By Kelman Out Of Pessoa

By Kelman Out Of Pessoa
by Doug Nufer
Les Figues Press, 2011
194 pages / $15  Buy from Les Figues or SPD








Why write a conceptual novel? Is conceptual writing meant to be read? Is conceptual writing truly “conceptual” in the way conceptual art was? If conceptual art was more to be read than it was to be seen, then, following the same “logic,” is conceptual writing more of a spectacle than it is a reflection? Isn’t writing by and large dematerialized anyway? Doesn’t reading atomize as much as it coheres? Isn’t the novel ultimately only intelligible in terms of a material transcendence? Is Douglas Nufer’s By Kelman Out Of Pessoa more Sol Lewitt or more Rene Girard?

I think the latter rather than the former. I think the conflation of Oulipian constraint and conceptual aesthetics has become too easy. I think schematicism need not make a virtue of the perfunctory. I think that novels like Nufer’s, or Harry Mathews’ Cigarettes, can simultaneously be novels and “anti-novels”: mere pretexts or engines for putting one word, then one sentence, then one paragraph, then one chapter, after another, but also “subjective experiences” that offer readers traditional pleasures and vertigos. I think that the author’s and the reader’s processes have to collaborate in order to complete the novel, and this book; they are symbiotic, even if one antedates / predates (upon?) the other. I think all novels—and, by extension, all characters, all points-of-view, all settings, all symbols, all themes—are thus accidents of time, eruptions of advantage and disadvantage. I think about Michel’s capture in Bresson’s Pickpocket, how it is a direct result of his notion of who he is in relationship to someone else who, in a context explicitly over-determined by competitiveness, is not quite whole or anything beyond a phantom. I think that readers always have a hand out for the last word.

Louis Bury, in his introduction, writes: “Doug Nufer wrote By Kelman Out Of Pessoa by going to the track once a week for an entire horseracing season, placing bets on behalf of three fictional characters’, the results of which, in turn, dictated the structure and plot of the novel.” Louis Bury, in his introduction, writes: “The difference between the type of order play produces and the type of order art produces is that the former tends towards reductive simplicity, the latter towards complexity, even entropy.” Louis Bury, in his introduction, writes: “Each of the novel’s principal literary influences can be seen as the embodiment of a novelistic desire. Kelman: the desire to write about horse betting and have it be something other than genre fiction. Pessoa: the desire to make an elaborate show of masking and unmasking aspects of oneself.” Louis Bury, in his introduction, writes: “Blaise Pascal’s famous wager—that it’s a good bet to believe in God because if you win you gain everything and if you lose you lose nothing—was a bet, ultimately, not about God’s existence but about the nature of life itself: that we humans possess more purpose and meaning to our movements than mere game board tokens.”

What are we really saying when we say that a work of art, like a novel, “moves us”? What are we really saying when we say that we want to improve ourselves? What are we really saying when we say we’ve been a victim of bad luck? What are we really saying when we say that we’ve sabotaged ourselves? What are we really saying when we say that the story means what it does when it comes to its end? What are we really saying when we say, “Don’t worry; I’ve got a plan.”  What are we really saying when we say we want to be more or less like so-and-so? What are we really saying when we say that there is a real world? What are we really saying when we say to writers: “Small is beautiful”? “Kill your darlings”? “Find your voice”? “Write what you know”? “Don’t lose your reader”?

Cal Nipper, one of Nufer’s three heteronyms-slash-characters-slash-betting strategies, writes: “The sequence of winners by post position (not from all of the races, but from the select few races we bet) says when who says what about which of each of the others.”

Cal Nipper, one of Nufer’s three heteronyms-slash-characters-slash-betting strategies, writes: “The races tended to provoke certain feelings in yourself. You couldn’t help feeling that you were a center of attention, that what you did mattered, as much as, if not more than, what others did.” Cal Nipper, one of Nufer’s three heteronyms-slash-characters-slash-betting strategies, writes: “We had to do what we did in different ways, to oppose what we wanted with some alternative outcome. Was it human nature or was it some quirk we shared?” Cal Nipper, one of Nufer’s three heteronyms-slash-characters-slash-betting strategies, writes: “Is it selfish to want to live through another person? To want to win and to make a winner of her or winners of them? To keep doing what we have been doing?” Cal Nipper, one of Nufer’s three heteronyms-slash-characters-slash-betting strategies, writes: “I must do what I know and know what I do. I must apply myself to do what I can.” Cal Nipper, one of Nufer’s three heteronyms-slash-characters-slash-betting strategies, writes: “To do me made it devil? Quite not, yet and, the responsibility of lack us of each had this scheme in an alibi did offer. Pass a make or make a pass was same the all, fact the after in the day of light.”

I want the novels I choose to read to feature happenings but not consist solely of events. I want the novels I choose to read not to end where they begin, but to acknowledge that their beginnings and endings possess identities that while distinct obtain in responsibility to each another. I want the novels I choose to read to do something different with the business that typically entails in novels. I want the novels I choose to read to be metaphors for themselves. I want the novels I choose to read to guffaw if not point and laugh at allegory. I want the novels I choose to read to exist, comfortably, rather than to strain at persistence.

Kelly Lane, the lone female playing alongside Nufer’s other two heteronyms-slash-characters-slash-betting strategies, writes: “These schemes and sayings and sings we lived by were but the configuration of a single moment, and we lived in the moment of the moment we lived.” Kelly Lane, the lone female playing alongside Nufer’s other two heteronyms-slash-characters-slash-betting strategies, writes: “What does it have to say about yourself when the guys you pick all turn out to be losers? It says a lot worse if you  then dump on them for being losers. Don’t dump on them. Pick them up.” Kelly Lane, the lone female playing alongside Nufer’s other two heteronyms-slash-characters-slash-betting strategies, writes: “Whatever odds you make for any of these outcomes, what we did will be reflected by how we do, on and off the track.” Kelly Lane, the lone female playing alongside Nufer’s other two heteronyms-slash-characters-slash-betting strategies, writes: “The Course said each of us had to think of the others as autonomous heteronymous beings, but maybe The Course was just testing us, deliberately misleading us to rave like entrepreneurs when the most productive way for us to act was to work together as a collective.” Kelly Lane, the lone female playing alongside Nufer’s other two heteronyms-slash-characters-slash-betting strategies, writes: “But what if when it’s over, it’s just pain over? Why should there be any next step, contingent on the step that went before?” Kelly Lane, the lone female playing alongside Nufer’s other two heteronyms-slash-characters-slash-betting strategies, writes: “The outcome of his freaky lone system freed doubts some of us leak. He owed us then, what? To try to do all he could to win? True. Tight, due to call, he would do in hope of reviving in time, just before arriving.” Kelly Lane, the lone female playing alongside Nufer’s other two heteronyms-slash-characters-slash-betting strategies, writes: “What is wrong with me? Does ‘hysteria’ mean I have something wrong with me, or is it natural?”

Isn’t all personality pathology? Isn’t all aspiration corrective? Isn’t all identity speculative, projective? Isn’t all ambition conceptual? Isn’t all conceptualism dishonest with respect to its ambitiousness? Isn’t all memory an estrangement rather than détente? Isn’t all character in the character of accent: something one perceives rather than possesses? Isn’t all subjectivity plural? Isn’t all love a reflection of narcissism? Isn’t all narrative propaganda, overt or malgre lui, for the notion that history alone equals possibility? Isn’t all pluralism nostalgic and dystopian? Isn’t all utopianism totalitarian? Isn’t all solution in turn solved by the camera shutting off, the curtain falling, the frame intersecting with the horizon, the chord dissipating? Isn’t this sort of thing— By Kelman Out Of Pessoa, I mean—virtuosic; prog rock?

Henderson Will, the last of Nufer’s personae, himself imagined tripartite (Septimus Smith, via Cal Nipper; Lewis Carroll, via Kelly Lane; Charles Bukowski, to himself), writes: “… these accidents at the ticket window where you came away with a wager you. personally, hadn’t reckoned on, were no less true to what your bet should be than the bets you did wind up holding.” Henderson Will, the last of Nufer’s personae, himself imagined tripartite (Septimus Smith, via Cal Nipper; Lewis Carroll, via Kelly Lane; Charles Bukowski, to himself), writes: “When it comes to making up your heteronyms and setting them loose, I ask you, who has done the best job of fleshing out his players? … I, who managed to make up not only a pair of quirky, even somewhat likeable characters, but a love story!” Henderson Will, the last of Nufer’s personae, himself imagined tripartite (Septimus Smith, via Cal Nipper; Lewis Carroll, via Kelly Lane; Charles Bukowski, to himself), writes: “Shouldn’t I make them mind their business? They’re not doing very well with sex on their minds. In a real office, we wouldn’t have to worry… We’re supposed to be applying ourselves to the job of making money. The fact that we’re losing money doesn’t change what we are supposed to do.” Henderson Will, the last of Nufer’s personae, himself imagined tripartite (Septimus Smith, via Cal Nipper; Lewis Carroll, via Kelly Lane; Charles Bukowski, to himself), writes: “She knew I could have said it was up to her what I did tonight, and she could have made me do damn near anything, and she was grateful that I hadn’t blurted that out in front of Nipper. Addled or not in my scrambled way of processing the world, I wouldn’t do that.” Henderson Will, the last of Nufer’s personae, himself imagined tripartite (Septimus Smith, via Cal Nipper; Lewis Carroll, via Kelly Lane; Charles Bukowski, to himself), writes: “Me? What did they care about me?” Henderson Will, the last of Nufer’s personae, himself imagined tripartite (Septimus Smith, via Cal Nipper; Lewis Carroll, via Kelly Lane; Charles Bukowski, to himself), writes: “After all, what each of us came from wasn’t a set of parents whose ancestors went back to any particular culture, but a set of personal problems whose origins went back to the peculiar psyches of one and/or both of us.” Henderson Will, the last of Nufer’s personae, himself imagined tripartite (Septimus Smith, via Cal Nipper; Lewis Carroll, via Kelly Lane; Charles Bukowski, to himself), writes: “Thanks to them, I had no hope. My circumstances were hermetic, confined to this makeshift ring where a tag team of verbal grapplers took turns on me to put me through ludicrous contortions, but my hold on them told a different story.”

You are reading what is ostensibly a review of Doug Nufer’s novel By Kelman Out Of Pessoa. You are perhaps looking for additional information about these characters, their resemblances, their motivations, what happens to them and, in the process, makes them persons: organic and dimensional. (Does one of the three come out ahead? Does Henderson Will prevent or permit Kelly Lane’s and Cal Nipper’s being together?) You are perhaps recalling my first paragraphs, disagreeing now, or even more strenuously than before, with my assumptions regarding what a novel is and what a novel does. You are perhaps questioning the point of this exercise, even going so far as to propose to yourself, “If one can only describe the work as an exercise, its point is already subject to debate.” You are perhaps wondering if my goal all along has been to write something “about” By Kelman Out Of Pessoa that could never be used as a blurb, in a press kit, as “copy.” You are perhaps wondering what Doug Nufer might make of this “review.” You are perhaps wishing I had written more about Nufer’s actual procedures (recondite and inseparable from By Kelman Out Of Pessoa’s narratives, superficial as well as esoteric-slash-paranoid; trust me), or the quality of Nufer’s prose (you can read for yourself; inventive, appealingly demotic, never showy), or distilled this novel’s relationship to literary conceptualism (OK: the key notion here is what Place and Fitterman have termed the “sobject;” or, as Nufer himself writes in his preface, “No matter what you do, these heteronyms of yours are there, festering inside of the fucking middleman that is you, infecting you with the hysteria of insurmountable desire. Without them, you are nothing. With them, you can be a winner. But only with my help.”) You are perhaps wondering if this is an essay. You are almost certainly reading a text that has no desire to organize itself. And, at least temporarily, you are a recycling embedded in what you are consuming of yourself, itself consumed through the organ of who you are, reading what you read.


Joe Milazzo is the author of The Terraces (Das Arquibancadas) (Little Red Leaves Textile Series, 2012). With Janice Lee and Eric Lindley, he co-edits the interdisciplinary arts journal [out of nothing]. His writings have appeared in H_NGM_N, The Collagist, Drunken Boat, Black Clock, and elsewhere. Joe lives and works in Dallas, TX, and his virtual location is



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  1. deadgod

      Kelman’s A Chancer is a novel I was (surprised to be) quite impressed by–a real pleasure to read.

      I think that Pascal’s wager is not about divine existence or even about faith, but rather, is about commitment to the rationality of skepticism, which is commitment to reasonable doubt that irrational skepticism is ‘skepticism’ at all. Am greatly tempted–from nothing else than this review–to doubt that “Louis Bury”, author the introduction quoted in this review, is not Nufer himself. Sounds like part of the game of this book.

      It’s fun, in a way, and tiresome and hostility-making, in another, when playing invades (or emerges from) aspects or facets or zones of life that are not taken for ‘games’.

      In the case of rhetorical questions, where and how porous is the line between irritation and illumination? Is ‘shimmering’ a better metaphor in this case than ‘line of division’? Is it a waste of artfulness to make a pile of rhetorical questions mutate from mere sequence into concinnity?

  2. Joe Milazzo

      I can entertain the notion that reviewing, if not criticism, is very much a game, in the same way that “Red Rover, Red Rover” is. That is, both are didactic sport whose end-game is a surreptitious socialization.

      Artful? This? Maybe most in being wasteful. If I’m lucky.

  3. deadgod

      Well, reviewing is more, what, pre-targeted than ‘original’ writing. I mean that, even within the generous scope of style, sarcasm/praise, and so on, a review does have an object standing before it and its readers – a novel, say. –where that novel started by sharing only everything as ‘object’ with its eventual readers.

      A review normally has a pretty narrow premise, as it were, in comparison to the anything that could be talked about at any moment.

      I’d meant to refer to playing generally.

      Everything is a game, or is experienced enough like a game to be experienced as a player.

      But when you notice someone slipping a tip off the wrong side of a bar, you think–and maybe say–, ‘Man, don’t steal shit.’

      –a game, sure: everything is a game. But not a “game”, not “playing”, like betting a drink on whether two people leave the bar ‘together’ is playing.

      Your review inspired me to wonder, for a minute, about how I occasionally like conceptual writing–that is, reading that doesn’t relate to much vital outside its own play. But more often I prefer to play the game of pretending to ‘believe’ in characters, plot, fictive consequences.

  4. A D Jameson

      Conceptual writing and the Oulipo are very different things.

  5. Joe Milazzo

      I would not argue any differently. To dilate, though… it bears noting that certain Oulipan writers have discussed their work (and lives) in the context of the conceptual, e.g., Jacques Roubaud, THE GREAT FIRE OF LONDON. But Conceptual Writing, as defined by the contemporary practices of those-names-you-know, is differently conceptual, i.e., it is conceptual largely at the level of reading or reception, not procedure / intent / genesis. From one of my perspectives, anyway.

  6. Joe Milazzo

      To my thinking, the only review here is present in the form of a pretext. Ditto mimesis. Still, these paragraphs do serve as a record of my experience reading Nufer’s book. At the same time, I’m finding I’m more and more concerned with working towards a different (I hesitate to say new) vocabulary and maybe even syntax to cope with the actual cognitive and psychological events — beyond belief and sympathy etc. — transpiring while we read.

  7. A D Jameson

      But when Roubaud says that, he means something very different than what, say, Kenneth Goldsmith or Sol LeWitt would mean by the term conceptual. It’s vitally important not to confuse that, regardless of what terms people casually happen to use.

      Goldsmith has criticized the Oulipo for “editing too much.” That complaint cuts directly to the heart of the matter. True conceptual writing, a la LeWitt, requires that the author relinquish control—”the idea becomes the machine that makes the work.” The author accepts whatever results occur as a result of the originating idea. That is crucial.

      The Oulipo, however, are formalists. They edit their results, believing ultimately in formal unity. They are not conceptual artists, not in the traditional sense, no matter how much they may appear such.

      The difference, ultimately, is the one that Michael Fried described in his classic essay “Art and Objecthood.” The Oulipo are on the side of what Fried called art (aka formalism). Conceptual writing, as practiced by LeWitt and Goldsmith, is objecthood.

      Those respective commitments are extremely important. Indeed, the values of the works, on both sides, depend on that distinction.

  8. Mabool

      while lion tail

      claro, mister sparrow

  9. Joe Milazzo

      Again, I would not disagree, though it is very difficult to monolith-ize either the Oulipians or the various contemporary writers who would describe their work as capital-C Conceptual. And, as it was written: “I think the conflation of Oulipian constraint and conceptual aesthetics has become too easy.” Yet this perception exists, has currency (though not in my private ecnonomy) and is, in fact, supported by certain aesthetic pronouncements associated with each school / movement / whatever, and that seems to me worth pondering.

      Ultimately, Nufer’s novel is neither. It has no dogma. But it is open in it approach to material. Maybe Nufer’s novel is a vision of workable plurality.

  10. deadgod

      Yes… of course, (nearly) every review is pretextual, shaped by and disclosive of the reviewer’s anticipatory forestructures of understanding.

      (Regardless of whether your review’s “text has no desire to organize itself”–if a text “has desire”, self-organization seems to me elemental to that desire, and self-disaggregation, too–, it’s pretty standard on two grounds: a) its paragraphs are consistent and unobscure; and b) its chief pretext–I prefer ‘premise’–, in my view, is the text of the book reviewed. It’s a conventional, (I think) effective “review”.)

      Getting–or finding oneself–beyond conventional ways of writing is a curiously self-interfering ambition (in at least a couple of ways). I would say that writing the inner experience of reading some particular thing would have to be mimetic or sympathetic with respect to that experience, if not with respect to the thing read. –a view innocent of the different vocabulary and syntax that’re your concern to work towards!

  11. Joe Milazzo

      “Getting–or finding oneself–beyond conventional ways of writing is a
      curiously self-interfering ambition (in at least a couple of ways).” Yes, and yes again!

  12. A D Jameson

      Not to be too cheeky, but ignorance isn’t intelligence. If people misunderstand conceptual art, their aesthetic pronouncements don’t strike me as being worth pondering.

      It’s also hardly “monolith-izing” to say the Oulipians aren’t conceptual artists, because they simply aren’t. They’re also not fungi or professional quarterbacks or airplanes.

  13. Joe Milazzo

      What do others thing about this Oulipo – Conceptual diviision?

  14. Donald Dal Maso

      I enjoy reading these comments very much as a doorway to writing of the current day, and I especially enjoy learning about anyone’s view of Jacques Roubaud.

      I’m separated by at least 40 chronological years from most individuals engaging at this site. Not having the humility or strength of character, let alone talent, to try writing fiction I limit myself to traditional criticism. And to keep it as simple as possible I follow first Dr. Johnson’s principles that the task of a critic is to “please and instruct” the public, and second a musician’s duty and training to identify and explore 1) the “structure” of a work of art, and 2) what, for want of better word, is “decoration.”

      Wonder if anybody interested in such things can help me with that second word. I’ve been trying “elaboration” to make the second element more related to “structure.” Every work of art has both–e.g. Sonata Form on one hand and the instrumentation of a piece of music on the other. Having said that, I’ll definitely purchase Nufer’s book.

  15. A D Jameson

      The distinction is simple. Either the author maintains control over the text, or the author doesn’t. Conceptual art requires the author to cede control—Kenneth Goldsmith chooses to collect phrases ending in “r” sounds, and then doesn’t get to dictate which r sounds he gets. He has to go with whatever material life grants him. And Goldsmith doesn’t even have to think in order to do that—he as author no longer has to consciously intervene. The whole idea, in fact, comes out of attempts to get rid of one’s ego (a la Cage). That, indeed, is the very power of conceptual art, and why Goldsmith calls his work uncreative, why he insists you don’t need to read the results (because you don’t—they’re a record of the project).

      Here’s another example: Steve Reich’s “Pendulum Music.” The idea becomes a machine that makes the art. You yourself can sit back and watch it happen.

      The Oulipo, meanwhile, invent formal constraints, then write works that accept and bend around those constraints. Georges Perec decides to write a novel without using the letter E. That decision constrains the text, but it doesn’t write the book for him. If anything, it makes writing the book more difficult. If anything else, it’s now become pure ego—consistent authorial intervention.

      It’s easy to see, from this perspective, how the two are really
      opposites. The Oulipo are invested in invention of new forms, and maintain a formal commitment to the artwork. This is in fact the very source of Goldsmith’s frequent criticism of the Oulipo—”they edit too much.” They don’t just come up with generating concepts and then sit back and let them go.

      Conceptual writing, on the other hand, is invested in the elimination of form, and the removal of conscious intervention in the work. Those are its very commitments—its very foundation as an artistic practice.

      (Of course there are hybrid cases, where an artist starts with a concept, but then edits the results, but that’s not what’s being discussed here.)

      This isn’t anything I’m making up now. This is art history 101. Indeed, I used to teach a freshman class on this very topic, at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. The basic ideas, and the stakes they generate, have been clear since at least the 1960s.

      And I’m sure people misunderstand them all the time. I’m sure there are people out there reading Kenneth Goldsmith now who have no idea who Sol LeWitt was. But so what? The Onion AV Club’s author misuse the word “deconstruction” every chance they get, but Derrida scholars presumably don’t feel the need to consult the Onion AV Club to better understand deconstruction.

  16. Joe Milazzo

      Perhaps I’ve not made myself clear? I respect these distinctions, and am conversant with this 101 too. What I am trying — and apparently failing; apologies — to communicate is that we find ourselves at a very interesting moment in terms of the usage of the terms “constraint”, “Oulipian” and “conceptual”. I.e., they are being used more than ever in our critical discourse, and, in being used, their meanings are changing. In some cases, yes, this new usage is “ignorant” of the history you expertly summarize here. But the fact remains that, right or wrong, these alternative meanings mean something to both readers and writers interacting with texts like Nufer’s (or Aaron Kunin’s work, constraint-based but beholden to no school or movement) and are shaping their perceptions. What happens when the meaning of these terms, which used to be much more stable and, really, local, begins to broaden and disseminate? When connotations emerge into “new” denotations? That interests me.

  17. A D Jameson

      Well, I can get behind that. Terms change of course. “New Wave” went from meaning Jean-Luc Godard to meaning The Stranglers and The Boomtown Rats to meaning New Order. “The New Sincerity” went from meaning Daniel Johnson to Anthony Robinson to Tao Lin. But that’s precisely why one must be clear. The new meaning of the term doesn’t equal the old meaning.

      So moving back to this post, what does applying paraphrased statements from LeWitt’s “Paragraphs on Conceptual Art” to Harry Mathews really get you, in this regard? Cigarettes is not an “[engine] for putting one word, then one sentence, then one paragraph, then one chapter, after another,” and all the writing on the internet won’t make it so. That just looks to me like confusion, apologies—like someone confusing Mathews for LeWitt’s notion of the conceptual.

      And Cigarettes is not a work of LeWittian conceptual art. It’s also not a conceptual novel. It wasn’t by 1967’s terms, and it wasn’t by 1987’s. If the word “conceptual” has by the year 2013 changed such that it makes sense to call Cigarettes conceptual, then fine—state the new meaning and apply it backwards (if one can).

      But that still won’t make Cigarettes a conceptual novel a la Sol LeWitt. Because it isn’t such a thing, and it never will be.

  18. A D Jameson

      “New Wave artists wore skinny ties, which is why the ties that Jean-Paul Belmondo wears in Breathless are relatively skinny. They also used a lot of synths. With that in mind, let’s look at the use of synths in the films of Claude Chabrol…”

  19. Joe Milazzo

      A D — I see. I would not classify CIGARETTES as Conceptual either, though that “engine” remark seems to indicate otherwise. At the same time, there is a constraint that propels the book forward irrespective of Mathews’ authorial “inspiration.” After Le Lionnais: “The goal of potential literature is to furnish future writers with new techniques which can dismiss inspiration from their affectivity.” (François Le Lionnais, 1961).

      IIRC, Mathews has never disclosed the nature of this constraint. Like Nufer’s though, I believe it has something to do with the specific relationships between his characters and how they are paired / grouped in the novel, which I should have made a greater effort to point out here. Also, a good interview with Mathews (conducted by Lynne Tillman) from about the time of CIAGRETTES’ publication can be read here:

  20. A D Jameson

      I wrote a long response to this, but the system seems to have eaten it. I hope it regurgitates it!

  21. deadgod

      The trick would be to talk about 2) in a way that wouldn’t efface – but rather would disclose – the necessity of 2) to the piece–that wouldn’t make 2) seem like a parasitical encrustation better detached from 1) (the ‘real’ work, the ‘real’ source of pleasure and instruction).

      Even “elaboration” – which is good – hints that 1) is there already–and should be there enough.

      Skeleton/musculature? Tissue/vasculature? Girder/rivet?

      –or perhaps accept that something like “ornament” is going to sound added, secondary, disposable, and express the thought constantly that what’s being called elaborative is in fact essential to the work.

  22. deadgod

      Whoa – I just now posted a response to your responses (including the vanished one which blockquoted a bit of Goldsmith’s reading/transcription and employed (deployed?) the vocabulary of “device” and “dominant” with respect to Rowling… that comment) (and to Joe’s remarks). Let me try again:

      When “Goldsmith chooses to collect phrases ending in ‘r’ sounds”, hasn’t he, in his own view, edited too much?

      Can the author evacuate or efface or delete itself completely and there’s still ‘work’–a piece of ‘work’?

      A zone within which there’s nothing closely to read because its “content is entirely accidental”–that’s “conceptual” as opposed to “constrained”. But the fact that it’s a chosen place, that a boundary has been put — that, to me, means not quite “entirely accidental” content.

      I think the distinction (discussed in Adam’s disappeared response) between “constraint” and “concept” is one of degree that does not, by dint of degree, become a difference in kind.

  23. A D Jameson

      Hi deadgod,

      That was the comment! I hope it comes back.

      Goldsmith would say he hasn’t edited too much because he’s referring to not interfering with the results that arise from the originating concept. The idea is, you make up the concept, it drives the work, and once it’s going, you don’t interfere at all.

      Goldsmith’s complaint about the Oulipo is that they aren’t conceptual artists. Or, another way of putting it:

      KG: One of the greatest problems I have with OULIPO is the lack of interesting production that resulted from it. While I like the idea of “potential literature,” it strikes me that their output should have remained conceptual — a mapping, so to speak; judging by the works that have been realized, they might be better left as ideas. On the whole, they embraced a blandly conservative narrative fiction which seems to bury the very interesting procedures that went into creating the works.

      I myself strongly disagree with Goldsmith that the Oulipo’s output is “blandly conservative narrative fiction”—I’m totally opposed to that idea that narrative” = conservative or bland. (Chris Higgs makes a similar attack on all narrative.) But Goldsmith’s comment exposes his artistic commitment. As Kosuth put it in “Art and Philosophy,” the challenge since Duchamp has been find new materials for art. Goldsmith is committed to that vision, and has set about to making artistic materials and practices that haven’t yet been colonized, so to speak, by artistic tradition. Hence his insistence on uncreative writing. (Left unexamined is the idea of whether conceptual artmaking is itself, by now, a blandly conservative practice.)

      The distinction between constraint and concept really is one of kind, not degree. I can’t stress this too much. Indeed, the entire formalist view depends on it. Maybe outside of formalism it’s a matter of degree, but I don’t think that’s true, either. Goldsmith seems pretty insistent on it, too.

      Indeed, as the story goes, when Michael Fried published “Art and Objecthood” in Artforum, the people who were most excited by it were the Objecthood guys. It was the best account to date of what they were trying to accomplish—a non-art or anti-art that didn’t depend at all on using received forms. It was a non-formal type of art, in which pure subjectivity reigned.

      Look at Chris’s most recent post—the one right about this one. He’s totally committed to the objecthood side! Indeed,he wants to read all art as objecthood—to argue that art is ultimately meaningless, and uninterpretable.

      I of course think that’s wrong. Some art is arbitrary and uninterpretable (LeWitt, Goldsmith), but some is formal and therefore non-arbitrary and completely interpretable (the Oulipo). And there are of course hybrid cases, etc., but the basic distinction is extremely important, with numerous consequences. and I think both sides are committed to it. And that isn’t just my opinion or anything, it’s just a summary of pretty mainstream discourse over the past past 50 years of visual art. Which is finally bleeding its way into literature.

  24. Donald Dal Maso

      Provocative, thoughtful–Thank You, DG. Without “decoration” or “elaboration” the structure exists as more of an abstraction than as something living that offers human feeling to others. There are those who believe Bach’s Art of the Fugue should be exactly structure and nothing else: Abstract, mathematical, never to be performed by physical instruments. Stravinsky likewise said he didn’t intend his music to sound beautiful or to mean anything, he intended it only to BE.
      I’m thinking the short route is to keeping saying “decoration” while keeping in mind decoration isn’t icing on a cake and that decoration is as essential an artist’s particular pallette. Would be nice to have a metaphor though.
      Actually it’s ALWAYS nice to have a metaphor. Thanks Again.

  25. deadgod

      I (think I) get the distinction: a word machine is humanly selected, operates without a human operator for some space and time, and then is humanly turned off. With – what – non-conceptual constraint, the human is collaborating with the machine, often (constantly?) reaching into it–without violating its machining of the word product–and choosing words — that is, storytelling.

      That is an effectual distinction. –and Goldsmith perhaps nails its essence when he says (in a quote you repeated in vanishing pixels) that once you get the “idea”, you don’t have to read the product. (I think that’s the gist of something of Goldsmith’s you quoted.)

      But when Goldsmith chooses not to interfere — that is participation. That is decision. That’s editing, albeit of as passive an intervention as possible.

      If one draws a circle – on a sidewalk, say, or in a forest – and says ‘I’m not going into or changing anything inside of the circle’, then one is not only responsible for the difference between ‘in’ and ‘out’ with respect to the circle, but one is also taking responsibility for the content of the circle, even if one does nothing to stop or start that content.

      Enablement is participation.

      Enablement is also interpretable–though perhaps you can’t say much about 4’33” of unplanned sound or ‘everything I read yesterday’–certainly hardly anything about me, outside perhaps of noting my mischievousness.

      (There isn’t much you can say about Shakespeare personally from the evidence of his lyric and dramatic poetry–at least, not much for which there isn’t contradictory evidence. That is one vanished author.)

      I would definitely separate “meaning” from “intention” (and usually prefer not to worry about what can be reasonably inferred of intention–who cares?, in comparison to effect).

      But I think the minimal participation of Goldsmith in his, eh, ‘writing’ is not at zero.

  26. Brooks Sterritt

      Is selection a form of editing?

  27. Joe Milazzo

      If we read a Conceptual book like Goldsmith’s DAY as Conceptual, we are bowing to a meta-intent, are we not? That is, to perceive a Conceptual Art Object ideally, purely, i.e., at first glance, we have first to recognize the point-of-view of the artist declaring it as such. This is authority, is it not, even if that authoritative figure declares him / herself most in pronouncing his / her absention.

      But if we were to read DAY in a conventional sense, as if it were a novel with recognizable characters, events, etc. (not to mention an intelligible syntax)… well, this quickly becomes absurd, if not self-defeating. And it is perverse. But it shifts the Concept and “work’s” focus from the subjectivity of the author to that of the reader. And I would submit that such a reading — essentially conservative, OK, but, in this context, radical — is no less perverse than creating a book that fails to meet one of the basic criteria for books: to be read.

      Goldsmith has always struck me as a more a religious than aesthetic thinker. He’s obsessed with the problem of self, and the extinction of the same. (This being a “first-world problem” as formulated by and in Goldsmith is something about which I’d like to see further discussion, but to go too much into now risks derailment.) And doctrine is one of the media in which he works. There’s a weird Godhead in everything he executes. But Nufer’s novel is much more aesthetic, and thus, I would argue, much more humane.

  28. The difference between a concept & a constraint, part 1: What is a concept? | HTMLGIANT

      […] wrote about this to some extent here, but I wanted to expound on the issue in what I hope is a more coherent form. Because I frequently […]

  29. Other Publications | Joe Milazzo

      […] “By Kelman Out Of Pessoa by Doug Nufer.” HTMLGIANT. January 7, 2013. […]