- Cultural Criticism
- Cultural History
- Elites & Pseudo-Elites
- Experience, Personal
- Experience, Professional
- Illustrative Anecdotes
- Individuals Admired
- Individuals Disparages
- Institutional Criticism
- Interpersonal Intelligence
- Literary Criticism
- Literary Granting
- Literary Politics
- Literary Sociology
- New York City
- Personal Independence
- Political Criticism
- Radical Politics
- Social History
- Sociology of the Arts
- Theater Criticism
- Visual Arts Criticism
—“Constructivist Fictions” (1974)
Constructivist fictions are built, rather than expressed; they originate, to a greater degree than other art, in those parts of the writer’s mind that are, in Mondrian’s phrase, “unconditioned by subjective feeling and conception.”
Constructivist fictions exist in space and time: the space of a printed page and the time it takes a reader to turn from one page to the next.
Conceived before they are executed, such fictions customarily reflect premeditated principles that are articulated within the work itself; the relevance and meaning of each detail are initially intrinsic.
The materials within a particular fiction constitute its predominant language, and how they change within the space and time of printed pages is the principal method of “storytelling.”
Constructivist fictions tend “to write themselves,” once their initial premises are established; the process by which they are made could be called “generative.”
They embody an intelligence that exists apart from their author, and this intelligence focuses upon matters of detail; constructivist fictions are intelligent in ways their authors might not be.
“Generative” is not the same as mechanical, for decisions of taste inform the genesis and operation of the work’s construction.
One recurring theme is variation and development within a systemic constraint.
The most distinctive marks of this work, to some minds, are not what it contains but what is excluded—in terms not only of materials but of evocative qualities; however, critical interpretations that emphasize omissions (e.g., “anti-fiction”) are invariably partial and obscure.
All literature represents transformations or reifications of the author’s experience; but the constructivist writer differs from others in emphasizing kinds of human experience—kinds of information and perceptions—that were previously foreign to literature.
The constructivist artist finds order outside himself, rather than within himself..
Constructivist fictions exist within and outside the traditions of modernist literature, within and without the traditions of modernist visual art.
Much of my own earlier visual fiction could be characterized as not “constructivist” but merely abstract, as I wanted to tell a story entirely within its own terms, with minimal extrinsic reference, using verbal titles much as an abstract painter does—to function as an entrée to one of the ways in which the images might be understood.
—“And So Forth”(1978)
Initially conceived as an extension of my Constructivist Fictions, And So Forth is similarly concerned with telling a story entirely in the language of lines, with an intentionally limited vocabulary of shapes, and with “events” that are a single page in length and square in frame. This new work differs, however, from the Constructivist Fictions in two crucial qualities. These images are not perfect, four-sided symmetries, although the shapes within each drawing often echo each other geometrically. Secondly, in this work the progress from image to image, from page to page, from event to event, is not systematic but associational. Thus, one image does not necessarily lead to another, but each could precede or succeed any of the others. The loose pages can be shuffled and reshuffled to taste, or even hung along a wall so that they can all be seen at once, or deposited looseleaf in an envelope, or put into a spring binder.
—“On Symmetries: My Visual Novel” (1985)
Two radical qualities distinguishing my artistic work are that I sometimes use symmetry, along with other rigorous systems (that are purportedly contrary to the spirit of Art), and that I write poems and fictions with materials other than syntactical sentences (that are purportedly the basis of Literature), which is to say that I have made both poems and fictions out of isolated words, non-syntactic sequences, numbers, and uninflected lines.
Symmetries is a novel, composed in the language of lines and divided into three chapters, each considerably longer than its immediate predecessor. Its “setting” is three generations of rectilinear grids that do not change; its three principal “characters” are a diagonal line that leans 45 degrees to the left, a diagonal line that leans 45 degrees to the right, and a circle. These figures in their various symmetrical arrangements enact not only a single sustained narrative but numerous subplots of varying length, all of which incorporate, among other motifs, antagonism and resolution. One structure distinguishing Symmetries from conventional fiction is that its sequences can be read in both directions; either cover can be considered its “front” or its “back.”
The principal theme of Symmetries is that system informing its composition; each part epitomizes a form that embodies the content. Just as each page is a component of the whole, which could be described as an exhaustive permutational exploration of a single general statement about four-sided geometrical symmetries, so each image, though visibly different from all the others, incorporates characteristics common to all parts of the entire work. Simple and skeletal in certain respects, Symmetries is quite complex and full in others; it is also perhaps the most complete realization of certain visionary principles that have informed my fiction for the past dozen years.
What makes symmetrical forms more attractive than asymmetrical is not only their balance and proportional harmony but their capacity for a precise narrative development that is eventually resolved. Exhaustibility—both visually, within a single image, and sequentially, from image to image—can be as esthetically satisfying as symmetry. A secondary theme of Symmetries is change and constancy—the enormous variety of related scenes within a single encompassing idea; that is also a secondary theme of War and Peace, among other novels.