”. On the other hand, I hope it keeps us aware of what we’re surrounded by and bombarded with.

As far as the authorial voice “deliberately undercutting” things, that’s where my anger comes in. As Hans Richter wrote about dada, “We wanted to stay human!” I wouldn’t use the word stay, perhaps, maybe I’d substitute become. Or, no, some word that combines the two, stay and become. And we can talk about what I mean by human. Let’s leave it for this minute as when your daughter, say, gets to the end of her life, and lies down in her deathbed, she can say and mean ‘I’d take that ride again.’

You also write: “It also strikes me that you’re compiling a narrative in real time, I’m certainly reading the material as a record of my recent past- was that part of your intention?” Yes, definitely. I want every reader to say, yes, I lived thru this. And this is what it was like, god help us.

*I should also add that a lot of what you call straight appropriation isn’t. I do a lot of mixing and mangling of my source material, tho a lot of it indeed straight. Was that clear to you in reading? That sometimes my sampled material is not cut out on a straight line?

Poetry, collaboration and web science.

After several weeks of serious bullying from my children I’m thinking of applying to do a web science phd at Southampton. Web science has a number of definitions but it would appear to involve the tricky business of looking at how web technologies interact with other areas of human activity and trying to see if things can be improved.
I’m interested in this stuff because I think the internet is the single most important development for many centuries and I’m excited by the fact that we have not yet begun to work out its potential.
Whilst being bullied, I had a look at some of the research in this area and one sentence in particular caught my eye. This made the point that the web has the potential to transform the figure of the artist as an isolated figure into something more collaborative. I then spent some time thinking how this might apply to poetry. At the same time I was trying to keep up with the various drafts of Sutherland’s ‘Odes’ which was leading me to think about completion and authenticity.
In terms of web science, 10 or so years ago my business partner and I developed a self-assessment gizmo for people in the UK to see if they might qualify for disability benefits. This device, together with the relevant content pages has been running since 2001 with about 150 people each day completing the self-assessment process. Even though nothing has been done to the site since we sold it last year, it is still favoured by Google and people continue to find it useful. Which is a long way of saying that I know that gizmos are popular. I then saw that poetry has got a lot of rules for various forms and genres and that it might be useful to think about some kind of validation gizmo (similar to code validation gizmos the we use when building web pages and style sheets).
People could then submit (for example) a sonnet and then have the validator tell them whether there sonnet meets the standard definition. In addition a poetry reference centre would be useful in providing descriptions of various forms and genres together with examples. Of course this would involve the validator being able to recognise rhyme and rhythm (the key components of verse) but developing such a tool alongside those with technical expertise would seem a fascinating way to spend my time.
I then thought a bit more about collaboration and whether the net could actually enhance that process and whether there was a need to do it in the first place. Thinking about my own stuff, there are some poems that are very very personal to me and that I’d want to retain a degree of control over. There are other poems / drafts of poems that would certainly benefit from additions and amendments from others. This would seem to apply to poems that are longer and more expansive in theme and I’d also welcome amendments to poems that I’m not entirely happy with. I then thought about amending published poems that I like and admire to see what that was like. I’ve since had enormous fun rewriting lines and phrases from Hill’s ‘The Mercian Hymns’ and Ashbery’s ‘The Skaters’. Doing this with these two has forced me to think much harder about what they were trying to say and whether there are different ways to say it, I’ve spent the last week thinking about one paragraph from Hill and Ashbery’s ‘mild effects’.
Anyway, feeling somewhat heartened I then started to think about how this would work on the web. Currently this has two main phases-
1. People would be encouraged to submit ideas for poems. This could include subject matter, form and genre and would then be displayed and could be further amended by others.
2. People could then submit drafts in accordance with the specification and each of the drafts would be available for amendment.
So, I might specify an epic written in Spenserian stanzas about the Troubles. Someone else may want to write something similar but in heroic couplets (or free verse) and submit that as a specification and both of these may attract submissions and amendments. There would be a requirement to write within the specification, any variation on this would still be displayed but within the amended spec.
The I got a bit carried away and thought that it would be useful if each spec could ‘programme’ the validator as it was being written so that subsequent amendments and contributions could then be objectively measured for conformance.
It then occurred to me that this would undermine the idea of the poet as an individual but that it would mean that poems (being always liable to amendment) would never be complete or definitive. Continuing to feel pleased with myself, I then formulated the following research questions-
1. What motivates people to collaborate in this way?
2. How should indexing be done?
3. Which types of poems attract the most collaborators?
4. Is there a point where the poem stops improving (if it improves at all)?
5. Do the people who use the validator for their own stuff also go on to collaborate with others?
6. Does the use of a validator stifle creativity / innovation?
7. How would search work?
At this point I realised that I might be disappearing in yet another flight of chronic self-indulgence so this is essentiall a plea for feedback of any description before I start drawing the diagrams and flow charts…