Rewriting the Book

Sven Lütticken

It was probably not necessary to devote a whole volume to such an announcement, but I had to bow to public opinion, which wants volumes.

Paul Chan reading from Charles Fourier’s ‘Advice to the Civilized About the Coming Social Metamorphosis’ (1830), as recorded in My Own Private Alexandria[i]

I have one word for you Bradbury: Kindles.

From an customer review of Fahrenheit 451[ii]

While the art market is still dependent on unique objects and on ‘limited editions’, the individual work of art is more than ever an iteration in a series of repetitions, or rather of operations that involve digital modes of circulation-as- production directly or indirectly. A number of current critical buzzwords can serve as indices of this fundamental change in the nature of the artwork. Take transitivity: David Joselit has recalled the Oxford English Dictionary definition of ‘transitive’ as ‘expressing an action which passes over to an object,’ adding that ‘I can think of no better term to capture the status of objects within net- works—which are defined by their circulation from place to place and their subsequent translation into new con- texts—than this notion of passage’.[iii] Hito Steyerl’s term circulationism, as our digital version of productivism, makes the political aspects of our constant re-performing of digital images explicit, while Joselit focuses on forms of painting that reflect (on) this condition in non-digital materials.[iv] Yet which materials can still be said to be intrinsically analogue? Rubrics such as post-Internet art and the New Aesthetic emphasise that works executed in all kinds of media and materials are informed by a digital logic of production-cum- circulation: from objects that come out of a 3D printer to performances.

It is perhaps not surprising that, at this juncture, a type of cultural artefact whose status has been thrown into a much more acute crisis by digitisation should become the focus of attention in contemporary artistic practice. The artwork becomes an exploded book. At the far edge of the Gutenberg Galaxy, Paul Chan’s work in particular constantly revisits elements of the culture of the book— publishing, typography, the book’s material and immaterial aspects. Chan’s 2012–13 installation Volumes [fig. 1] reduces books to their covers, and turns those covers into pictorial supports. Chan has gutted the volumes, mounted them on frames, and painted on their surface. The real composition, however, is not that of any given individual ‘Volume’, but of the ensemble. Furthermore, Volumes itself has to be seen as part of a wider constellation that includes Chan’s ‘font pieces’, as well as his ongoing project, Badlands Unlimited.

To be sure, they do not have the same status: Volumes is an art installation in a collection in Basel, whereas Badlands Unlimited is a publishing company. Not all of Chan’s culturally significant activities are easily subsumed under the notion of ‘artistic oeuvre’. Much has been said and written, by Chan himself and by others, about the relation between his ‘activist’ and his ‘artistic’ activities; rather than try to forge one integrated aesthetico-activist practice, as some artists attempted to do in the 1960s and 1970s, Chan opts for differentiation.[v] This does not mean that his activities are compartmentalised in rigidly distinct yet overlapping categories; instead, there is a continuum composed of categorical shifts. To isolate Volumes, or to discuss the piece only in conjunction with other certified artworks by Chan, would be a fatal misunderstanding and misrepresentation of his practice, as would be isolating Chan’s book and font works from other contemporary interventions in the crisis and reinvention of the book.

1. Paul Chan’s Book Club

There is more to Volumes than meets the eye, and what meets the eye is already considerable. One is confronted with a three-dimensional patchwork grid of mounted book covers in various sizes, mostly largish, with a bewildering variety of titles. The flattened covers have been tilted ninety degrees, so we are presented with vertical rectangles—like traditional book pages, in fact. Many of these books presumably had dust jackets, but all that remains now are the covers themselves, often with just the title on a monochrome surface. Subjects range from artists (Antonio Canova, William Wegman) and popular culture (The Art of Walt Disney, The MGM Story) to the likes of A Guide to Microwave Cooking and The Dow Jones-Irwin Guide to Personal Financial Planning (Second Edition). As one peruses the ex-books, some motifs emerge—cooking, business, art—but it is hard to say what meaning one should attribute to this, if any. But before even starting to look at individual books and combinations thereof, one takes in the whole, which may strike one as a materialised Google Images search. The Volumes in their loose grid are like JPEGs that made the leap into our lumbersome, cumber- some three-dimensional world. In fact, while Volumes may appear at first to be an almost reassuring example of gallery-based contemporary art—as opposed to digital-born ‘new media art’—the piece is in fact thoroughly informed by digitisation.

Volumes comes at a moment when the book is clearly in crisis, when the Gutenberg era is coming to an end. The crucial importance of print and of the book in shaping the modern world has been noted by a wide variety of authors— from Heinrich Heine’s and Karl Marx’s remarks on the key role played by the printing press in the Reformation; to Marshall McLuhan’s sweeping statements on ‘typographic man’ and modern rationalism and industrialism; to Benedict Anderson’s notion of ‘print capitalism’ and the importance of ‘imagined communities’ enabled by the press in the formation of the modern nation state; to Régis Debray’s take on ‘print socialism’, focusing on the emergence of socialist thought courtesy of that same technology and its dissemination.[vi] Many of the selections in Volumes hardly live up to the book’s historical role, representing instead an overproduction that is itself a symptom of crisis rather than a sign of health. In a context marked by both inflationary book production and an increasing move to digital formats (especially e-books), the piece might strike one as melancholy—and, indeed, as an aesthetic sublimation of the Google Books scanning operation.

As such, the installation also invokes an urban myth that ‘apparently, somewhere at Google headquarters there is a wall featuring the destroyed covers and spines of many of those books that have made their way into the Google database’.[vii] In fact, according to the ‘origin myth’ of Volumes, the piece stemmed from an altercation between two visitors at the 2010 New York Art Book Fair, who got into a fight over whether Badlands—which publishes e-books as well as print—was ‘destroying books’.[viii] With Volumes, Chan took the accusation literally, though his destruction of these books is also a rescue of sorts. It is just as well that Chan turned Guinness World Records 2007 into art, as it is just about the only use that such an instantly obsolete sub-book has, apart from being pulped. Good luck selling your second-hand copy—through, presumably, someone did manage to flog theirs to Chan. This is not to say, however, that Volumes is ultimately a sombre monument of mourning. Quite the contrary, in fact.

The book has become a privileged object in contemporary art. In a series of pamphlets published by castillo/corrales called ‘The Social Life of the Book’, Oscar Tuazon has compared the status of the book today with that of painting after the invention of photography, arguing that the book ‘finally has to stand on its own, autonomous and abject, just a thing. Those volumes of poetry, unread and beautiful, flagrantly, offensively useless, narcissistic and perverse, onanistic, queer—that is what a book wants to be. Autonomous and indifferent, an abstract book’.[ix] Tuazon’s phrasing is not without resonance in the context of Volumes; that project would indeed seem to be a case of an artist turning existing volumes into ‘autonomous and indifferent’, ‘abstract’ books. One could also think of Richard Prince’s collecting of books, and the integration of this collecting into his art making. The comparison with Volumes is instructive.

In Prince’s series Untitled (Originals) (2007–) and American English (2005–), the focus is on books as objects and images—as image-objects. The Originals show pulp paperbacks next to the ‘original’ cover painting, whereas American English is a series of works combining US and UK editions of the same book. Most of the books in this latter series count as literature, but Prince’s selection is of such a nature that this distinction between popular and high culture, which appears clear-cut at first, ultimately collapses. Prince’s 2011 exhibition at the Bibliothèque nationale de France contained a pulp-looking ‘Original’ for Kerouac’s Lonesome Traveller (1960), and a ‘literary’ Olympia Press as well as a ‘US pulp’ cover for Burroughs’ first novel Junkie (1953). But this blurring of boundaries is to some extent counteracted by the erection of class distinctions between the books themselves, some of which are treasured as fetish-objects  while others are integrated into the American English pieces. To be sure, one might say that all these books are now useless and ‘queer’—not intended to be used as books. Prince’s assemblage works take this process a step further than those books from his collection that he keeps, that he does not reprocess and circulate.

Prince is not above including forgeries—a small ‘Reading Room’ at the BnF contained an assemblage with hundreds of pulp books ‘authored’ by Prince’s alter ego Fulton Ryder. Fulton Ryder is also the name of Prince’s website/web shop, which sells art as well as books.[x] Whereas the ‘publications’ section offers the artist’s own catalogues and artists books (as well as catalogues by other artists to which he contributed), the ‘books’ rubric offers a selection of books from his collection on a variety of characteristic subjects (art, counterculture, sex). Rare books (usually marked ‘NFS’) can be found under ‘objects’, while works from the Originals series are under ‘art’. What is characteristic of all of these iterations of the book in

Prince’s practice is an affective or libidinal investment in the ‘original’, whether it is cheap or expensive, pulp paperback or serious hardback. The books are turned into ‘onanistic’ objects precisely because of this investment. With Volumes, on the other hand, they are objectified insofar as they are quasi-exchangeable. Yes, obscure and unstated criteria appear to have guided the selection process, but the process might still have resulted in a different selection.

To the covers of Volumes, Chan has added compos- itional elements: painted rectangles that are mostly black, white, or bluish grey. While their placement on the covers at times evokes moments from the history of abstract painting, from Kazimir Malevich to Hans Hofmann, many of these rectangles are not empty ‘blanks’ (to use a Warholian term) but rather little landscape paintings, specifically black or grey evocations of mountains that unmistakably reference Chinese rather than Western landscape painting. Possibly it is a little in-joke by Chan that Volumes includes the cover of an art book on Marlene Tseng Yu’s Forces of Nature series—Tseng Yu being a Chinese-American artist known for large-scale paintings that blend elements from Chinese painting traditions with Abstract Expressionism.

The montage of the book covers and the ‘landscapes’ with their connotations of Chinese landscape painting, and the remediation of such motifs in Chinese woodblock prints, suggests opening up the history of print: there is, in fact, a longer and substantially different history of printing in China and Korea, which encompasses not just woodblock printing but also movable type. There has never been one single ‘print culture’. For the West, to be sure, Debray’s characterisation of the ‘age of reason and of the book, of the newspaper and political party’ is apt: ‘The poet or artist emerges as guarantor of truth, invention flourishes amid an abundance of written references; the image is subordinate to the text’.[xi] McLuhan would add that the book in fact privileges the visual, the sense of sight, and that the printed book and Renaissance perspective are compatible ‘inventions’, positing a single observer, a reasoning individual. Furthermore, according to McLuhan, during the nineteenth century the book was already under threat by the news- paper, which with its simultaneous montage provided a less linear and more ‘oral’ form of print. Modernist poetry and literature picked up on this and transformed the book into a polyphonic, typographic ensemble.[xii]

Clearly, the history of the book is fractured and manifold, and sweeping claims equating one technology or medium with a specific cultural formation should be distrusted. Catlike, the book may have far more than one social life. The interest among contemporary artists, designers, theorists, and publishers in ‘the social life of the book’ is indicative of the need to go beyond ‘will the e-book kill the paper book?’ debates and reconceptualise the book as a social assemblage. In today’s small-scale publishing and distribution ventures, including Badlands, the lines between writer, editor, publisher, and reader are blurred. And it is not only books, of course, but also magazines and various other types of publication, such as the Occupied Wall Street Journal—for which Chan designed a poster in 2011—and several cheaply produced free zines that emerged in the wake of OWS.[xiii] Just like Volumes, Badlands gives books an afterlife: Saddam Hussein’s On Democracy (2012), for instance, which thanks to Badlands is now available in English and can take its rightful place on the bookshelf next to Sarah Palin’s Good Tidings and Great Joy: Protecting the Heart of Christmas (2013). Naturally, the latter also comes in a Kindle edition.

This is a very different outfit than Prince’s Fulton Ryder site, which reprocesses old paper volumes. With Badlands, Chan and his associates are developing new ways of conceiving and ‘situating’ books, creating new social- technological assemblages. Ultimately, what is crucial is precisely the dialogue—the dialectic—between these and other projects, which mutually critique and complement each other. For Chan, the book is a problematic and mutable thing; and ‘a thing is not a thing but an assembly of relations’.[xiv] Such an assembly of relations exists through forms of performance that may be more or less normative, more or less normalised: a book can be performed by reading it individually, discussing it collectively, scanning it electronically, or tearing it apart and painting over the cover. If the book is no longer a physical book but a digital file, then that file has to be activated—performed—through the use of some kind of software in order to turn the code into legible text.[xv] This kind of data performance differs from that of a physical book in that the source can be altered with relative ease. Files can always be ripped and manipulated; and in contrast to Chan’s literal ripping of the Volumes books, this seems a completely normal (rather than vaguely barbaric) act. In the process, the distinction between con- sumers and producers becomes blurred—which the horrible term ‘prosumer’ tries to articulate.

Faced with a post-human plenitude of data, the prosumer no longer produces for or consumes as a member of an abstract ‘general public’. Instead, he or she has be- come a networked performer, engaging in the production, distribution, and reception of books as social entities. This shift is exemplified by, for instance, the Publication Studio initiative:

We attend to the social life of the book. Publication Studio is a laboratory for publication in its fullest sense—not just the production of books, but the production of a public. This public, which is more than a market, is created through physical production, digital circulation, and social gathering. Together these construct a space of conversation, a public space, which beckons a public into being.[xvi]

In another approach, you can hire an expert to help you organise a ‘Book Sprint’ that will allow a group to collaboratively structure and write an entire publication in three to five days, with an e-book and print-on-demand book as a result.[xvii]

The aim of these processes would seem to be the production of assemblies: of assemblies of subjects occasioned by the (digital) object. Marx observed that ‘[p]roduction … produces not only the object but also the manner of consumption, not only objectively but also subjectively. Production thus creates the consumer’.[xviii] What it also produces is the producer, and now the prosumer. In today’s publishing we see a proliferation of a new kind of ‘book club’: small-scale publishing outfits that are as much about the creation of groups and networks as they are about the book as object. For such book clubs, the book-in- progress functions as an actor impacting the people producing it, who have set up the whole process in response to the exigencies and antinomies of contemporary cultural and intellectual practice and who are in turn affected by the agency of the thing they bring forth.[xix] Badlands is clearly part of this tendency. And Badlands is in turn part of a wider book club, or book network, that includes other works and activities by Chan.

One could imagine a constellation of adjacent spaces: an exhibition space with Volumes, and a Badlands book- store, which also hosts events such as talks and book launches. Or perhaps a Badlands Lounge, in analogy to Alfredo Jaar’s Marx Lounge, first realised in 2010, which presents a wide selection of currently available Marxist books in a space with comfortable sofas. And the Badlands office might be right in the back, as a not-so-hidden abode of production. These espèces d’espaces would be comple- mentary. While Badlands is busy reconfiguring the book for the present, Volumes too transforms, dis- and refigures books, de- and recomposes; Volumes is an assembly of quizzical things full of theological whims, inviting you to include yourself in the constellation.

2. Reading Out Loud

Another type of textual performance is the public reading of texts, in the form of lectures or audiobooks.[xx] As the written word is mutating, it spawns a new oral culture—but one that continues to be informed by writing, rather than being its abstract negation. Paul Chan’s 2006 online archive My Own Private Alexandria partakes of this new orality. The piece is a collection of MP3 files in which Chan reads out loud from some of his favourite critical, theoretical, and literary writings. The project was triggered by the death of Susan Sontag, but also—rather more obliquely—by the Iraq War. As Chan put it:

I’m so tired of this war and numb from the fear of the slightest sound and shadow. I just want to leave. Escape. So I read. It helps to think about the history of philistinism and the uses of silence and how color is sex but it’s not enough. So I start to record myself reading. And I realize how little I know the reading I’m reading. It gets better. I can’t pronounce German, French, Russian, Chinese, Brazilian, Latin, not even English sometimes. I don’t care. A task is what I want: to measure the time spent escaping into words that string together sentences that become essays about potatoes and trousers and aesthetic revolutions. I listen and they sound okay. I even like the stammers.[xxi]

My Own Private Alexandria is an online audio library for a world gone wrong. If the original Library of Alexandria did not survive the collapse of the ancient world, this small audio library is an oblique response to the global cataclysm that passes for our world order. The Library of Alexandria stands for the triumph but also the fragility of writing as a medium that stores cultural memory—an enormously productive but also dangerous pharmakon, to use Bernard Stiegler’s terminology.[xxii] The introduction of printing enabled the proliferation of libraries throughout the modern world. Now, as libraries are being digitised, our stored memories morph and mutate, and our brains are being rewired to come to terms with the new technosocial order.

In the 1960s, Marshall McLuhan heralded a ‘new orality’. The mechanistic and rationalistic age of print, which had privileged the sense of sight, was drawing to a close; television was inaugurating a ‘global village’ in which, in McLuhan’s  view, the more encompassing acoustic and oral culture of tribal societies returned. Just when McLuhan’s thesis on the end of print and the new orality had their greatest impact, in 1966, François Truffaut presented his film version of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 (1953), in which a book-burning dictatorship spawns a resistance movement of people who preserve books by learning them by heart. The externalised memory, the printed pharmakon, is internalised. Recently, Fahrenheit has been at the basis of a project by Mette Edvardsen, Time has fallen asleep in the afternoon sunshine, for which the artist and/or others memorise a book of their choice and become  ‘living books’. The performances take place in libraries, and the ‘books’ can be consulted by visitors, one at a time.

In the age of the e-book and online file sharing, this project mirrors and morphs contemporary narratives about digitisation and ‘dematerialisation’ in complex ways. On the one hand, the memorising ploy is related to Bradbury’s fiction, in which books were physically destroyed even more radically than in the aforementioned ‘Google books myth’; and when books can suddenly disappear from e-readers, because it turns out that even though you bought them you do not own them, Fahrenheit has an unsettling con- temporary resonance. On the other hand, memorising books could hardly appear to be more anachronistic in an age in which we have vast repositories at our fingertips, and can be ever more reliant on search functions. As Edvardsen remarks:

To memorise a book, or more poetically ‘to learn a book by heart’, is in a way a rewriting of that book. In the process of memorising, the reader for a moment steps into the place of the writer, or rather he/she is becoming the book. Maybe the ability to learn a whole book by heart is relative to what book you choose, the time you invest, and perhaps your skills. But, however much or well you learn something by heart you have to keep practicing it otherwise you will forget it again. Perhaps by the time you reach the end you will have forgotten the beginning. Learning a book by heart is an ongoing activity and doing. There is nothing final or material to achieve, the practice of learning a book by heart is a continuous process of remembering and forgetting.[xxiii]

For a number of years, the Utrecht-based feminist art collective Read-in had been organising unannounced reading event in people’s private homes—ringing doorbells and asking if whoever opens would mind hosting a reading group for a few hours. The home as private space par excellence—a traditionally feminine space—is turned into a semi-public forum. Taking cues from Edvardsen, in 2014, Read-in organised a project that focused not just on collective reading and discussion, but also on memorisation—again referencing Bradbury explicitly.[xxiv] After spending four days with a small group at Casco in Utrecht, a public event with an expanded group started at Stedelijk Museum Bureau Amsterdam, with the group going from door to door and being eventually able to hold a final reading discussion in a living room.

The text that had been the subject of memorisation and discussion all week was the famous 1851 speech known as ‘Ain’t I a Woman?’ by a former slave who called herself Sojourner Truth. A subject of discussion during this Read-in session were the different transcriptions of Soujourner Truth’s spoken words in various printed versions of her speech. Even though she was born in New York and her first language was Dutch, and the first published version of her speech did not seek to render any particular accent, a later version that became canonised rendered her speech as that of a stereotypical African-American from the South, by implication casting her in the role of an ‘oral primitive’: ‘Den dey talks “about dis ting in de head. What dis dey call it?” “Intellect,” whispered someone near. “Dat’s it, honey.

What’s dat go to do with women’s rights or nigger’s rights? If my cup won’t hold a pint, and yourn holds a quart, wouldn’t ye be mean not to let me have my little half- measure full?”’[xxv]

In keeping with this problematical transition from the oral to the written, this version of Read-in focused not only on reading and discussion but also on memorising (this text in particular, in its various versions). The focus on learning by heart raised many issues about the transmission of knowledge and the externalisation of memory in an age by the shift towards the digital pharmakon. Though Chan reads texts aloud in My Own Private Alexandria, the aim here is not memorisation but rather the creation of another kind of externalised, digitized memory in the form of his audio archive. Like Evardsen’s and Read-in’s projects, My Own Private Alexandria is an attempt to problematise and ultimately reinvent the book—not as static object but as pharmakon that co-produces human (inter)subjectivity.

One of the texts read by Chan is Charles Fourier’s ‘Advice to the Civilized About the Coming Social Metamorphosis’, in which the utopian socialist advises people on how to prepare for the coming age of ‘universal harmony’. His advice basically amounts to: do not stress out too much and enjoy the present, but investing in timber and precious metals might be a good idea, because there will be a building boom and mining is so gruesome that nobody will want to do it. At the latter point, Chan audibly chuckles. There are various moments throughout Alexandria when he repeats a line he flubbed, or is startled or touched by the text. ‘This is so sad,’ we hear him mutter when reading C. L. R. James’s letter to Constance Webb, in which James sets forth his heartbreakingly utopian faith in a marriage of dialectical reason and poetry, of historical philosophy and sensuous plenitude, resulting in a life liberated and transformed.

Of course, like the Google Books project (which was well underway by 2006), and like the ever-expanding online archive of audio and video recordings of lectures, My Own Private Alexandria contributes to an immense repository, not of knowledge so much as potential knowledge— information that needs to be actualised in some manner, absorbed and integrated into lived practice. Chan’s imperfect readings show a process of intellectual labour that is shaped by events that are as public as they are private. His audio files are clearly only a momentary freeze-frame of what is an activity without end. Information on its own is meaningless; it becomes knowledge by becoming enmeshed with life, by becoming part of the assembly of relations. In the case of Volumes, this meant destroying the books as books, and recomposing their constituent elements.

3. The New Scannability

In the 1940s, surveying the worlds of academia and mass culture alike, Max Horkheimer complained that thinking has been ‘made part and parcel of production’, and that language has been ‘reduced to just another tool in the gigantic apparatus of production in modern society. Every sentence that is not equivalent to an operation in that apparatus appears to the layman just as meaningless as it is held to be by contemporary semanticists who imply that the purely symbolic and operational, that is, the purely senseless sentence, makes sense. Meaning is supplanted by function or effect in the world of things and events’.[xxvi]

While this passage exudes more than a whiff of German intellectual snobbery vis-à-vis pragmatic Ameri- cans, it can also be read as an uncanny prediction of the rise of forms of post-natural language that are indeed purely functional: programming languages where the proof is in the effect. More than ever, it is clear that the writer is a cyborg. Texts are co-authored with the hardware and software. The programs suggest or even determine specific ways of per- forming code; a writer uses a word processor that, with its possibilities and limitations, changes the texture of her writing.

Volumes comes with a New New Testament [fig. 2], a voluminous publication by Badlands that combines 1,005 short texts with the ‘matching’ book covers.[xxvii] The ‘testament’ consists of eight chapters, over which the texts have been divided. As Chan describes it:

Each text is the ‘inside page’ of an individual book. The number on the upper left corner indicates which book it is the inside of. Texts were written with the painted work, with what was once inside the actual book, and the rhythm and feel of the chapter, in mind. One part New Testament. One part Wittgenstein. One part corrupted files.[xxviii]

The Bible, of course, was the first major book to roll off the printing press in the fifteenth century, making the Word readily available and potentially accessible to scrutiny. Wittgenstein is modern rationality in its morbidly self- critical stage, and file corruption takes us from the Word of God via the words of rational thinking into a different kind of writing, of coding. This is not writing as we knew it. Chan’s ludicrously grand book title itself suggests some kind of software malfunction, a stuttering, a dumb and faulty repetition (as I am writing this, Word’s spell checker draws a squiggly red line under the second ‘new’). A new New Testament for a digital age that was announced in periodicals such as Wired with such crypto-religious zeal?

Chan’s entry for How to Cook Like a Jewish Mother reads:

Every picture .*´¨`*.in whatever form.*´¨`*.relates t0 reality in 0rder t0 stage it as a pr0p0siti0nal {


The text clearly relates to other quasi-Wittgensteinian entries from the same chapter, such as:

A picture = a fact ins0far as a fact = a form 0f reality

A t0tality 0f pr0p0siti0ns = a picture 0f the w0rld.

Other sections take the ‘file corruption’ much further. With surprise appearances by post-Gutenbergian  sages such as Jennifer Aniston, Olivia Newton-John, and the cast of Les Misérables, the entries constitute a corpus of cryptic or cryptographic notes on knowledge, art, work, and wedding feasts.

The poet Kenneth Goldsmith has stressed the fact that in today’s techno-culture, not only texts but also images and sounds are actually code: ‘All this binary information— music, video, photographs—is comprised of language, miles and miles of alphanumerical code’.[xxix] Alexander Galloway complicates this by arguing that while code can indeed be seen as a kind of language that is executable, and therefore akin to a performative speech act, we have to acknowledge that software is both linguistic and machinic, and the latter has to come into play when we analyse it. ‘Riven to the core, software is split between language and machine, even if the machinic is primary’.[xxx] The dichotomy manifests itself in that between human-readable ‘source code’ and the underlying ‘machine code’. It is on the former that Goldsmith focuses, arguing that these texts are more compatible with forms of avant-garde literature that are equally illegible, that scramble the structure of the poem, or the novel, and ultimately of language itself. Modernists like Gertrude Stein can serve as guides in the ‘new illegibility’, helping one parse the code.[xxxi]

Paul Chan has produced a number of font pieces, such as Alternumerics and Sade for Font’s Sake, based on algorithms that transform the letters and other characters of any given text into a textual and/or graphic fragment, whose words and phrases are often taken from the works of authors such as Fourier or the Marquis de Sade.[xxxii] We do not directly ‘see’ either source or machine code, but the operative algorithmic logic becomes oddly manifest. With the CD Sade for Font’s Sake (2009), with which one can install ‘Oh fonts’ such as Oh Monica and Oh Bishop X, the act of typing becomes a ‘generative Sadean performance’.[xxxiii] With the book Phaedrus Pron (2010), we have the abject object resulting from such a font performance, the text of Plato’s ‘Phaedrus’ having been transformed into broken prose in different degrees and modes of obscenity: ‘SOCRATES: baby it’s so nice, just the tip, shit—fuck me, please you like nice, please please won’t hurt please nice is good please it’s nice please you like nice’.[xxxiv] The book also exists as an ‘enhanced’ e-book with illustrations, which emphasises the status of the paper book as material residue.

Like the font pieces, the New New Testament is an intervention in a post-Gutenberg culture. While Goldsmith looks to modernist and avant-garde literature for strategies of not reading, here both reading and not reading blur into forms of scanning.[xxxv] The world becomes not so much legible as scannable. We scan text that that is merely the surface effect of underlying operations, and that does not neces- sarily require ‘readers’ in the traditional sense; conversely, we are ourselves being scanned by software. A newspaper reports that one Viennese art collector lets a market-savvy algorithm guide or at least inform his decisions, and that work by Chan is among his assets.[xxxvi] Meanwhile, our data and metadata are collected by corporations and government agencies (and companies hired by government agencies) without any real limits. The NSA and its ilk engage in unreading, distant reading, looking for patterns, scanning for suspicious terms. Shop at your peril: a woman searching for a pressure cooker online found the police on her door- step.[xxxvii] Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’s acquisition of the Washington Post has increased concern over newspapers becoming data aggregators that sell not so much news to readers, but user data to potentially anybody. ‘Customers who bought this item also bought’. We are beyond interpretation.[xxxviii]

In this situation, Chan’s fonts and the New New Testament readjust the relation between ‘natural’ language and the programming language in which algorithms are defined and performed. These projects intermix layers that are often carefully kept apart. They do not simply constitute a critique of the ‘hidden’ layers of our illegible world and the fetishistic disconnect between the shiny surface of a website and the surveillance it can be used for, but also an attempt to de- and recompose this problematic reality. The ‘alter- numeric’ font The Future Must Be Sweet—after Charles Fourier creates a pliable semiosphere in which signs take on strange forms and behave aberrantly, leading to mutable and fragile assemblages. Fourier based his social vision on the human passions (which he dutifully categorised) and on the laws of passionate attraction. The future society should be organised in keeping with these laws; people should cohabitate and cooperate in such manners that (for instance) the ‘Butterfly passion’, which craves change and contrast, does not wither. Turning Fourier’s emphasis on desire and flexibility into a graphic system that is far from transparent, Chan’s Fourier font forges ‘[d]ifferent rela- tionships between the letters (and words)’ on the basis of ‘simple changes in point size, page width, leading and kerning’.[xxxix]

Sade and Fourier, mainstays in Chan’s oeuvre, had already been lumped together by Roland Barthes in the title of one of his books—where they had the company ofIgnatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuit order. In Sade, Fourier, Loyola Barthes claims that what unites these three disparate writers is that they are founders of languages, ‘traversed by (or traversing) natural language,’ and that these languages present ‘instant, not consistent, rela- tionships: center, weight, meaning are dismissed’.[xl] Chan reinvents these unnatural languages for the age of programming, with his Fourier font being the most topological and unpredictable.  By contrast, the Sade for Font’s Sake fonts produce a repetitive, dulling grind of moans and exclamations.  This is truly unreadable text; Chan’s Phaedrus Pron is a piece of literature that is even less suitable for reading than Andy Warhol’s A Novel (1968).

Sade For Font’s Sake is part of the Sade for Sade’s Sake project, which includes an animation in which the black outlines of copulating bodies are partly overlaid with squares and rectangles. As Chan wrote, in the context of the revelations about abuses at the Abu Ghraib prison:

Pleasure has its own reason and freedom its own law. Call it Sade’s law. And to follow Sade’s law to the letter is to pledge allegiance to an imaginary power asrigid, cruel, and paradoxical as the one he was fighting against. The irony of this is on full view today. Since 2001, the US has waged a campaign to spread freedom and democracy around the world. But ironically, the more this freedom spreads, the more rigid, cruel, and sexually inhuman the campaign becomes. Still. If the letter of Sade’s law is an endless echoing of freedom as the ratio between sex and reason, then maybe the potential of Sade today lies not in the letter of his law, but in his spirit.[xli]

What, then, is the ‘spirit’ of Sade—that Barthesian creator of an autonomous language in which nothing ever happens, because what happens will happen over and over again, endlessly, in a mechanical choreography of lust?

For Chan abstraction contains the spirit of Sade. On the pair, he writes that:

Abstraction, as the power to create from empirical reality an essential composition outside the laws of what constitutes the real, has always been the emblem of a kind of freedom. If abstract art has any insight left beyond merely being an apologia for interior design, then it must find a new necessity to produce images and objects that follows laws unto themselves.[xlii]

This is where Sade and Malevich meet: they both abstract from the world of things as ossified objects in order to create new relations, different assemblages. To be sure, the idealist-esoteric and intensely anti-materialist rhetoric of some early abstract artists can create the impression that they were merely interested in transcending and fleeing the material world. However, what they proposed was not flight but makeover, a transformation of the world. The realization of this grand vision being blocked, it was encapsulated in theoretical writings on the one hand, and in concrete objects—paintings by Malevich, by Mondrian—on the other.

Such autonomous image-objects again recall Tuazon’s remarks. Moments of concretion are of vital importance in Chan’s work, for without such moments we would only have abstract flows; an assembly of relations needs concretion as well as abstraction, resistance as well as performance. For Chan as a reader (or non-reader) of Sade, sex is one great force of abstraction: ‘Sex abstracts us from ourselves’.[xliii] If this is so, then the New New Testament is pure sex. It is written in a language that does not yet exist. It abstracts some snippets from disassembled, remade books and puts those snippets in a blender, destroying the books twice over. It abstracts us from ourselves, but in so doing does not relegate us to some sphere of pure thought, of disembodied ideas—or to one of Sade’s isolated castles.

On the contrary, this is a concrete abstraction that puts us right in the middle of things. And these ‘things’ are in fact highly questionable assemblages—fixed and gridlocked in many ways. In a situation in which we are constantly in the process of becoming an open book, a book that may be unreadable but perfectly scannable, some of Chan’s art is at least as political as his politics. In Chan’s words, ‘The rhythm that drives the Sade fonts is now transfigured in the Volumes text into semantic-pictorial compositions, and I think they compress what we want and what we can’t stand about words in particular and language in general in the digital age as ruthlessly and beautifully as I could’.[xliv] Language as rhythm; lived, inhabited language. Language that is more than information. Language that is lived and raises the question asked by the title of a posthumous book by Barthes: How to Live Together?

Jürgen Habermas has famously presented a rather rosy picture of the early bourgeois public sphere as an arena of rational discourse and debate, which constituted a raisonnierendes Publikum. Media concentration and the rise of mass culture put an end to this. It is a fallacy that reason will conquer through its own inherent superiority. That most reasonable of newspapers, the New York Times, helped pave the way for the invasion of Iraq. If abstracted into a Habermasian public sphere, ‘reason’ is all too compatible with what is socially reasonable; with an objectified pragmatic and purposive rationality. Isolated readers are ultimately consumers first and foremost.[xlv] What matters now is to reassemble relations, to forge new affective as well as intellectual bonds, to construct new forms of concrete abstraction, to compose forms and structures in which it is possible to survive—and even live.

4. Authorship and Dialogue

In this text, I have been positing an author named Paul Chan, and quoting some of his illuminating remarks, although it is clear that the form of authorship we are dealing with is fractured and multiple—and involves various forms of collaboration and collectivity. This is true even in the case of Volumes. In addition to assistants working on the piece, the very act of appropriation is also collaborative in nature. There is an opaque logic to Chan’s selection, he cannot have selected only the expected; books must havesurprised him, thus developing a more active agency and becoming collaborators of sorts; quasi-objects. Chan’s practice also foregrounds readership both as a problema- tisation of auctorial control and as a form of authorship in its own right. The reader as the re-birth of the author. In the digital age, these positions become more fluid than Barthes could ever have envisaged.

The tendency in a lot of art writing—including, at times, my own—is to slyly reverse the Barthesian and Foucauldian deconstructions of the author as authority by presenting ‘advanced’ artistic practice as intrinsically critical, thus by implication turning the artist into the Critical Subject par excellence. Grant Kester has argued that this development is related to the emergence of institutional critique and its reception in art criticism and art history, particularly in the journal October:

It [institutional critique] replaced the idea of a formal art medium (as the resistant field against which the artist works within the technical apparatus of painting, sculpture, and so forth) with the idea of an ideological medium defined by a set of rules that constrain and predetermine the consciousness of individual viewers without their knowledge. … The artist stands at a critical remove, safely protected from the forms of compromise and complicity that would result from any more direct engagement with mechanisms of social change or resistance. And the autonomy of art is preserved because the artist only ever addresses the social world second hand, through a critique of the (underlying, implicitly hidden) mechanisms of ideological control. Moreover, these interventions were staged within art world institutions and for art world audiences.[xlvi]

Kester presents a caricature that, like all good caricatures, contains more than a grain of truth. However, he lapses into positioning the ‘social world’ as an outside, beyond the institution; in this manner, he reverts to a rather romantic, Kaprowian notion of social reality as being anywhere but in art.

Of course, Kester’s critical stance mirrors artistic practices that have increasingly sought to interact with other kinds of audiences. He is a great advocate of such forms of ‘dialogical art practice’, in which ‘production and reception co-occur, and reception itself is refashioned as a mode of production. As a result, the moment of reception is not hidden or unavailable to the artist, or the critic’.[xlvii] It is obviously true that ‘social’ art projects create a different kind of reception and require different critical tools. However, one must be very careful not to fetishise some responses as more authentic than others, and not to fall into the trap of practising a crude, pre-critical type of ethnology. It is possible to participate in a work in different ways, and one form of participation is critical reflection—which will hopefully try to take other subjectivities into account.[xlviii]

Kester ultimately posits an unsatisfying dichotomy between ‘social’ and ‘other’ artworks. A practice such as Paul Chan’s—or the set of practices in which he is involved—problematises precisely this dichotomy. Perhaps the work by Chan closest to Kester’s social or ‘dialogical’ approach is his staging of Beckett’s Waiting for Godot in flood-ravaged New Orleans in 2007—another kind of ‘book work’. However, this piece can also be read as an almost reactionary, modernist project: the Artist decides that the thing to do in this state of exception is to stage a Great Play that, set in a stripped-down wasteland, will really speak to the dispossessed! The situation was of course much more complex, involving many intermediaries and parties (Creative Time, Classical Theater of Harlem, different local groups and individuals), but it cannot be denied that the piece refused to behave like well-behaved community art or dialogical art practice. It was dialogical—and an extensive study of the piece would have to trace its reception among different groups and individuals that were involved with or affected by it—but the terms for the dialogue were largely set by Chan. An alien element was introduced into the ravaged communities.[xlix] That the piece did not gloss over antinomies is part of its quality; it sabotages any neat distinction between a monological ‘art as critical device’ approach and polyvocal ‘art as dialogue’.

In general, the book and more generally print technology and digital technology problematise the very distinction between monologue and dialogue. On the one hand, the printed book in particular may seem to be a monological form par excellence, but was it not always a conversational gambit—as much as the modernist artwork was? The conversation has become more varied and perhaps more fragmented, but above all it has sped up, it has become a real-time exchange. The modernist understanding of intellectual and artistic production was condensed in the image of the book or the artwork as a message in a bottle that may take a long time to reach its unknown destination, but that will (perhaps) be picked up from some beach somewhere, sometime.[l] There is desperation in this, but also an appreciation of openness and unpredictability—and an awareness that the best dialogues may not be embedded in socially valorised projects.

In 2011, Chan released a series of e-books based on unique hand-made books, entitled Wht is [fig. 3]. Existing between the analogue and the digital, and overlaying texts and images, they also strongly suggest that while all cultural production now involves writing (as coding), this does not result in the realisation of the romantic dream of reestablishing a prerational unity of all the senses; rather, it results in a smooth discontinuum, in a permanent state of transition. The series includes Wht is a Book (2011), which contains many enlarged quotations about Gutenberg and the early book trade but which, obviously, does not answer the question.[li] As an e-book that can be downloaded for $1.99, Wht is a book can thus also escape from the book club and act like an old-fashioned book, with unknown and possible greatly delayed effects: it can become a message in a bottle. As node in rapidly evolving networks of publishing, writing, distribution, reading, repurposing, de- and rematerialisation, the book emerges as an exemplary aesthetic and political object whose theological and atheological whims are brought into focus by Chan’s practice.

This text is a significantly extended and reworked version of my text in New New Testament, ‘Paul Chan’s Book Club’ (New York: Badlands Unlimited, 2014), 1017–1032.


  1. Paul Chan, Volumes, 2012. Oil on fabric, paper and cardboard. Dimensions variable. Installation  view, Paul Chan-Selected Works, Schaulager, Basel, 2014. Courtesy of the artist and Greene Naftali, New York. Photograph: Tom Bisig, Basel.
  2. Paul Chan, New New Testament, 2014. Image courtesy Sven Lütticken.
  3. Paul Chan, Wht is series, 2011–. Image courtesy Sven Lütticken. 


[i] Paul Chan, ‘My Own Private Alexandria’, available at until April 2014. A few days before the opening of his exhibition at the Schaulager in Basel, Paul Chan deleted this entire website. However, a cache of the My Own Private Alexandria page can be accessed via the Internet Archive:

[ii] customer review by ‘Charly’, accessed 18 June 2013, product-reviews/1451673264/ref=cm_cr_pr_top_link_2?ie=UTF8&filterBy=addOneStar&pageNumber=2&showViewpoints=0&sortBy=bySubmissionDateDescending. As if anticipating  this comment, Chan actually burned a couple of Kindles, noting that the required temperature is lower than for paper books. A GIF of the Kindle burning is available online at: Sarah Hromack, ‘A Thing Remade: A Conversation with Paul Chan’, Rhizome, accessed 18 June 2013,

[iii] David Joselit, ‘Painting Beside Itself ’, October 130 (Fall 2009): 128.

[iv] Hito Steyerl, ‘Too Much World: Is the Internet Dead?’, e-flux journal

49 (November 2013), accessed 31 July 2014, http://www.e-flux. com/journal/too-much-world-is-the-internet-dead/

[v] See, for instance, Chan’s discussion with Martha Rosler in Between Artists: Paul Chan/Martha Rosler (New York: A.R.T. Press, 2006).

[vi] For Heine, see his remarks on Dr. Faustus in the first book of Die romantische Schule (1835), Projekt Gutenberg, accessed 18 June 2013,; for Marx, the passage on gunpowder, the compass, and the printing press in the Economic Manuscripts of 1861–63 (‘Division of Labour and Mechanical Workshop: Tool and Machinery’), Marxists Internet Archive, accessed 18 June 2013, The Gutenberg Galaxy: The Making of Typographic Man (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1962); Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism (London: Verso, 1991 [1983]), esp. 37–46; and Régis Debray, ‘Socialism: A Life-Cycle’, New Left Review 46 (July–August 2007): 5–28.

[vii] Edward Nawotka, ‘Have the Ethics of Book Scanning Changed?’, Publishing Perspectives, accessed 18 June 2013, scanning-changed. I use this quote here as a symptomatic articulation of the fears aroused by the Google scanning project. As with most anecdotes that begin with ‘apparently’, it does not bear close scrutiny. As ‘Tony Hursh’ comments underneath this article: ‘Do you really believe that major libraries (e.g., Harvard, Stanford, the New York Public Library) would allow Google to destroy their collections?’

[viii] Nadiah Fellah, ‘How Paul Chan is Destroying Books’, New American Paintings, accessed 18 June 2013, http://newamericanpaintings.

[ix] Oscar Tuazon, Making Books (Paris: Paraguay Press, 2009), 10. This booklet was the first instalment of castillo/corrales’s  series The Social Life of the Book.

[x] The site is at In my review of Richard Prince’s American Prayer at the Bibliothèque Nationale in 2011, I gave a completely different name instead of Fulton Ryder; one of the inexplicable short-circuits that from time to time strike the stressed- out reviewer. See my ‘Raiding the Library: On Richard Prince at the Bibliotheque nationale de France, Paris’, Texte Zur Kunst 83 (September 2011): 237–241.

[xi] Debray, 5.

[xii] See chapter 21 of Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man (New York: Signet, 1966 [1964]), 182–93, as well as Marshall McLuhan et al., Verbi-Voco-Visual Explorations (New York: Something Else Press, 1967). More realistically, one can note that the book and the newspaper entered into a complex dialectic, in which the novel was transformed by the laws of the feuilleton, with its need for regular cliff hangers.

[xiii] Issue 4 was the poster issue, with contributions by Chan and several others. An archive of material is available at Occupied Wall Street Journal, accessed 31 July 2014,

[xiv] Quoted in Alex Farquharson, ‘Get Together’, Frieze 149 (September 2012), accessed 18 June 2013,

[xv] Writing about digital technology, Hans Dieter Huber and Boris Groys have emphasised that code is nothing unless it is actualised or embodied—performed in some manner: ‘Unlike traditional image media such as paintings or drawings,’ Huber argues, ‘digital works exist in two completely different forms—the state of notation and the state of performance.’ Groys makes similar claims, but both authors’ conceptions are overly binary: in their theories, the digital file that is being performed seems to come out of nowhere; the focus is on consumption as an act of performance, but the production of the file remains opaque. The file comes to take on divine qualities, becoming pure transcendence. Furthermore, the performative aspect of non-digital media and their use is underestimated in both accounts. As in Chan’s case, however, one might argue that these performative aspects come into sharper focus through digitisation. See Hans Dieter Huber, ‘The Embodiment of Code’ (2005), accessed 18 June 2013, See also Boris Groys, ‘Religion in the Age of Digital Reproduction’, e-flux journal 3 (March 2009), accessed 18 June 2013, http://www.e-flux. com/journal/view/49.

[xvi] Publication Studio,

[xvii] On the Book Sprint ‘methodology’, see Book Sprint, accessed 31 July 2014,

[xviii] Karl Marx, Grundrisse: Foundations for the Critique of Political Economy (Rough Draft), trans. Martin Nicolaus (London: Penguin,1993), 92 and Marxists International Archive, ‘Grundrisse – 1. Production, Consumption, Distribution, Exchange (Circulation)’, accessed 18 June 2013, works/1857/grundrisse/ch01.htm.

[xix] There is, of course, the risk that ultimately all human and non-human participants end up as perfectly adjusted neo-objects and neo- subjects, both marked equally by the imperatives of flexibility and continual performance; just as, on the other hand, ‘autonomous books’ as objects can in fact lose all genuine autonomy because they settle into a preordained existence as art objects.

[xx] There are obviously different degrees of faithfulness to the text involved. With an audio book, one expects a faithful reading of the written text, whereas with lectures, one expects something more than that: not just a literal performance of a text, but a performance of someone’s thought process. A lecturer who just ‘reads out his paper’ is a bad speaker—even though in academic contexts, it is more or less the norm.

[xxi] NEWSgrist, ‘In Conversation with Paul Chan: His Own Private Alexandria (v.1)’, 21 April 2006, accessed 18 June 2013, http://

[xxii] Departing from Plato’s warnings against writing as an externalisation of memory that will produce forgetfulness among its practitioners, Stiegler has produced an elaborate theory of the pharmakon— encompassing not just media and technologies, but also social configurations that shape the mind and ‘transindividuate’ the subject. See Bernard Stiegler, ‘Relational Ecology and the Digital Pharmakon’, Culture Machine, accessed 31 July 2014,

[xxiii] Mette Edvardsen, ‘Time has fallen asleep in the afternoon sunshine’, Al-Ma’mal Foundation for Contemporary Art, accessed 18 June 2013,

[xxiv] Read-in’s Regimes of Memorizing took place at SMBA and in the

Jordaan neigbourhood from Monday 20 January till Thursday 23 January 2014. Read-in consists of Hyunju Chung, Annette Krauss, Laura Pardo and Serena Lee.

[xxv] The different versions are given in a booklet published on the occasion of Read-in’s project at Casco in Utrecht and SMBA in Amsterdam, 20–23 January 2014.

[xxvi] Max Horkheimer, Eclipse of Reason (London: Bloomsbury, 2013 [1947]), 13–14.

[xxvii] Paul Chan, New New Testament (New York: Badlands Unlimited, 2014).

[xxviii] Paul Chan, e-mail to the author, 10 May 2013.

[xxix] Kenneth Goldsmith, Uncreative Writing: Managing Language in the Digital Age (New York: Columbia University Press, 2011), 17.

[xxx] Alexander R. Galloway, The Interface Effect (Cambridge and Malden, MA: Polity, 2012), 73.

[xxxi] Goldsmith, 34–63 and ff.

[xxxii] Although there is no technical difference between the earlierAlternumerics and the Sade fonts, Chan does not apply the term ‘alternumerics’ to the latter since they are ‘aesthetically and philosophically specific to the Sade project’. See Paul Chan, ‘Alternumerics FAQ’ in Selected Writings 2000–2014, eds. George Baker and Eric Banks (Basel/New York: Laurenz Foundation/ Schaulager/Badlands Unlimited, 2014), 198.

[xxxiii] Paul Chan, Sade for Font’s Sake (National Philistine, 2009). The fonts are also online at National Philistine, accessed 31 July 2014,

[xxxiv] Paul Chan, Phaedrus Pron (New York: Badlands Unlimited, 2010), 340. There are also other ‘pron’ texts (Keynes, Stein) available as‘pron’ versions on National Philistine, accessed 31 July 2013,

[xxxv] Goldsmith, 158–9. Intriguingly, in recent years Franco Moretti has argued that literary scholars should engage in ‘distant reading’ of large numbers of texts rather than in the ‘close reading’ of a few canonized masterpieces. His method effectively amounts to the scanning of a large corpus of texts in order to identify macro- patterns. See Franco Moretti, Distant Reading (London: Verso, 2013). As is evident from My Own Private Alexandria, Chan has encountered Moretti’s work in New Left Review.

[xxxvi] The collector in question is Eduard Pomeranz, who cheerfully admits to buying Chan’s work mostly as a bit of art-market speculation. See Almuth Spiegler, ‘Kunstsammler: Extrem berechnend und unglaublich berührend’, Die Presse, 22 May 2012, accessed 18 June 2013,

[xxxvii] See Adam Gabbatt, ‘New York Woman Visited by Police After Researching Pressure Cookers Online’, The Guardian, 1 August 2013, accessed 10 August 2014, world/2013/aug/01/new-york-police-terrorism-pressure-cooker.

[xxxviii] For an intriguing inside perspective, see the interview with algorithm designer Yvonne Hofstettet, ‘Wollen wir das Wirklich?’, die tageszeitung, 8 August 2013, accessed 31 July 2014, artikel/?ressort=hi&dig=2013%2F08%2F10%2Fa0192&cHash=31542474ffad5332c0c81081d13f80ea.

[xxxix] ‘Alternumerics (v. 3): The Future Must Be Sweet’,

[xl] Roland Barthes, Sade Fourier Loyola, trans. Richard Miller (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989 [1971]), 6.

[xli] Paul Chan, ‘Untitled’, The Essential and Incomplete Sade for Sade’s Sake (New York: Badlands Unlimited, 2010), 103. This text is also included in Chan, 2014, 326–329.

[xlii] Chan, 2010, 103.

[xliii] Ibid.

[xliv] Paul Chan, email to the author, 15 August 2013.

[xlv] Hence the need, as Oskar Negt and Alexander Kluge emphasised, to forge a counter-publicness that goes beyond ‘Enlightenment ideas and discourse’. See Negt and Kluge, Öffentlichkeit und Erfahrung (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1972), 143.

[xlvi] Grant Kester, ‘Laying Down the Device: On Some Limitations in Current Art Criticism’, e-flux journal 50 (December 2013), accessed 31 July 2014,

[xlvii] Kester, 2013.

[xlviii] A successful attempt at explicitly dialogical criticism that largely takes the form of a series of interviews is Claire Bishop, ‘And That Is What Happened Here’ in Thomas Hirschhorn: Establishing a Critical Corpus, eds. Thomas Bizzarri and Thomas Hirschhorn (Zurich: JRP Ringier, 2011), 6–51.

[xlix] Carrie Lambert-Beatty stresses this point in ‘Essentially Alien: Notes from Outside Paul Chan’s Godot’, Parkett 88 (2011): 76–81.

[l] The modernist image of the Flaschenpost is associated most of all with Adorno, who started using it during his American exile, despairing of not having a (German) audience. Adorno primarily used the ‘message in a bottle’ metaphor with regard to his and Horkheimer’s critical theory, but also in relation to Arnold Schoenberg and the ‘new music’. In 1960, Paul Celan used the Flaschenpost metaphor for the poem, stressing that the poem is a ‘dialogical’ form and that each poem in a bottle hopes to be washed ashore some day, however faint that hope may be. See Susanne Komfort-Hein,  ‘“Vom Ende her und auf das Ende hin”. Ilse Aichingers Ort des Poetischen jenseits einer Stunde Null’ in ‘Was wir nicht einsetzen können, ist Nüchternheit.’ Zum Werk Ilse Aichingers, eds. Britt Herrmann and Barbara Thums (Würzburg: Königshausen  & Neumann, 2001), 32.

[li] ‘wht is’, Badlands Unlimited, accessed 31 July 2014,

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