Blank by Davis Schneiderman and Working Toward an Understanding of Experimental Literature

I can openly admit I struggle, at times, with experimental literature, understanding how it works, what a given experimental text means, the significance of the text. I’ve been reading Christopher Higg’s series with great interest in the hopes that his thoughts might help address some of the intense confusion I feel. His posts have indeed helped but I’m still struggling.

At AWP, I had the opportunity to pick up the book Blank, a novel by Davis Schneiderman, published by Jaded Ibis Press. I had received some press materials about the book in the preceding months so the title was familiar and I had also recently met the author so I thought I would buy the book and see what it was about. I didn’t pay close attention to the press materials so nothing could have surprised me more than to realize that Blank is actually blank. I probably should have but that’s a different matter. There is no text in the book save for the copyright page, the Table of Contents, twenty chapter titles, an About the Author page and an About the Artist page. There is also artwork, by Susan White, what appear to be pieces of pictures of water, clouds, snow—it’s difficult to make out what some of the imagery represents.

That night in my hotel room, I opened the book and realized it was blank and felt angry about the $15 or so I paid for the book. I ranted something incoherently at my roommate then angrily shoved the book into my suitcase. I may have used the word, “Seriously,” with a tone.

I served on a panel at AWP ’11 about Hint Fiction and during the Q & A session, a young man asked about whether or not a writer could tell a story without words using a character or symbol, for example.  Michael Martone, one of my co-panelists, said absolutely and gave some useful examples and I said something about stories that incorporate symbols as part of the narrative because that was the best example I could come up with. I had not yet purchased Blank. As I have “read” this book I’ve thought about that young man’s question and whether or not I was actually reading a story.

In the ensuing weeks, I have struggled to understand the why of this book. Why publish a blank book? And if you’re going to go with the blank concept, why include the About the Author page? That seems to directly contradict what I perceive as the ambition of the project. If the text is blank, should not any information about the creators of the text also be blank?

In his first post, Christopher wrote that there is no such thing as an experimental text but rather there are texts that tend toward experimentation. I get that and if such is the case, this is a text that tends toward experimentation a great deal. The publication of a blank book has a performative feel to it I appreciate and there’s definitely an element of play at play  but then what? The experiment feels finite which brings me to the idea of open and closed texts.

In that first post Christopher also discussed closed and open texts and how closed texts tend toward the conventional while open texts tend toward the experimental. As I’ve tried to apply that thinking to Blank, I’ve thought this book might be both a closed and open text and in that case, what does that make the text? The text feels rather closed in that we are directed to a certain reading; we are directed, in fact, to having nothing, save for the chapter titles, to read. At the same time, there is a vast openness to the text. There’s room for all kinds of interpretation about the text (or absence of a text), the author’s motives, etc.

In the second essay on the question of experimental literature, Christopher wrote, “What I am proposing is that one way to think about experimental literature is to conceive of it as that which experiments on/with Aristotelian prescription.” In thinking through Blank, there’s nearly no trace of anything remotely Aristotelian. There are none of those hallmarks of convention save for the chapter titles. The inclusion of these chapter titles might, indeed, be the clearest manner in which Blank does experiment with Aristotelian prescription. The chapter titles seem to deliberately taunt the typical narrative arcs we see in fiction with titles like, “Chapter 1: A character,” and “Chapter 2: Another character,” and “Chapter 3: They meet,” and “Chapter 8: They fall apart,” and “Chapter 14: They reunite.” The titles are  smart, witty and I chuckle every time I read the Table of Contents. I think about the commentary the titles might be making on modern fiction, about how many stories actually do follow the outline implied by the contents and how given how standard that outline is, it might not really matter what’s on the actual pages of the book because so much fiction is simply telling the same old story. That’s just my interpretation though. I could be way off base. Is this interpretation what the author intended? Does it matter what the author intended? Is the creator of a blank book an author?

I have no idea what to make of the artwork. I cannot begin to make sense it, torn pieces of pictures (that’s how I see them anyway), placed throughout the text at intervals from which I find no discernible pattern.

As I try to make sense of a blank book, I have lots and lots of questions like the ones above but also, what is a book? How does someone review a blank book? What is the value of this kind of experiment? How many people are using the blank pages to write their own story? Or grocery lists? Or a phone number? I suppose this must be the point of experimental work, or work that tends toward experimentation—the kinds of questions the work inspires about writing and how we interpret writing.

I certainly have questions.


  1. Brendan Connell

      I think some of these examples of experimental literature are about people struggling to be clever. Many people simply have nothing to say, but want to make a statement anyway. Mind you, all literature and art is experimental in some way. And I love to read or see things that are new or different. But a lot of things out there just come across as boring and pretentious.

      Just as a note, I think the blank literature has been done before by Alphonse Allais if I am not mistaken – and that was over 100 years ago.

      The best way to go forward is by moving.

  2. Ben Jahn

      Are the pages numbered? Is it available for Kindle? And why the art? My theory on that last has to do with your question about how to review the thing. You can’t review it effectively without robbing the reader of that primary experience of discovery (all reviews do this to some extent, but in this case it seems to be a bigger deal), and maybe the art leaves us something to discover.

  3. darby

      seems like its functioning on the same plain as cage’s 4’33.

      for me, i think eperimental lixerature, in general, makes me feel good about human creativity. it feels good that blank exists. if it didnt exist, there would be a sense that it should exist, that someone should write it. its the kind of thing that needs to exist. it says something bigger about the creative paths people take, for me.

  4. Adam Golaski

      Cross out Schneiderman’s name with a Sharpie. Cross out all the copyright info and the author’s note. And then write all over that fucker. Cover every inch with text. Make a new book. While this may feel like revenge, you’re actively engaging with the “text” by doing this.

      I recently did this with a book of terrible poetry and ended up with an object I value (the book I marked up) and a ms. of my own poetry.

  5. karl taro


  6. christopher.

      I used to think this way, too, and to some degree, still share the same bias–experimentation as clever ploy. But the more I’ve gotten to know and talk with the people involved in the creation of experimental texts, the more respect I’ve garnered for the.. genre? 3 years ago I’d’ve probably railed against a book like Blank, but now I’ve a bit more heart for it.

      Also, I’d say there are countless examples and even urban legends about using blankness or nothingness to express a narrative or idea (e.g. the Philosophy 100 student asked to write a 3 page essay on why the professor’s pen didn’t exist, and turning in 3 blank pages). I feel like the inclusion of chapters/chapter titles here takes a new spin on it though, which also to Roxane’s interpretation of Blank as statement on 1,000s of books all telling the same story, if even ironically.

      Also, I think it’s maybe short-sighted to say Blank isn’t an attempt at forward movement simply because it can be traced to earlier examples of blank narratives. If that’s the case, then nothing is moving forward, as everything can be traced to an earlier example of a form in some way or other.

  7. christopher.

      I used to think this way, too, and to some degree, still share the same bias–experimentation as clever ploy. But the more I’ve gotten to know and talk with the people involved in the creation of experimental texts, the more respect I’ve garnered for the.. genre? 3 years ago I’d’ve probably railed against a book like Blank, but now I’ve a bit more heart for it.

      Also, I’d say there are countless examples and even urban legends about using blankness or nothingness to express a narrative or idea (e.g. the Philosophy 100 student asked to write a 3 page essay on why the professor’s pen didn’t exist, and turning in 3 blank pages). I feel like the inclusion of chapters/chapter titles here takes a new spin on it though, which also to Roxane’s interpretation of Blank as statement on 1,000s of books all telling the same story, if even ironically.

      Also, I think it’s maybe short-sighted to say Blank isn’t an attempt at forward movement simply because it can be traced to earlier examples of blank narratives. If that’s the case, then nothing is moving forward, as everything can be traced to an earlier example of a form in some way or other.

  8. Brendan Connell

      Well, I am not railing against it. I think for Roxanne, it was sort of an unpleasant experience because she had paid 15 bucks for it.

      I actually am very sympathetic towards ‘experimental’ fiction having had a bit to do with many journals that publish it, having been called an ‘experimental writer’ by other people etc. But I guess what I wonder about is this sort of thing about getting in the middle of the dance floor wearing a t-shirt that says ‘EXPERIMENTAL’ on it. I mean experimentation IS about trying new things. And what strikes me like a wad of pine scented body jell in the face is that many writers who would certainly not be labeled experimental might be doing the most innovative things. Because a lot of what ‘experimental literature’ has come to embody is so much about form over content. It is so often about how the thing strikes the eye than the heart. So I am more likely to weep over a novel by David Goodis.

      I mean art, in all its forms, should have something to say about the real life of the creator. Maybe indirectly or abstractly. But something. So just filling a book full of blank pages sends me the message that the author is sort of—empty. Which is sad. But not sad enough to make me cry. Just sad enough to make me spend my 15 dollars on the new Justin Isis book instead.

  9. Roxane

      There’s nothing in what I’ve written here that conveys I had an unpleasant experience. I was (and am) thinking through what it all means. It’s only a very small part of me that is concerned with paying $15 for blank pages. I understand that there’s something more than just the blank pages going on. I’m trying to figure out what that something is, thus the questions.

  10. deadgod

      blankly buy blankness with blank bux

  11. deadgod

      – but the fact of prior exemplification of the idea shrinks, or at least qualifies, the experimentality of the “experiment”, the ‘forwardness’ of the artist’s/artwork’s movement – or indicates the artist’s carelessness of the history she or he is moving in some direction in or away from.

  12. William VanDenBerg

      Maybe he’s trying to get the reader to ask, “What do I do with this?” It forces the reader to create a concrete identity and purpose for the book. Or it forces them to chuck it in the trash can.

      It seems facile, but I can’t see any other intent.

  13. deadgod

      Those chapter titles – especially on the Contents page – sound: not “blank”.

      He chickened out.

  14. OBarrett

      Most interesting here are the comments that read a project like Blank through a Romantic lens: “I mean art, in all its forms, should have something to say about the real life of the creator.”

      What are says anything at all about the creator? That’s an illusion. Writing is interpreted by its reader/s, and what you think you know about an author is really only the “author function”–the synthesis of media, press reports, book jackets, etc. Even if you meet an author do you think you will learn enough about that person to better interpret her work? Why would this even be important?

      Blank is playing with this. The TOC is a poem–it’s simply packaged with blank pages between its secondary deployment.

      What gets me most is that people are actually upset over this, as if Schneiderman got some big NY advance and is rolling in dough. The stakes for this, and most of literature, especially indie literature, are so low as to be almost non-existent.

      AWP is the perfect example of this absurdity on high display. Zillions of “authors” networking to land their work in journal read the other people at AWP. Maybe that’s why this Schneiderman–who btw has certainly written other books with actual words (a quick look at his web site: shows Blank next to his last “real” book, Drain, a well-reviewed post-apocalyptic novel)–reportedly went as a mime for part of AWP.

      This is not a joke, per se, but it says a lot about the structures of publishing. You can love it, you can hate it, you can spend your money on it, or not….my guess is that Schneiderman would be just happy if you were pissed off.

      (Also, Roxane, the Blank site that you link to above,, notes that half the proceeds from the book benefit an arts colony on the island of Vanuatu that Dj Spooky is involved with. Spooky gave some tracks to Blank. So, the text is coded is all sorts of ways beyond its “blankness,” for what’s that worth.)

  15. deadgod

      He actually wrote: Outline, a novel by David Schneiderman.

      A scant but suggestive novel, but not a “blank” novel.

  16. deadgod

      How “not a joke”? – and why not??

  17. Roxane

      I’m aware that half of the proceeds are going to a charity. I don’t really see people getting upset. People are discussing and there’s a diference. There’s no antagonism here.

      As an aside, I do find it bizarre, though, that so many people love to talk about this frantic “networking” that supposedly takes place at AWP. I’ve never seen it and I fail to see how that has anything to do with this.

      (I sort of know Davis, have his other books, spent time with him this week while visiting his school, respect his work, etc. Your tutorial is not necessary.)

  18. Robert Swartwood

      Obviously you need one of those special markers that reveals invisible ink. This is just like something out of a Dan Brown novel; it probably leads to treasure.

  19. Roxane


  20. deadgod

      Got the name wrong. Apologies, Davis.

  21. deadgod

      Got the name wrong. Apologies, Davis.

  22. darby

      i agree with this, actually. i like the idea of a book being blank, but i dont like that it has corny chapter titles. the whole thing suddenly hinges on being joke. should have done blank for real. it’s like if cage would’ve come up with corny titles for each movement of 4’33, it would’ve made the whole thing completely stupid.

  23. Roxane

      I am not familiar with 4’33. I will have to check it out.

  24. OBarrett

      Roxane–didn’t mean it as a tutorial for you, but as info for the readers who might think this is Schneiderman’s only trick pony. I’m not sure how this changes things, really, like when people justify cubist picasso by citing his blue period: “oh, he really can paint.” Of course, if Schneiderman hadn’t done other work, would anyone publish this book? Part of it seems to be about naming, etc.

      This is to say that I find your comments and review to raise interesting issues. I don’t sense any antagonism from what you’ve said. Certainly here, though: “But a lot of things out there just come across as boring and pretentious.” I read this as Blank is boring and pretentious….not sure if that person has “read” it and I saw a copy at AWP and don’t have it yet, myself. I did order it though.

      Anyone ever see the Barthelme story “Sentence”? –it’s a long run-on of several pages. Starts in the middle and no period. So, it’s not a sentence, really, grammatically.

      Of course Blank wouldn’t be completely Blank. Why would we expect something like this play by the rules we set for books–to reflect their title? Why would someone immediately take this to be chickening out?

      I imagine nothing about Blank was left to chance…it’s all authorial intent somehow crafted to mess up authorial intent. It’s “genius” seems to be that if you knock it for doing one thing or not doing something else, it’s hard to gain traction on the complaint. it reveals criticism to be opinion, including mine.

  25. Jimmy Chen

      you’ll love it, just make sure you aren’t on mute

  26. darby

      i liked this comment and here’s why. because everyone who read roxane’s post thought about commenting a blank comment, you know you did, and then you maybe had reservations about doing it, like it’s too corny because we know that everyone is thinking of doing it so it becomes instantly unoriginal by an assumption of mass awareness. but this guy did it. and it needed to be done because this thread would be incomplete without it..

  27. christopher.

      I find it strange that you start your comment with this “Death of the Author” rant, and then you researched Davis and spend 2 paragraphs telling us about him, and then go so far as to presume his intent for publishing Blank and even his reaction to reader responses to his book.

  28. darby
  29. Nick

      I kinda like Darby’s 4’33 interpretation, yet part of why 4’33 “works” is that it’s meant to be performed in a concert hall. The pianist goes to the piano while the audience murmurs expectantly– and then, and then– nothing. It’s a performance piece. The power comes from the experience of mass silence.

      Reading being much less a communal experience, so I just don’t think BLANK would be as effective. Plus it’s not going to be as if the reader will patiently “read” through each page at the same pace she/he will normally read– so that’s another way in which BLANK wouldn’t be similar.

      I like Roxane’s interpretations of the titles, how they’re a play on the Aristotelian/Freytag expectations of fiction– and the fact that the corresponding pages are otherwise blank would lead me to read it as a commentary that those expectations (the whole notion of character, etc) are fake.

  30. OBarrett

      why strange, christopher? Isn’t this what every critic does at every moment when doing any author-based interpretation? I’m not saying I’m any different, and I certainly would not have had the ability to get something like Blank published.

      This book, in some ways, must be about the author: I’m just not so sure it’s the AUTHOR as usually and uncritically constructed.

  31. Roxane

      I would have liked to see an entirely blank book. I would have the same questions about the experiment but that seems interesting to me. To see a book like this with a copyright page confuses me in that the writer/publisher are picking and choosing which conventions of a traditional book to employ. That’s certainly the writer’s right but I wonder if that detracts from this project being fully realized.

  32. darby

      well, i didn’t mean to imply that i think they are completely analogous, more that they are just dealing with the same kind of omission of art and letting an art’s extraneous orbitals move into relevancy. although i could make a case for the sound of aroundness as being analogous with the directionlessness of one’s thoughts while reading a blank text…

  33. darby

      yes. for me, the line gets drawn at anything the author makes an artistic choice about. i feel like copyright pages and those things are fine because its not really part of the artistic vision for any book. i really love the idea of keeping the copyright pages in actually, and maybe an author bio, things that the publisher would typically have control over. but the chapter titles, and even the title itself, for me, could have been omitted.

  34. Nick

      I knew what you meant, Darby. Sorry to be persnickety. I wish I’d have BLANK just to see it– I’m trying to figure what the photos suggest. Because the photos wouldn’t mean silence to me. And how might they be placed? Are they word replacers? Could that be what the author is getting at? That print is being replaced by image?

      Or, depending on the increments in which they appear, could the author just be saying that a picture is worth 1,000 words– lame/cliche as this sounds.

  35. Roxane

      The images are the most difficult part of the book for me. The more logical part of my brain wants to believe there’s some kind of “message” or meaning there, a pattern, but I’ve looked and looked and I have no idea.

      Perhaps it is as simple as the picture being worth 1.000 words. In that case, this book has several thousand words.

  36. darby

      that’s true. i am also making judgements on a book i haven’t seen, but yeah, photos added make it something else, that’s true.

  37. Nick

      We’re all looking for meaning, parsing photos, parsing blank pages. Long ago, I heard a Tom Waits interview on NPR where he noted the automatic human impulse to impart meaning whenever 2 or more words (or was it images?) are juxtaposed. That’s what we’re trying to do now, except with blank pages.

  38. OBarrett

      i think 4’33” is much more successful as its own myth–repeated as an example–than as actual performance. The piece isn’t about silence at all: it’s about the noise of a critical establishment endlessly holding it up as a paragon of performance-pushing.

      How many of us have seen its performance? Doesn’t it only work one time, really? Would people pay to go see it now, knowing what they know?

  39. OBarrett

      precisely–that’s how I saw it in my brief flip through at AWP. The photos clearly say this is not a Blank book, despite whatever else there is in the presentation.

      Someone also said that Schneiderman read at the Table X reading, dressed at a mime. What did he read? Did anyone see it?

  40. Nick

      But isn’t all music like that once it’s been memorized by an audience? I mean, who needs to go to a Stones concert just to hear a bunch of songs they’ve already heard a gazillion timesin one fashion or another?

      But yeah, people would still go to see 4’33– if only just to say they went to see it.

  41. deadgod

      Not a grammatical “sentence”, but ‘the result of a judgement’? a ‘unit of (perhaps trivial) wisdom’? I thought the range of meanings of “sentence” was essential to the play of Barthelme’s story??

      Not sure what you mean by “immediately”, OBarrett. I’m pretty slow, myself, and hardly ever come to understand my perspective “immediately”.

      It’s surely not “of course” that “Blank wouldn’t be completely Blank”. To qualify something darby says above, there are actually many books that are “completely blank” except their titles (Notebook, say).

      And there was no compulsion to have a table of contents or chapter titles – or, indeed, ‘chapters’ at all.

      You seem to me to have suggested that the book ‘plays by the rule’ of having a title, but not ‘by the rule’ of having an accurate title.

      By being inaccurate, the title is a generator of the ‘revelation’ that criticism is, what, “opinion”? That’s deep.

      – while I would, as a reader, have taken “blank” to refer accurately to something about the novel it titles.

      Maybe the title indicates ‘blank pages‘ – but, then, many books full of semantically disclosive marks have ‘blank pages’.

      . . . Books with English words have “blank” space between the words! and even between the letters!! – but, again, that’s every book with words printed in English.

      Are many inaccurate titles likely to have been authorially intended to mess up discovery of “authorial intent”?

      – and it’s not a “complaint”, OBarrett – what do you have against chickens?

  42. OBarrett

      oh shit, endless amounts of people go to stones concerts. they want to rock out to brown sugar–barf–yes, some of it is the experience, to say they went, but they want to experience the content. the audience for the 4’33” tour would be much smaller, but maybe you are right…same thing?

  43. OBarrett

      well, i can’t imagine that most readers, most readers of literature, read titles only on the literal level. are you saying that since the title is _Blank_ and not all pages are blank than the title is inaccurate and so the book has somehow let down the reader because her expectations have been violated?

      Really? Now we are in really deep waters. Did you expect Chicken Soup for the Soul to really include chicken soup?

      I love chickens of that type.

  44. Joseph Ernest Harper

      2 cool

  45. deadgod

      “[S]trange” in the sense of ‘self-contradictory’.

      You say that it’s an “illusion” to think that “ar[t] says anything at all about the creator”, then you claim that “people are actually upset over” being ‘played with’ by a “poem” – which you can tell by . . . what they’ve said about Blank.

      You also seem ‘to know’ that Schneiderman didn’t write Blank for the money.

      Of course, if you don’t see how these gleanings, and your attempt to present Schneiderman biographically, contradict your hypothesis of author unintelligibility, then: no, there’s nothing “strange” about the self-contrariety of your post.

  46. deadgod

      They might be photographs ‘of’ blankness.

  47. deadgod

      Perhaps the blankness of Blank doesn’t suffer from being structured, ‘outlined’. Perhaps the book is a structured “blank” – and not less “blank” for it.

      But the chapter titles are ineluctably meaningful; they narrate, no?

  48. OBarrett

      completely. they seem morphological to me–something out of the Russian Formalists. “They meet”–Roxane does a good job of describing these in the main post.

      I agree with you about the structured blank idea.

  49. Dylan Hicks

      Somewhere my wife has a novelty book called “Things Men Know About Women,” or something along those lines. I flipped altogether too many blank pages before I got the joke.
      The black pages in “Tristram Shandy” fall into this tradition somehow, though of course they aren’t blank at all.
      Like most people, I’ve not seen Cage’s piece performed in a concert hall, but I feel I’ve heard it hundreds of times, in that it often comes to mind, and its call for attentiveness seems enduring. So while I’d agree with the above comment that in some sense the piece must depend on the ritual of performance, the experience of collective near-silence, et cetera, it seems that its legacy—as with much conceptual art, Yves Klein’s nearly empty installation piece, for another early example—is ideational not experiential. Conventional revivals of such things are always problematic, in my experience, if not entirely empty (in a way not intended, I mean). The original American cover of the Stones’ “Beggar’s Banquet” is almost blank. I’d love to see them play the whole thing in a nightclub.

  50. Tim Jones-Yelvington

      I think Davis would probably love this.

  51. Tim Jones-Yelvington

      This is very thoughtful and honest. I think a lot of the variety of literature you are writing about aims to activate or implicate the reader, so your putting your own process out there as a reader is like, Yes. That is the text. Or part of it.

      To the point of why an author bio — I think a lot of conceptual writing and Davis’s work in particular (he has another project where he puts his own byline on works in the public domain or with expired copyrights, ie the Bible by Davis Scheiderman) is abt destabilizing the notion of authorship, and identity and the ego more generally.

      I think the other thing that Davis and some of his ilk are really into is exploring the materiality of text and the object that contains the text, words as matter, and how do words matter. So in this case, the matter is there but not the words. What do we make of that?

  52. Tim Jones-Yelvington

      I think I disagree because what engages me most in any text is tension and contradiction and mess, so blank-but-not-blank (or: calls itself blank than disrupts its own descriptor) sounds more compelling than blank. There’s something here maybe abt power-knowledge, dominance-subversion… discourses of classification and the messier realities they regulate.

  53. Tim Jones-Yelvington

      I think this is a fundamental tension in conceptual writing that I find actually makes it more compelling. I think Davis does set out to question some of our ideas abt and emphasis on authorship, but then even by saying that I’ve sort-of in a way reasserted Davis as author. And Davis in person, like Vanessa Place, is incredibly compelling.

  54. Tim Jones-Yelvington

      See, I think to me, that would be a different project — one that is more abt inviting reflection on the blank space (like the Cage piece was abt calling attention to the music of the environment, right?), the text one projects onto the blankness, etc, whereas I think Davis’s is more abt performatively fucking w/ readers’ expectations to create disorientation and thus activate reflection on the text as object and assumptions abt authorship.

  55. Tim Jones-Yelvington

      I think works like this also deliberately challenge the notion that “good” art should be timeless.

  56. Shane Anderson

      HI Roxanne,

      Nice post.

      I think it’s really funny how sometimes it just takes the right set of circumstances to be open to things that normally don’t fit inside our realm of interest (and I also think it’s totally exciting to know that we can grow). That’s why I try to stop myself from saying ‘x book is scheisse’ and say instead, ‘x book didn’t work for me right now.’ who knows, maybe in 3 months i’ll totally love it.

      An anecdote: when I was working at the music library at my university the composer professors were always trying to turn me onto some of the more experimental music; they poked fun at my love of schostakovich and schubert, called me old-fashioned. i tried to listen to the new music but i just couldn’t get it. i mean, i could understand it intellectually (sometimes) but i felt nothing. if i was going to listen to anything ‘modern’ then it was going to be someone like riley or reich, something that had already been co-opted by the rock music i liked. anyway, one day, out of nowhere, i decided to put on john cage’s ‘sonatas and interludes for prepared piano’ and something inside me just clicked and i felt the same gush of emotion that i felt listening to schubert lieder. somehow, this just worked for me in a way that it hadn’t months before. now when i think about that album i think about it as a gateway drug. 8 years later, i’m more excited by maerzmusik here in berlin than any rock festival. since then, i’ve tried very hard to stop myself from being definitively judgmental – even though i more often than not fail. silly humans.

      anyway, thanks again.

  57. Ytfytf

  58. OBarrett

      shane, dylan, and tim: good comments!

      someone wrote me off list late last night in answer to what Schneiderman “read” for Blank. supposedly, he read bits of Glen Beck’s novel, The Overton Window, in a series of brief extractions that focused on that book’s representations of women. The person I know who saw this presented it as Schneiderman saying–well, you can read this book (Beck), or a blank book….

      i’m sure that’s the only way one could present this, but the performance is interesting to me as a comment on publishing.

      in any case, the entire thing seems very much at home in the tradition of someone like Kenny Goldsmith or, in a different way, Vanessa Place.

  59. Christopher Higgs

      Hi, Roxane.

      I really appreciate hearing about your engagement with my “what is experimental literature” posts. I intend to put up the next in the series (pt. 4) on Monday.

      Davis’s book represents an interesting limit case. Can it still be considered experimental literature when it is actually an absence of literature? More accurately, it’s not a work of experimental literature; it’s a work of conceptual literature, right?

      So, what is the difference between experimental literature and conceptual literature? This is a very interesting question. Maybe I will put off the post I had planned to post on Monday and instead devote my attention to a sustained consideration of this question. Especially because you have shown how an attempt to utilize the methodologies I’ve presented for considering experimental literature seem to offer no help when dealing with Davis’s work of conceptual writing — one needs yet another heuristic.

  60. Rion Amilcar Scott

      If literature is a long conversation, than this book is an awkward moment.

  61. Adam Golaski

      I don’t know Schneiderman–I take it you do? But I’d guess he’d like it too. If you publish a blank book people are going to buy it either as Roxane did (based on name recognition alone–which is another topic worth discussing), as a novelty, or because it engages the reader (in some way). This is true about all books. Unlike a book of poetry, obviously, Schneiderman’s book engages like a new notebook.

      I do wonder about the art by “Susan White”: if there’s artwork, however faint, then the book isn’t blank, it’s something else altogether.

  62. a commenter

      “Modern Art” – a commenter

      (sup Davis)

  63. lily hoang

      jaded ibis has a commitment to dialogue and collaboration between literature and art. all jaded ibis books have art, whether there are words present or not (obviously).

  64. lily hoang

      Hi Adam, I know Davis. He’d love it.

  65. lily hoang

      Come on: How many small press writers are writing/publishing books for “money”? That 50% of the proceeds are going to charity makes it awesome, yes, but honestly, how much “profit” was he – or any of us (minus an exceptional handful) – going to make? Money as motive seems cheap and just plain wrong.

  66. Ani Smith

      ha. my first thought too was to go all secret decoder and shade in the pages with a number 2 to ‘reveal the secret’

  67. Adam

      I have to disagree a little, and maybe it sheds some light on the personality differences that might tend us towards experimental lit or not.

      “art, in all its forms, should have something to say about the real life of the creator.”
      Why? Art is another way of communication, so, yes, it can certainly facilitate the author’s ability to reflect on their life. I’ve been trying to teach a slightly-autistic fourth-grader about conversation recently, and I told him the body of a conversation is made up of comments and questions — comments often are about ourselves, but they can also express opinions we hold about exterior reality.

      I have John Ashbery in mind here. I’ve never read a poem of his that seemed to be ‘about’ his life, and he talks in that disembodied “anti-human” voice. The seed of his writing isn’t in the plot of his life. His poems’ “comments” aren’t “I-statements,” they’re statements about the universalities of existence and representation, and he always raises more questions than answers. And he is apparently, despite his style, a very gregarious, talkative fellow IRL.

      Maybe conventional work (at least post-19th c.) reaches through the individual out into the world, where experimental work is more concerned with the world and the individual’s place in it, not as a “unique” individual, but as another human. That explains the experimental’s obsession with form and representation over content and maybe our temperament explains our preference for one over the other.

  68. Rion Amilcar Scott

      Fuck, I meant “then”….

  69. Rion Amilcar Scott

      Joke ruined.

  70. Adam

      Well now it’s part of the art, whether it was intentionally so or wisely so or not, and we can’t help but let it influence our interpretation of the art. it should. certainly the book is toying with the conventions of what an author

  71. Ben Jahn

      I’d read about Jaded Ibis a few weeks ago, so I knew they had a commitment to art as a foundation of their house style. But to answer the question why the art with, Because it’s from Jaded Ibis, doesn’t really do much for me in the context of this discussion. My question had more to do with the author’s intent in re the reader’s experience with the text. I haven’t seen the book. All I have is Roxane’s description of it. That’s why my comment had to do with the challenge of reviewing the book. I will say that I’m more interested in the book because of the dialogue, as you put it, between the almost blank literature and the almost blank art. And I don’t think 15 bucks is too much to pay to witness that dialogue. I drop that much on movies I wish were blanker than Blank.

  72. Adam


  73. OBarrett

      i imagine the 50% is symbolic–in support of the arts colony. whether the book makes profits of $100 or $10,000, the point might be to raise awareness for the colony. that seems like a good motive to me, and one that perhaps had little to do with what is actually sold.

      Lily is right here, as I said in a comment last night, the stakes of this sort of thing, economically, are so absurdly low as to be almost non-existent. Even so, and even though many authors make no money at all on their texts, how many are willing to give up 50% of nothing to begin with?

  74. OBarrett

      I hear that—can I get a refund for like every movie I’ve seen in the past 5 years. Also, i think Jaded Ibis does publishing across the “spectrum”–so yes, I imagine there will be an e-book, if there is not one already.

  75. Michael Jacobson

      It would be great if it was written with invisible ink.

  76. Tummler

      Not to bring back this whole argument, but perhaps there are asemic sensibilities to the art throughout this novel. While the text is absent and the book is blank, those sparse photocopies of torn images or whatever they may be could embody the only semantic communication in the novel (except for the chapter titles and about pages and whatnot).

  77. Adam Golaski

      Lily! Tell Davis to send me a copy and I’ll send him copies of the resultant Sharpie’d (& otherwise inscribed) pages!

      And tell me this: is Susan White real? Her name seems a little too perfect for a book called Blank.

  78. Tummler

      As an enthusiast of all things asemic, xenoglyphic, and semiotic, your answer to my question was just fine, Roxane. Schneiderman may not have been the first to conceptualize or produce blank literature (at the panel, didn’t Daniel A. Olivas mention that someone else once wrote a short story consisting of one blank page?), but blankness in every art form is only a matter of time. Is anyone here aware of Nigel Tomm’s blank film adaptations, for example?

      If experimentation is meant to unfold and/or pivot our artistic ideologies, my guess would be that this sort of blankness, this sort of nothingness, is truly where it’s at.

  79. OBarrett

      not sure hot this relates to Tummler’s point, but the artist, Susan White, does pyrographs. I recall these being cloud scenes, etc, but there were inside a frame that appeared to be singed paper. These were then pasted into the text–the memory of other books?

      the trailer for Blank, also, shows Schneiderman and other people destroying books with chisels, chainsaws, etc, and then making new blank sheets from the pulp. This is probbly connected to the pyrographs, but I’m not sure how.

      Here’s thew trailer:

  80. Sean

      You now have a notebook, no?

  81. deadgod

      But Tim, there would have been “tension and contradiction and mess” if he’d called the thing Crowded – or Natalie and Pierre in Paris, or The True Story of Hitler’s Escape from the Bunker.

      Any title other than Chapter Titles (or something like it) would have been disruptive of convention-catalyzed anticipations of titular accuracy.

      I think you’re giving the book credit for provoking adventure for you that the interpretive adventurousness in you is more responsible for.

      – which, I guess, would be a natural product of a ‘reader-writes-the-writing’ concept.

  82. deadgod

      ha ha – an actually-blank book called Me

  83. Rion Amilcar Scott

      And it would have been funnier if I used the word “silence” rather then “moment.”

  84. Rion Amilcar Scott

      Fuck….I meant “than” this time.

  85. Rion Amilcar Scott

      Ok…to be honest, I made the mistake 2nd on purpose in order to try to salvage the joke, but I don’t think it was altogether successful.

  86. deadgod

      only on the literal level

      An oddly convention-mired misreading of “to refer accurately”.

      Not necessarily “literal”; ‘blank’ is also a figure of speech – a character suddenly remembers nothing, a gun fires a wad of cotton, a team gets shut out, etc.

      A mostly blank book titled almost anything other than Mostly Blank would ‘violate expectations’ in the way Blank does.

      I’d expect a book called Chicken Soup for the Soul to be figuratively or to refer figuratively to ‘therapy for personal problems’ or, for the more credulous than I, ‘therapy for one’s immortal identity’. – as I understand it, this expectation is met by that book, regardless of the value of the prescriptions the book offers or can offer.

      I’d expect a book titled Perfectly Appropriate Title to be an Ashbery blot.

      I think you love a poker-faced chicken that is not there enough to call it the chicken that is.

  87. deadgod

      I think, as well as 4′ 33″ and Alphonse Allais, a useful precursor to consider is the Pet Rock.

  88. OBarrett

      yes, but pet rock made millions. and you couldn’t flip through it and see the illustrations.

  89. OBarrett

      what would mr. oed say about the handle “deadgod”?

      it’s hysterical that you took the time to respond seriously about chicken soup. your are literal like the caterpillar in Alice.

      Now–riddle me this, what would be the inside of the book titled “HTMLgiant comments to the Schneiderman/Blank thread” consist of?

  90. Rion Amilcar Scott


  91. Efef

  92. goner

      As to the point some are making (or maybe just one, I can’t remember all the comments) about Davis not being the first to do this: Dave Eggers has a ‘short story’ called ‘There Are Some Things He Should Keep to Himself’ that is nothing more than five blank pages. This appeared in his story collection, ‘How We Are Hungry,’ which came out several years ago. I remember people called it a ‘prank’ or ‘ironic’ or ‘meatfiction’ or whatever other tag lines people apply to Eggers. As far as I can remember, no one called it ‘experimental.’ Is this because it was something by Eggers and not someone associated with the experimental narrative genre? Or perhaps Davis’ book is really just a prank?

  93. goner

      Er, that should be ‘metafiction’ but ‘meatfiction’ would be an exciting genre worth exploring too.

  94. deadgod

      It’s a little funny that you privilege the subversion of convention when told to.

  95. mimi

      well, i laughed

  96. OBarrett

      i don’t follow–seriously and not sarcastically, here. Who’s telling me?

  97. OBarrett

      a new conceptual work: a book made of meat, rotting when you receive it in the mail? I guess Lady GaGa sort of got there first.

      Interesting about the Eggers…everything old is new again, maybe.

  98. darby

      there is some truth here, i admit. i haven’t read the book so i am not really in a position to be commenting but, yeah, i was wishing it to be something it perhaps never intended to be and it always bothers me when i see others crit that way, so yes, i will shoulder a tsking for that.

  99. darby

      in what way? you don’t consider 4’33 timeless?

      i disagree with the idea that 4’33 only works one time. it works an infinite number of times and with more variation each time depending on the environment in which it is played.

  100. OBarrett

      what i mean is that most attendees will know the idea of the piece when they choose to see it (it is even performed? I honestly don’t know). Whereas, the first performance, I imagine, was a surprise–the silence was no expected by the audience.

      I don’t know enough about the performance history to be sure, but from the way people speak about this work, it appears that the audience discomfort was key–and thus, I imagine the first audience was unaware, going in, of the conceit.

      Blank, also, never pretends to be a regular novel (full of words). I imagine that most people know what it is, without knowing the particulars of its packaging, art, chapter titles, etc, before picking it up.

      Roxane may be the exception, but maybe not.

      Also, how many books do we all have that we will never actually read? Their is something delightful about knowing one can “consume” this text in short order. I wish I knew Schneiderman, just so when I ran into him at AWP next year, I could say, why yes, I did read an enjoy your book—as I admit to sometimes having to dance around this with other folks.

      Too little time…

  101. Tim Jones-Yelvington

      You’re totally right, I realized pretty quick after posting that yesterday that I was off and sorta figured somebody would call me out.

      I mean, I stand by the idea that there may be value in transitory or forgettable art, or at least in an artistic practice which challenges the presumed value of timelessness, but Cage is not a good example.

  102. Fcfyt

  103. deadgod

      [below, in reply to “reply to darby”]

  104. deadgod

      To go by the photo, aside the first paragraphs of the blogicle, of the cover of the book (which is what one would see on a table at a literary convention), Blank definitely “pretends to be a regular novel”.

      I imagine that most people know what it is, without knowing the particulars of its packaging, art, chapter titles, etc, before picking it up.

      Really? – without having been forearmed with that “know[ledge of] the particulars”, how would anyone, much less “most people”, know that the book is mostly “blank”??

      To fake-answer the question you ask (me) above by asking it of you: how did you understand the gimmick – before and then after you leafed through the thing? What knowingness, what membership in ‘the know’, enabled you to get it?

      Let me emphasize that, to (and so from) me, “joke” and “gimmick” are not, by themselves, pejorations.

      In terms of conceptual art, I understand a ‘gimmick’ to be of the order of an aphorism – no mean category of “literature” (or “literary philosophy”), eh?

  105. deadgod

      “[B]ut”? A comparison of market-demonstrated exchange values would be irrelevant to a consideration of the Pet Rock as a category-companion to Blank (unless one were comparing the political economies of the ’70s and now in small). And you can turn over a Pet Rock in your fingers, looking at and touching its texture, and heave its heft it in your hand.

      Pet Rock : pets and rocks :: Blank : novels and blankness

      (- except that, for the literalism-crippled, Blank just isn’t “blank” enough)

  106. deadgod

      “[B]ut”? A comparison of market-demonstrated exchange values would be irrelevant to a consideration of the Pet Rock as a category-companion to Blank (unless one were comparing the political economies of the ’70s and now in small). And you can turn over a Pet Rock in your fingers, looking at and touching its texture, and heave its heft it in your hand.

      Pet Rock : pets and rocks :: Blank : novels and blankness

      (- except that, for the literalism-crippled, Blank just isn’t “blank” enough)

  107. OBarrett

      the pet rock will sit on command, though, and so will Blank. They are both obedient.

  108. OBarrett

      Well, here is a short bit from the web site:

      “Davis Schneiderman’s 206-page novel, Blank, contains only compelling chapter titles. The story is – as it always has been – up to the reader. White-on-white pyrographic images are by notable artist Susan White. The fine art edition is shrink-wrapped and enclosed in a wooden box that is fully encased in plaster and can be opened with a pull-tab. Once opened, the box cannot be re-encased. Music will be composed and performed by renowned experimental hip hop musician, Paul D Miller aka DJ Spooky.”

      So, anyone looking it up would see that, I imagine.

      So, yes, someone might see the cover at a book table, and I suppose if they bought the book without flipping through it or without someone at the Jaded Ibis table telling the book-buyer….

      Yet, in the few minutes I spent at the table at AWP, I was clearly told about the book and I flipped through it. I cannot say for sure, but even though the book has many bibliographic codes that make it look like a regular word-filled novel, I don’t think the book is trying to put one over on the consumer. Rather, in a conceptual work, the marketing and press materials, including the web site, are part of the work.

      As for the final questions, I enjoy this sort of literature, and I don’t see conceptual work outside the realm of literature at all. Rather, I see it as simply a different approach to the same basic ideas: that language is more than merely communicative in a literary or conceptual work, whether present or in this case absent.

      This is not so much a gimmick to me–which implies cheap device–and rather an aetshetic choice along a spectrum of aesthetic choices. Yes, some will read it as a gimmick and it may very well be funny (I think it to be), but I don’t think the book is a prank or a joke or any of those things primarily, or at least, and perhaps here we agree, as perjorations. That stuff is there, but this is more than what another commentator noted–the book about what men know about women, which was blank.

      perhaps we disagree on what may fall under the umbrella of “literature,” but I’m ok with that.

  109. OBarrett

      sorry–a new comment in reply to Darby? Getting lost in the thread.

  110. deadgod

      a new comment “in reply to ‘reply to darby’ [of yours]”

  111. deadgod

      What you said (that I contradicted) was that “most people know what [Blank] is without knowing [its] particulars […] before picking it up”.

      Now you say that if people look up the promotional info on the web site for the book/author/publisher (before or after they see the book on a table at a litcon), they’ll find out “what it is”. If they pick up a non-“fine art”, non-“shrink-wrapped” edition from a table and leaf through it, they’ll be exposed to “what it is”. If they chat for a moment at that table with representatives of the publisher, they’ll learn “what it is”. If they consult “marketing and press materials” in any format, they’ll come to know “what it is”.

      OBarrett, in the case of each of these ‘ifs’, the person will have been told the book’s “particulars […] before picking it up”, or will have learned its “particulars” by way of “picking it up”.

      If someone saw the book’s cover without having been told “what it is”, why wouldn’t they think it was a conventional “novel”? — which is what the cover seems to introduce: “BLANK a novel by [X]”.

      – which misdirection is elemental to the thing’s ‘concept and/or experiment’, no??

      I agree that “conceptual work [is inside] the realm of literature” – that’s what I meant by saying that literary ‘conceptual art’ is, to me, not less literary than aphorisms are. Imagine a story – in a book – (like Eggers’s “hunger” provocation) titled “This Title and No More” and followed by a few blank pages. That story-or-‘story’ seems as literary to me as many of the medium-quality aphorisms of Montesquieu.

      So I’m okay with agreement on that last!

  112. Tadd Adcox

      I was just about to ask why art should have anything to say about the life of the creator, why we care about the creator aside from the art. Good job getting to that one.

      I’d also note, though, that from what I know from Davis’s work that the two pages that are most not-blank–the copyright page and the “about the author” at the end–are the pages that, in many ways, are central to what he’s doing.

      I’d also note, in response to deadgod, below, that the fact that the book isn’t blank at all is part of the game/point. Davis is definitely aware that completely blank books have been written before. That’s just not exactly what he’s doing here.

  113. Tadd Adcox


  114. Tadd Adcox

      A big part of Davis’s project overall seems to be about copyright and, more broadly, authorial rights. I’d say that the copyright page and the “about the author” page were both probably things that he thought of as integral to shaping the meaning of the text.

  115. darby

      and, deadgod, a comment on a new comment “in reply to ‘reply to darby’ [of yours]”

  116. darby

      and, deadgod, a comment on a new comment “in reply to ‘reply to darby’ [of yours]”

  117. darby

      oh it didn’t work. im so drunk.

  118. darby

      oh it didn’t work. im so drunk.

  119. stephen

      …and so I say:

      Duchamp: “I don’t believe in art. I believe in artists.”

      Joyce, the universal in the particular: “I always write about Dublin, because if I can get to the heart of Dublin I can get to the heart of all the cities of the world.”

      Representation/description in words, characters, all that is limited, but what I think of as the experimental cipher, the cardboard pronoun to shuffle through the misery maze, the rejection of any attempt at expressing or creating or gesturing at “actual” particularized human life, in its limitless forms, is to me anti-humanist, and I see no joy or wisdom to be had in lying in a bath of self-loathing until I die. What I’ve just described is not Beckett, by the way. Many people I think try and fail to be Beckett. They don’t get it, they don’t know his beautiful shit-grinning nothing. I believe all art aspires to the condition of music, and even the saddest or the blackest music makes me feel more alive, more human. Life sucks yes, but how exactly does it suck and what and who along the way to the final suckhole do you care about. Let me repeat ad infinitum Beckett realized what a fool he’d been and began to write what he felt…

  120. OBarrett

      very human-centered, rather than humanist, I suppose. nothing wrong with that.

      so, stephen, which side of this does Blank fall on for you—Beckettian wonder or joyless chain-yanking? I see it as the former, but am not sure what you are suggesting….

  121. stephen

      i was vaguely responding to Adam and Tadd above and to what I think is a recurring refrain on htmlgiant of “the author and his/her life doesn’t matter,” or some kind of anti-humanism-in-art.

      i haven’t looked at Blank, so i don’t have an opinion on it. Davis is nice, though, and interesting to talk to, and a fun reader live

  122. stephen

      i was vaguely responding to Adam and Tadd above and to what I think is a recurring refrain on htmlgiant of “the author and his/her life doesn’t matter,” or some kind of anti-humanism-in-art.

      i haven’t looked at Blank, so i don’t have an opinion on it. Davis is nice, though, and interesting to talk to, and a fun reader live

  123. stephen

      i was vaguely responding to Adam and Tadd above and to what I think is a recurring refrain on htmlgiant of “the author and his/her life doesn’t matter,” or some kind of anti-humanism-in-art.

      i haven’t looked at Blank, so i don’t have an opinion on it. Davis is nice, though, and interesting to talk to, and a fun reader live

  124. stephen

      i was vaguely responding to Adam and Tadd above and to what I think is a recurring refrain on htmlgiant of “the author and his/her life doesn’t matter,” or some kind of anti-humanism-in-art.

      i haven’t looked at Blank, so i don’t have an opinion on it. Davis is nice, though, and interesting to talk to, and a fun reader live

  125. What is Experimental Literature? {pt. 4} | HTMLGIANT

      […] Roxane’s recent post on Davis Schneiderman’s novel Blank engaged so thoughtfully with my ongoing “What is […]

  126. OBarrett

      i hear that. poststructuralism can be a downer. at the same time, i agree with tadd and adam here–but don’t necessarily see this as anti-human, but rather post-humanist. maybe post-Romantic….the ideas of some authors being more special human beings by virtue of their ability to write a poem seems linked to a some of the copyright-related things that tadd thinks (and I agree) may be important in blank.

      anything that makes us question the human belief that our artificial tools (language, visual art, etc) make truth and beauty seems to be useful. Se Brecht or Tadd’s cool journal,. which I saw for the first time at AWP, Artifice.

  127. matt

      “There is no text in the book save for the copyright page, the Table of Contents, twenty chapter titles, an About the Author page and an About the Artist page.”

      This is why the book is cool, imho. In the absence of a text, it’s asking you to focus on the meaning of the remaining elements you listed. It’s attempting to open up a shift in perspective concerning the paratext.

  128. Frank Goodish

      Haven’t read all the comments but if a book is seriously “blank” and you paid $15 for it, that is horseshit and you should be afforded a refund. Then again you should have known from the title to at least take a peek inside. If I read your post right, and in fact the “book” is completely blank, that is horseshit and moronic and embarrassing to writers out there.

  129. Frank Goodish

      Sorry, I stepped in a pile of horse shit this morning and apparently haven’t “let it go.”

  130. Frank Goodish

      Oh, I just re-read the post and there is some “artwork” in it. Gotcha. Sounds like the “coffee table” book Kramer wrote or maybe the book that old fart wrote in “Throw Momma From the Train” about the models he’d like to “pork” – each chapter had two words – the woman’s name – maybe an occasional three.

  131. Andy Devine vs. Davis Schneiderman | HTMLGIANT

      […] to ask questions in a way that points to how much content exists within a book that has no words. Roxane wrote about the book here, should you want […]

  132. Anonymous

      Wholesale all kinds of world brand shoes,jeans,t-shirts,bikini,beach

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  133. An Interview with Roxane Gay

      […] you have made no secret of your literary tastes as a reader, and your own propensities as a writer. You have admitted that you struggle with “experimental” literature. Yet here, in “Glass,” you tell a story that is structurally experimental and provides a number […]

  134. Davis Schneiderman | Davis Schneiderman: The TNB Self-Interview | The Nervous Breakdown

      […] (with help from Adam Robinson) interviewed you at in the wake of Roxane Gay’s review of BLANK and Christopher Higgs’ contextualization of BLANK in a long-tradition of possibly similar works. […]