The fate of echo

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Citation: Craig Dworkin (2011/01/17) The fate of echo. Introduction from "Against Expression: An Anthology of Conceptual Writing" (RSS)
Internet Archive Scholar (search for fulltext): The fate of echo
Tagged: Arts and Literarure (RSS) literature (RSS), poetry (RSS), Art (RSS)


Craig Dworkin’s “The Fate of Echo” is the second introduction (the first, also summarized, is linked below) in the book “Against Expression: An Anthology of Conceptual Writing”. Dworkin begins the essay by introducing how the term “conceptual writing” came about, then he goes on to trace the correlatives between conceptual art and conceptual writing through a series of glosses of conceptual art’s advances via the artists Marcel Duchamp, Dan Graham, John Baldessari, Sol, LeWitt, Lawrence Weiner, and others. The gist of which emphasizes “conceptual art’s impulse to distance the artist from a position of creatively original authorship.”

Importantly, Dworkin makes pains not to equate conceptual art with conceptual writing. He repeatedly insists on their singular differences. This is due to the institutional, media, publication and circulation distinctions between art and writing. Dworkin belabors this point in the second section of the essay titled “Proprietary” by asserting that conceptual art renounced the art object in favor of the written word in order to reconfigure the artist as “deaesthetized,” “deskilled,” “unexpressive” and “nonsubjective,” in addition to reorient art away from its then retinal-dominant trajectory in favor of ideas. Conceptual writing, on the other hand, due to its operating within the literary world, begins and ends with a completely different set of circumstances and parameters than does conceptual art. The most obvious being that it is already, de facto, language. The second, more subtle difference, is that conceptual art called for the dematerialization of the art object in favor of ideas, whereas conceptual writing attempts to materialize language at the risk of denuding language of meaning. Through Dworkin’s careful, thorough analysis, it becomes clear the two are radically different despite sharing some important affinities.

Towards the end of the Proprietary section, Dworkin poses a series of provocative questions in regards to the blurriness art has bestowed upon the supposed distinctions between originality/unorginality and creativity/uncreativity. To this he proposes the following proposal for the anthology: “‘Against Expression’ is a litmus test for the reader’s sense of where the demarcations between creative and uncreative writing lie.”

In the following section, “Appropriation,” Dworkin laments the slow pace of literature to borrow and steal as fervently and acceptably as has Art. He feels it’s only a matter of time before “the literary status of appropriation will be much more like it is for the visual arts today.” However, Dworkin again stresses that appropriation by these two forms is ontologically different due to literature and art being two different media, thus the methods by which they appropriate will vary. Like Kenneth Goldsmith, Dworkin cites digital media as a significant factor for poetry’s inclusion in the art of the steal:

“Conceptual poetry, accordingly, often operates as an interface—returning the answer to a particular query; assembling, rearranging, and displaying information; or sorting and selecting from files of accumulated language pursuant to a certain algorithm—rather than producing new material from scratch.”

In the final section titled “Uncreative Writing,” Dworkin describes the authorial intent (or lack thereof) involved in conceptual writing. The primary role of the this new type of author is to relinquish control “in favor of automatism”, allowing the text to write itself instead of incessantly editing it. The following line puts it most succinctly: “ does not need to generate new material to be a poet: the intelligent organization or reframing of already extant text is enough.”

Theoretical and Practical Relevance

Kenneth Goldsmith's introduction from the same anthology [1]