The Alan Sondheim Mail Archive

May 7, 2012

Recent Books I'm In and Why They're Good

Ok, this is a bad way to begin reviews/announcements of some recent books
that discuss my work (in the midst of others of course); I'm not sure how
to do this modestly, or whether modesty would even be an issue. For me
these books have been important because much of what I've done, I thought
lost; my career is one of constant falterings, restarts, occasional
moments when it seems as if things are going to turn out well - then more
falterings, and so forth. I begin constantly; it's only a matter of time
before I collapse.

The truth is I also like these books for all sorts of reasons, so here

The most recent is also the most expensive, Garry Neill Kennedy's The Last
Art College: Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, 1968-1978, MIT Press,
2012, around $70. I taught there several times during this period, as a
visiting artist or visiting faculty. The school was amazing; it had a
world-wide reputation with people like Vito Acconci, Laurie Anderson, and
Joseph Beuys coming up. There's a lot on Dan Graham and Ian Murray, who
was a student and catalyst at the time. The book's over 450 pages long,
large format, and includes a lot of work and statements by the people who
came through. NSCAD was a kind of paradise; students and faculty were
given tremendous latitude in their projects, and everyone was treated as
as valuable, and an artist. Simone Forti, Gerhard Richter, and Michael
Snow made books for the NSCAD Press. A lot of the energy and genius of the
place emanated from David Askevold, who headed the Projects class.
Krzysztof Wodiczko and Emmett Williams and Charlemagne Palestine were
there. Dorit Cypris and Sharon Kulik were students, Martha Wilson and
Kasper Koenig were there. I'm not sure of Martha's affiliation. The school
had a conceptual bent, but this was translated into thinking about and
through performance, painting, sculpture, and life. These were formative
years for me; in particular, I owe a lot to David and Ian. I wouldn't get
the book for me, however (god, what hubris); the totality of the volume
really shows what's possible in art education, and why art schools - which
seem to be on the decline (as is art education in the US at least, another
matter) - are really important in the world.

Along with this, Peggy Gale edited Artist Talk, 1969-1977, NSCAD Press,
2004 - transcriptions of talks given at the school. Artists include
Acconci, Carl Andre, Joseph Beuys, James Lee Byars, Dan Graham, Lawrence
Wiener, Patterson Ewen, Daniel Buren, and so forth - all males, it should
be noted (which is one of its faults - Laurie for example also gave a
talk). I'm in this as well with 43 pages of strangeness.

Even more recently than Kennedy's book, Jason Weiss just edited Always in
Trouble: An Oral History of ESP-DISK, The Most Outrageous Record Label in
America, Wesleyan University Press, 2012. Again, I'm part of the "oral."
This book documents the company, which for all intents and purposes
introduced the free jazz of Albert Ayler, Pharoah Sanders, and Guiseppi
Logan; Michael Snow is in this as well. Ayler died years ago; the people
interviewed include Sunny Murray, Amiri Baraka, Gato Barbieri, William
Parker, Burton Greene, Logan, Roswell Rudd, Marion Brown, Milford Graves,
Ishmael Reed, John Tchicai, Gunter Hampel, and Sonny Simmons, among
others. There's a large section on Bernard Stollman, who founded the
company. If you're interested in free jazz, new music, experimental music,
alternative-anything, this book, I think, is a must read, along with
Valerie Wilmer's As Serious As Your Life: The Story of the New Jazz. And
the music (forget me here) is unbelievable; both books serve as reasonably
good guides.

Chris Funkhouser has published two books on electronic writing; the latest
is New Directions in Digital Poetry, Continuum, 2012. There's a section on
me, for which I'm grateful. This is the best book I've seen on the subject
- it follows up on Funkhouser's Prehistoric Digital Poetry: An Archaeology
of Forms, 1959-1995, Alabama, 2007. I'm in this as well. What Chris has
done, in both, is present the works of a great number of people, along
with commentary/theory; the writers/poets/artists include David Daniels,
Jim Andrews, Philippe Bootz, mIEKAL aND, Laurie Anderson, Brian Kim
Stefans, Stephanie Strickland, John Cayley, Mez (Mary Anne Breeze), Talan
Memmott, Caitlin Fisher, Sandy Baldwin, Deena Larsen, and many others. New
Directions is divided into case studies, Prehistoric focuses on history,
but both volumes overlap past and present. I love Funkhouser's writing,
which is clear, energetic, amazingly lucid, and really useful for anyone
trying to follow the roots and current landscape of an incredibly messy
area of contemporary - what? literature, programming, poetry, thought,
culture, interactive work, new media? The books are exciting with numerous

The intensity of Maria Damon's art and writing is phenomenal; her
Postliterary America, From Bagel Shop Jazz to Micropoetics, Iowa, 2011,
includes a section on my work under "Diaspora"; this is one of the most
detailed critiques of it I've seen. I really like the book for its longer
studies - on Lenny Bruce, Bob Kaufman, Adeena Karasick, and Gertrude
Stein. Damon writes from the trenches; she's always in there with the
people she discusses. There's a warmth to the work, as well as an urgency
in the midst of the academy - an urgency, that this kind of outre work
_matters,_ that it matters as a kind of cultural force, that something of
value is happening on the outskirts (Benjamin comes to mind; he's also
referenced). I find when I'm reading, today, I'm reading so much of the
time in the margins (for example, George MacDonald's No End of No-Story in
Christopher Rick's anthology of Victorian Verse, Oxford, 1987 - which I
highly recommend), where the scaffolding of the world seems more at home
and oddly grounded, than it does in any canon or somewhat well-defined
genre. It's there, that the classical world trembles, dissolving not in
the usual classical-romantic pseudo-distinctions, but in the realm of
something utterly something else. And Damon, to be sure, brings this
subaltern to light.

Three other mentions, all somewhat older - a book on Gazira Babeli of
Second Life, edited by Domenico Quaranta, fpeditions 2008 - I have an
essay in it (among several others, including one by Patrick Lichty), I Met
my Baby, Out Behind the Gaz-Works. Gaz was my favorite artist in the
virtual world, and it was his work that started me thinking philosophic-
ally about its possibilities. If you don't know his work (or Patrick
Lichty's for that matter), you should! The second book is Wolf Lieser's
Digital Art, Art Pocket, h.f.ullmann, 2009; I'm only discussed briefly,
but the volume is really excellent, with articles by Mark Tribe, Tilman
Baumgartel, Domenico Quaranta, and others. Lots of illustrations and
excellent texts. People discussed include Marius Watz, Manfred Mohr, Ken
Goldberg, Harold Cohen, Vic Cosic, Jodi, Eva and Franco Mattes, and Gaz.
Finally, going way back to 1994, Uncontrollable Bodies, Testimonies of
Identity and Culture, edited by Rodney Sappington and Tyler Stallings, Bay
Press, Seattle - this is a great collection of disturbed and disturbing
texts (including a section of mine), by such writers as Lynne Tillman,
Trinh T. Minha-ha, Leslie Dick, Dennis Cooper, Vivian Sobchack and Scarlot
Harlot. My contribution was written when I was at a low point, and it's
all there in the text. Tyler's coming to visit this week, and I pulled out
the volume, remembering how good it is.

I've not included any of my own books or chapbooks or magazine reviews or
interviews - see how modest I am! But I did want to briefly describe the
books above, since A. I haven't really talked about them before, and B.
I'm a part in all of them, although often a minor part, and C. for the
most part, the editors or authors 'got it right' as far as I'm concerned,
and D. it's comforting finally to be a part of something, to have some
sort of acknowledgment. I can recommend all of them 'besides me' - they're
valuable, and good reading/looking. And thanks for reading, here, this

- Alan

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