Blocks

by craigepplin

Is grading papers a good remedy for writer’s block? (Is it block with a k, or is it bloc like eastern?) I’m not sure. But it’s writing of a sort, or at least reading interspersed with scribbling and underlining. I look up from these papers and around my apartment, look around at the walls and open doors and bookshelves from where I’m sitting, and what pops out to me are words, or actually one specific word in all caps: SILENCE. It’s on the spine of a collection of John Cage’s writings, and I’m struck by the fact that this is the most audible word of all. On second thought, though, it shouldn’t surprise me, because I’m not actually hearing it and Cage seems precisely interested in the shrill expressiveness of that which doesn’t speak.

Just like Eugen Gomringer, in a way:

Ever since I became aware of their work, it’s always seemed to me that a central insight in both Cage and the concrete poets is that all expression is mediated: by the air and other delineations of space in the case of music, by graphic impressions in the case of writing. And after about a year of keeping this blog, that is what’s consistently coming to my thoughts about this project: the centrality of media in any conception of nonhuman or extrahuman social existence.

It’s something that I’m pursuing, simultaneously, elsewhere. I’m working on completing a manuscript, based on my doctoral dissertation, about book culture in Argentina, and its central premise is that the medium of the book is no longer something taken for granted in that culture (and in others, of course). Lots of the writers and publishers and collectives that I’m writing about are trying to inscribe into the book object something like its past. Or its trajectory, to use a more cartographic image.

This effort is clearly indissociable from the other fetishes (besides the book) that proliferate all around us, the fetishes known as commodities. The idea of tracing the trajectory of a commodity suggests an effort at unveiling its truth, the reality that makes it possible. I think that this idea is foundational for lots of the projects I’m writing about in Late Book Culture in Argentina. They want to reveal the pathways of the book object.

Thinking about how this manuscript relates to the broader project that I’m exploring and outlining on this site, it seems to me that the artists I’m increasingly drawn to work in the opposite way: they don’t try to reveal what underlies the medium. Rather, they try to walk around in it, reach across it, manipulate it, and see what sorts of collectives are summoned into existence by it. This doesn’t mean that they idealize the collective units that arise from these actions, but they certainly don’t seem motivated by the notion of revealing a trajectory. They rather take the medium as a point of departure for the construction of ecologies, complexes of explicitly interfacial existence.

I’m not sure, at this point, how to qualify this gesture.