Page as Canvas (the Visual/Textual Narrative)

Over the centuries, literary narrative, as we have understood it, has been built primarily on text.  However one wishes to organize narrative—whether through standard linearity or a willy-nilly approach—words/language have been at the forefront of our storytelling apparatus. Even the most experimental writers have stuck to that tried-and-true formula. The only break (I am aware of) with this well-worn paradigm is the so-called graphic novel (full-length comic book), whose narrative develops through both textual and visual  means.  Some say this is bona fide literature, and perhaps it is. Still, I am unsure that the graphic novel (over time) will engage us on the level of, say, a Joyce or a Proust—but it certainly incorporates all of the necessary elements we associate with Art.

The success of the graphic novel is a recent development we should be inspired by. Its example points us in the direction of a radical narrative of the future.  Textual and visual elements can be combined to produce an art form of untold possibility. The  page is now our canvas, unrestrained by static text.  We can decide to embed graphics of all kinds in a space heretofore reserved for language. The computer is the means to do so.

The only issue I see on the horizon is how to create a viable narrative out of this new genre.  There must be some sort of cohesive whole to a work, even if the intention is to reject conventionality  for a hodgepodge of image and language. Should there be a plot of some sort?  Perhaps. I would think there must be an overarching theme to a work. But since this new genre is concerned with the visual too, should there be anything that ties it together (especially if it is a long work)?  Does an image have a narrative itself, without textual explication? Does a particular painting, for example, have meaning (narrative) in and of itself?  As I develop my ideas, these are questions I hope to answer.

Duchamp interview, 1968

Duchamp didn’t want to be part of any movement or group (at least officially), if I’ve made sense of this interview.


Anti-poetry should disdain all established forms of poetry.  Anti-poetry should not even be termed “anti-poetry.”

Total negation is creation. 

Rambling thoughts

A new mixed media genre would encompass embedding text (poetry, prose) into a visual (or patterned) environment.  This would all be formulated (created) using a computer. The reason it is a novel approach is because concrete/visual poetry was, at least historically, created using typewriters.   We are now in an age in which the creative process begins and ends with the computer.  In a previous post, I argued that the computer is opening up radically new alternatives for writing and narrative. Thus, the ascendancy of the electronic millennium may, in fact, save literature from becoming an irrelevant art form, a sorry atavism from the industrial age.

Luckily over the last few decades, our tools have  been vastly improved.  We must remember the world of the typewriter was predominantly a black and white (textual) world.  The typewriter is a limiting technology compared to the relative versatility/elasticity of the computer; it is incapable of reproducing color or graphics in a split-second. Thus, the concrete poets of the 1950s were constrained by the technology of their time.  Inasmuch as their innovations were radical—and they were quite radical—they were working with what amounts to Stone Age implements.

I believe we are in a state of flux. There is a vacuum to be filled by (textual) innovation. The conceptual poets have pointed us in a direction that is certainly fruitful.  But they seem to be more concerned with appropriation rather than creation.  I advocate appropriation, certainly, and even plagiarism.  Art is a never-ending cycle of recycling the recycled.  The problem is that appropriation for appropriation sake is a spiritual dead-end.  Art must move us in some fundamental way.  Out of appropriation must come creation.


Make mistakes, be a loser

Roughly five years ago, I began experimenting with language.  I was intent on writing a “long poem”, in the vein of Silliman’s the Alphabet.  Undoubtedly, an ambitious effort on my part.  But, dammit, my language was stilted and derivative. This had been done before, way back in the 1970’s.  It was dated and stale.  My poem was stagnant, immobile.  I was trying desperately to inject some life into lifeless verbiage.  This is what ( I know) was happening to the written word all over—despite what mainstream fantasists concluded: that literature was fine, and great books were being written all the time.  You just had to look harder.

I have been looking, and what I have found, all over, is absolutely wanting. Nothing got me off. But I knew there had to be a way forward.  Ergo, how do we become more radical in our approach to creating new narrative forms?   Only by experimenting and making mistakes. Lots and lots of mistakes.  My long poem was/is a glorious mistake. Indeed, my entire writing career, such as it is, was/is a glorious mistake.  In fact, let me be frank–I have no discernible writing career to speak of. I am a nondescript, regular guy, with a nondescript, regular job, living in a nondescript, regular suburb, etc.,etc.  Truth be told,  I am part and parcel of that loser demographic our depraved elites and professionals have such great contempt for.

That, however, is the point, mes amies. It’s okay to be loser, a failure, a non-entity. This (whatever it is) is, and has been, an intellectual journey. For all of us.  And if I (we) die without finding that missing link that will propel Art (again) into a new hallucinatory, orgasmic, celebratory (etc., etc., etc.) domain—I don’t really give a damn, and neither should you. It’s the journey that counts.