Information as Material
Last week I took part in The Summer School for Literary Perverts at The Whitechapel Gallery. Under the watchful eye of current writers in residence information as material, around eighteen of us spent three days pulling apart a library assembled of the attendees favourite books, using these existing texts as material for extended and experimental readings, cut up projects and exercises in gonzo self-publishing. Stupidly I didn't take too many pictures of our space (apart from the one above), but this little film from 2008 gives a very good idea of what we ended up with.
Each day began with a lecture; Simon Morris talked us through the brilliant poetic anarchy of his projects The Royal Road to the Unconscious (2003) and Getting inside Jack Kerouac's head (2010); Nick Thurston spoke on the subject of experimental reading - exploring the specificities of the reading space; and finally, writer and translator Kate Briggs looked at experimental criticism, unpicking and tracking the emotional experience of reading. All were exceptional.
I really appreciated hearing about this possible interspace between modes of art and literature (something I've been trying to square for a while) and also the emphasis on a physical engagement with text, something which has interesting performative connotations of its own.
There was so much to take in that I probably can't do it justice here but I intend to write more when I've read Craig Dworkin's Perverse Library; a love letter to the olfactory and textural/textual joys of reading, published by iam.
I spent the large part of my time working with traces and clues left behind in the assembled books. I find these markers really interesting and poetic, particularly when they function as instructions or editorial suggestions imposed on the text by the reader, tracking their own experience and informing future readers of a shared, hand me down volume of text.
This manifested in several ways - first in the inclusion of some abrupt 'blackouts' in a copy of Harold Pinter's The Caretaker and secondly in creating a fully edited version of Vilém Flusser's Towards a Philosophy of Photography purely based on the passages, lines and words underlined by the owner of the book. I liked the idea of creating an 'essential' working version of a text as so often happens when using essays for critical work. The resultant texts were telling, and possessed an accidental poetry here and there;
e.g. The chapter titled The Technical Image was reduced to;
no everyday activity
which does not aspire to be photographed, filmed, videotaped. a general desire to be endlessly remembered and endlessly repeatable.
in order to be translated into a state
action and agony
whereas the chapter titled Why a Philosophy of Photography is Necessary, resulted in a blank page.
This ended up tying in nicely with Kate Briggs lecture and her extension of Barthes idea of Pathetic Criticism - a mode of reading whereby a text is reconstructed only by means of its most vividly remembered fragments.
When we look a back at a text, we judge it only on the pool of remnants that have happened to stick. We can never judge the book as a whole - we rewrite and re edit unconsciously. Bending words to our will.
The emphasis of the week was on experiment and play as an essential companion to genuine intellectual enquiry. Another interesting thought was the idea that artistic methods of hands-on making and interaction with material should form a facet of any critical work. This really did it for me and I'm very glad to have come into contact with information as material for many reasons, not least their energy, their obsession with Samuel Beckett and their occupation with sincerely brilliant, absurdist gestures such as this;
I now feel a little less bad about throwing that copy of Beyond the Pleasure Principal against the wall....
Read more about iam's projects at www.informationasmaterial.com
An Autum School for Digital Perverts will take place at the Whitechapel Gallery later this year.