Divulging process: an electronic footNOTE of a review written for RAIN TAXI
Significant labor is central to most writing practices, and my penchant for producing excessive amounts of material for just about any given context began in earnest as soon as I began scholarly writing two decades ago. I definitely wonder sometimes about the efficiency of my approach to preparing such compositions. To crudely put some numbers on it, to indicate my concerns quantitatively, while recently conducting research involving Gnoetry, I drafted a 7,000 word case study about the collective’s first anthology in order to co-write (with Andrew Klobucar) two conference papers—neither of which, even with my collaborator’s input, totaled more than 5,000 words in length (e.g., see “Players Only Love You When They’re Playin’” in Remediating the Social [ELMCIP conference proceedings 2012]). At other times, as in multi-concern examinations of works by Young-Hae Chang Heavy Industries and John Cayley, I videotape online animated works and transcribe—sometimes frame-by-frame or word-by-word, over the course of many days—a work’s contents and dynamics.
Given the complexities of contemporary textuality, are there alternatives to working this way? It is necessary, in order to have confidence about what I analyze, to have a diligent grasp of the material. I imagine many scholars out there working similarly, yet remain wondering about the efficacy of effort.
On another register, publication reflects effort (of course), but so much textual labor is left behind the scenes, some of which might be useful to others. Many of the fruits of our efforts, observations made during study of an artifact, never make it in to the final product, inevitably remaining buried on our hard-drives or notepads in folders, shelved and of use to no one else. That bothers me a bit.
Thus, most recently, after agreeing to review a book for RAIN TAXI, I decided both to monitor the course and utility of my efforts, as well as offer-up the notational backdrop of this published review.
During the time I allotted to writing the review of The Last Vispo Anthology: Visual Poetry 1998-2008, my home and region were besieged by a 12-day power outage created by hurricane Sandy. During this period, once time to focus on reading opened up, I sat down for five consecutive days and studied the book at the rate of one section per day. Choosing not to use my laptop, I made written comments about everything I saw: there are page-by-page notes, general “running” notes, and technical notes. Normally I compose in digital form; I haven’t hand-written notes on a book to such an extent since closely reading Jed Rasula’s The American Poetry Wax Museum in 1996. The only difficulty I perceived, however, as a result of the absence of Microsoft Word, was not having the word-search function as I went back and forth looking through the information (notations) that accumulated.
Thankfully, power was restored when it came time to write for RAIN TAXI. Not once, drafting the review, did I refer to the thirteen handwritten pages of day-by-day (work specific) notes; I glanced at the technical notes once and looked only to the page of general notes, continuing to grow, as guide. Nonetheless, the cumulative effect of penning summaries, of commenting about each work in the anthology, made writing a review the shortest part of the endeavor; drafting it took less than one-third the amount of time it took to read and consider The Last Vispo Anthology’s contents. From an early stage I began paying close attention to the types of textual performances each author with multiple contributions offered (see technical notes), and it is impossible to avoid noticing the overall variation of approaches to contemporary practices in visual poetry (on display throughout the anthology). Therefore developing something relevant and worthwhile to say was not difficult. Really knowing the book made it possible for me to enable the book to speak for itself. Not wanting to privilege any one artist (or a small number of examples) over others, I initially decided not to address any individual artworks during the first go-round; I did present a list of seventeen artists whose contributions varied to an extreme extent.
After completing a draft, I then perused all my notes again (highlighting a few areas), and made a second mini-set of general notes regarding aspects of the work that could be added if needed. Shortly thereafter, I submitted the review. In reply, Editor Eric Lorberer, while pleased with the piece overall, asked me to choose and discuss three specific artists whose works “excel at performing variably” (i.e., use multiple approaches). At this point, I scoured the technical notes, work specific notes, and the book to begin determining which examples to draw out. I typed up comments about a few artists included in the abovementioned list, and selected the ones which most economically illustrated this tendency, as reflected in the anthology (and in visual poetry), to insert into the review.
Perhaps there’s a reason most notes are absent. What is to be gained by sifting through these scrawled, often brief, comments? I wonder how other critics work, and am inclined to share this material to reveal my underpinnings, and possibly for the sake of discussion. Barely formed, they may be completely boring as text and information, even if my wife opined that they become a kind of visual poem. Is the scrapheap of observation and thought valueless without refinement? Are the various steps of inquiry fine to begin with? Perhaps unexpurgated transcriptions make us vulnerable in all sorts of ways, but they are the nuts and bolts for what emerges in the end.
Now that this commentary is a few words longer than the review itself, onward continues the journey…
—Chris Funkhouser, November 2012
funkhouser [at] adm [dot]njit [dot]edu
Contributors to The Last Vispo Anthology: Visual Poetry 1998-2008: Andrew Abbott, Fernando Aguiar, Sonja Ahlers, Charles Alexander, Reed Altemus, mIEKAL aNd, Bruce Andrews & Dirk Rowntree, Jim Andrews, Harmut Andryczuk, Marcia Arrieta, Dmitry Babenko, Petra Backonja, Gary Barwin, Mike Basinski, Guy R Beining, Derek Beaulieu, Marc Bell & Jason McLean, C Mehrl Bennett, John M Bennett, Carla Bertola, Julien Blaine, Jaap Blonk, Christian Bök, Daniel f. Bradley, Nancy Burr, John Byrum, J. M. Calleja, Mike Cannell, David Baptiste Chirot, Peter Ciccariello, Jo Cook, Judith Copithorne, Holly Crawford, Maria Damon, Klaus Peter Dencker, Brian Dettmer, Fabio Doctorovich, Bill DiMichele, Johanna Drucker, Amanda Earl, Shayne Ehman, Endwar, K. S. Ernst, Eva O Ettel, Greg Evason, Oded Ezer, Jesse Ferguson, Cesar Figueirdo, Luc Fierens, Peter Frank, Tim Gaze, Angela Genusa, Marco Giovenale, Jesse Glass, Robert Grenier, Bob Grumman, Ladislao Pablo Györi, Sharon Harris, Scott Helmes, Crag Hill, Bill Howe, Geof Huth, Serkan Isin, Gareth Jenkins, Michael Jacobson, Miguel Jiminez, Karl Jirgens, Alexander Jorgensen, Chris Joseph, Despina Kannaourou, Andreas Kahre, Satu Kaikkonen, Karl Kempton, Joseph Keppler, Roberto Keppler, Jukka-Pekka Kervinen, Anatol Knotek, Márton Koppány, Richard Kostelanetz, Gyorgy Kostritski, Dirk Krecker, Edward Kulemin, Paul Lambert, Jim Leftwich, The Lions, Joel Lipman, Sveta Litvak, Troy Lloyd, damian lopes, Carlos M Luis, Donato Mancini, Chris Mann, Bill Marsh, Kaz Maslanka, Robert Mittenthal, Gustave Morin, Sheila Murphy, Keiichi Nakamura, Stephen Nelson, Marko Niemi, Rea Nikonova, Jurgen Olbrich, Christopher Olson, David Ostrem, mARK oWEns, Clemente Padin, Michael Peters, Nick Piombino, Hugo Pontes, Ross Priddle, e. k. rzepka, Marilyn R. Rosenberg, Jenny Sampirisi, Suzan Sari, R Saunders, Michael V. Smith and David Ellingsen, Serge Segay, Spencer Selby, Douglas Spangle, Litsa Spathi, Pete Spence, Matina L. Stamatakis, Carol Stetser, Ficus Strangulensis, Mark Sutherland, Thomas Lowe Taylor, Miroljub Todorovic, Andrew Topel, Cecil Touchon, Aysegul Tozeren, e. g. vajda, Nico Vassilakis, John Vieira, Stephen Vincent, Alberto Vitacchio, Cornelis Vleeskens, Derya Vural, Ted Warnell, Irving Weiss, Helen White, Tim Willette, Reid Wood, James Yeary, Karl Young, Mark Young