Make It the Same Again: Rethinking the Past and Future of Conceptual Writing

This Friday in Wellington I am speaking on rethinking the pasts and futures of conceptual writing and art as part of a symposium on conceptual writing organized by Anna Jackson and Emma Fenton. I’m looking forward to learning from an exciting group of speakers, including Ruth Buchanan, Malcolm Doidge, and Antonia Barnett McIntosh.

The symposium will be held between 1 and 4pm this Friday 8 March 2019 in room AM103, Alan McDiarmid Building, Kelburn Campus, Victoria University of Wellington. The symposium is open to the public but if you plan to attend, please RSVP to either Anna (anna.jackson@vuw.ac.nz) or Emma (emma.fenton@vuw.ac.nz).

The abstract for my talk appears below.

Make It the Same Again: Thinking Conceptual Writing’s Pasts and Futures “out of the Western Box” 
Conceptual writing as a self-conscious movement in Anglophone literature began in the early 2000s, defining its literary novelty by asserting its belated position vis-a-vis conceptual art. And yet the application of conceptual art practices to literature was itself nothing new. Russian conceptual writers such as Dmitri Prigov and Lev Rubinstein, for instance, had done just that a quarter of a century earlier.
Conceptual writing as an active literary formation in Anglophone literature arguably ended in 2015 with the controversies over the alleged racism of works by its most prominent practitioners, Kenneth Goldsmith and Vanessa Place. And yet conceptual writing’s most vociferous critic, the anonymous online political art group The Mongrel Coalition against Gringpo, itself adopted the conceptual tactics that it simultaneously consigned to literary history.
By addressing these prehistories and afterlives of conceptual writing in English, this paper argues for a more capacious understanding of conceptual writing that would encompass a variety of literary and art practices involving the recycling and re-presentation of texts and images, or what I term “iterative poetics.” Such iterative practices are commonplace across a wide range of contemporary art and literature, from the work of contemporary New Zealand artists like Ruth Buchanan and Louise Menzies to the multilingual and multimedia work of contemporary poets like Hsia Yü and Caroline Bergvall. These iterative or copy practices constitute not just an increasingly dominant literary and artistic form but also a key means through which contemporary artists and writers contest artistic, literary, and cultural authority, including dominant accounts of the pasts and futures of conceptual writing and art.

Published by Jacob Edmond

Jacob Edmond is associate professor in English at the University of Otago, New Zealand. He is the author of Make It the Same: Poetry in the Age of Global Media (Columbia University Press, 2019), A Common Strangeness: Contemporary Poetry, Cross-Cultural Encounter, Comparative Literature (Fordham University Press, 2012), and of numerous essays, which have appeared in journals such as Comparative Literature, Contemporary Literature, Poetics Today, Slavic Review, and The China Quarterly.

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