Unfinished Business: My Intellectual Non-History, 1963-1988 (1990)

[NOTE from 2006: A copy of this text, published in 1990, is available velobound from Archae Editions.]

To the memory of Charles E. Ives and Paul Goodman


After I die, I hope that my executors will publish a book of my proposals, to reveal what could (and perhaps should) have been done.

—R. K., “Person of Letters in the Contemporary World” (1989)


The following year, I beat my executors to it.

Intellectually, this book reveals a debt to Conceptual Architecture, which is my coinage for the great tradition of architects’ publishing schemes that were not realized. One truth, too often forgotten, holds that as obstacles to building exist, so are there resistances to fulfilling research, composing sound, publishing books, etc. If an artist/writer has respect for what he wanted (and, in some cases, still wants) to do, nothing should keep him or her from telling the world.


An Anthology of Critical Essays on “Masters of Modern Literature”

“The Art of Demolition: Essays on American Writing”

The Countertradition of American Drama: Prelude to the New American Theater

A Study of the Practice of Theater in America

An Investigation of the Major Works of Fiction, Drama, Poetry, Social Thought, Art and Literary Criticism, Myth History, Philosophy, Etc., to Define the Intellectual Temper of America in the Decades Following World War II

Fulbright Renewal

Proposed Projects for a Three-Year Fellowship

An Anthology: “Artists in America: In Their Own Words”

“America Now”: Synopsis of a Book

A Comprehensive History of American Thought in the Post-WWII Period

The Eccentric Tradition in American Thought: Before 1850

A Course on Experimental Writing

New Writing Now

A Course on Genius in America

Analysis of Intellectual Remuneration and Communication in the United States

A Course on Literature and the Arts Today

Fellowship in Art Criticism

A Course on Alternative Forms of Literature

Advanced Workshop in Experimental Writing

An Anthology of “The New Poetries in North America”

A Critical Book on “Contemporaries”

Fellowship for Visual Art

Literary Artist-in-Residence at a Public Television Station

Fellowship for Creative Writers

Artist-in-Residence, WNET Video Lab

“Grand Assemblings”


An appropriate supplement (or precursor) to my On Contemporary Literature, which will appear next year, this anthology will contain extended critical essays on each of the dozen foremost writers of our time. The purpose of this collection is twofold: on one hand, to introduce the writers and, on the other, to provide those who have read their work with the finest short critical essay available. The writers I chose to include are Samuel Beckett, Bertolt Brecht, Albert Camus, T. S. Eliot, William Faulkner, Franz Kafka, James Joyce, Nikos Kazantsakis, Thomas Mann, Alberto Moravia, Boris Pasternak and Jean-Paul Sartre. The final volume, as I envision it, will have twelve chapters of critical essays and a brief introduction. At the end of each essay I plan to include a selected bibliography of other important critical works; as a footnote to the first page of each essay I will put a short intellectual biography of the critic. The essays are between thirty and thirty-five pages apiece (at approximately four hundred words per page), so the final volume should be roughly four hundred pages. I would plan to pay up to two hundred dollars apiece for the reprint rights, though several essays, I am sure, would cost much less. Experience tells me there is usually no trouble in purchasing reprint rights for literary criticism; still, if for some reason one or another essay should be unobtainable, I have alternate choices. As all essays are currently available in English, there are no translation problems. I see the typical purchaser of this book as the college or high school student; very likely this book will become assigned reading in courses on modern writing.

To fulfill the double purpose of this book, each essay selected should perform two tasks. To a reader unfamiliar with the writer’s work, it should convey some idea of his style, his themes, his major preoccupations, his virtues and defects and his place in contemporary literature. To those who have already read his major works, the essay should lead to a better understanding of that literature. From my survey of critical writing, I find that two kinds of essays best satisfy these needs. The first is a survey of all the writer’s works in which the critic comments upon each one, developing themes through individual discussions. This type of essay succeeds, I have found, when it eschews the demands of a rigorously unifying thesis on one hand and minute textual analysis on the other. In the second type, the critic develops several themes through a discussion of a writer’s technique and his vision of the world. The critic will refer to his individual works, but the critical comments do not focus upon the particular achievements of each book. For major writers who tended to repeat themselves, such an essay can work better than a survey (see Erich Heller on Franz Kafka or Eric Bentley on Bertolt Brecht). On the other hand, I have avoided as critically useless those newspaper book reviews that are not designed to enrich anyone’s appreciation of the work and then plot summaries that simplify the surface in lieu of probing the depths, as well as those narrow-focused, generally difficult academic pieces that do not present a broad view of an author’s work. Likewise, since this is an anthology of literary criticism, biographical essays, such as pieces on Faulkner’s mysterious life or Brecht’s political activities, are not included.

In the brief introduction I discuss the criteria I used in selecting the twelve writers: (1) Must have published his major works after the end of World War I. (2) Must have produced a large body of work, usually in more than one of the basic literary genres—fiction, drama, poetry and the essay. (3) Must have produced at least one book worthy of the epithet “classic.” (4) Must have influenced his successors. (5) Must have shown originality in his use of techniques or presentation of themes. In discussing each of these criteria, I account for why writers such as D. H. Lawrence, Andre Gide, Isaac Babel, Ernest Hemingway, Ignazio Silone, George Orwell and Marcel Proust are omitted. In this introduction I will characterize the works of the twelve in terms of their views of modern life, their technical achievements and their ideological commitments. This introduction, in its final form, should be no more than eight pages in length.

The task of choosing the most appropriate essays is not complete; tentatively I plan to use the following:

SAMUEL BECKETT: Martin Esslin, “The Search for the Self,” The Theatre of the Absurd (Garden City, 1961), pp. 1-46. When edited of nonliterary comments, such as biographical data and the history of the production of his plays, this would be 15,000 words in length.

BERTOLT BRECHT: Eric Bentley, “Homage to Bertolt Brecht,” introduction to Seven Plays by Bertolt Brecht (N.Y., 1961), pp. xiii-li. Must be edited of comments on Bentley’s personal relations with Brecht and similar remarks to 13,000 words.

ALBERT CAMUS: Philip Thody, “Achievements and Limitations,” Albert Camus: A Study of His Work (N.Y., 1959), pp. 94-120, 11,700 wds.

T. S. ELIOT: M. L. Rosenthal, “T. S. Eliot and the Displaced Sensibility,” The Modern Poets: A Critical Introduction (N.Y., 1960), pp. 75-103, 11,000 wds.

WILLIAM FAULKNER: Robert D. Jacobs, “William Faulkner: The Passion and the Penance,” in South: Southern Literature in Its Cultural Setting (Garden City, 1961), pp. 142-76, 16,300 wds.

FRANZ KAFKA: Erich Heller, “The World of Franz Kafka,” The Disinherited Mind (N.Y., 1959), pp. 199-231, 11,500 wds.

JAMES JOYCE: Edmund Wilson, “James Joyce,” Axel’s Castle (N.Y., 1931), pp., 191-236, 16,500 wds.

ALBERTO MORAVIA: Sergio Pacifici, “Alberto Moravia,” A Guide to Contemporary Italian Literature (N.Y., 1962), pp. 29-56, 10,400 wds.

BORIS PASTERNAK: Edmund Wilson, “Doctor Life and His Guardian Angel,” The New Yorker (Nov. 18, 1959), pp. 213-38, 9,100 wds. To this I plan to add approximately 2,000 words from Mr. Wilson’s second essay, “Legend and Symbol in Doctor Zhivago,” The Nation (April 25, 1959).

The other three writers to be featured are THOMAS MANN, JEAN-PAUL SARTRE and NIKOS KAZANTSAKIS. For their works, I have yet to choose a suitable essay. (1963)

* * *



Richard Chase, “The Broken Circuit,” Anchor Review, 2 (N.Y., 1957), 6,000 wds.

Leslie A. Fiedler, “The Novel and America,” Partisan Review (Winter 1960), 6,500 wds.

R. W. B. Lewis, “The Myth and the Dialogue,” American Adam (Chicago, 1955), 4,200 wds.

V. L. Parrington, “Foreword,” The Colonial Mind (N.Y., 1959), 1,800 wds.

Philip Rahv, “Paleface and Redskin,” Image and Idea (N.Y., 1957), 1,800 wds.

And a few others in the same general vein.


THE PURITANS: Charles Feidelson, Jr., “An American Tradition,” Symbolism and American Literature (Chicago, 1953), pp. 77-101, 7,200 wds.

JAMES FENIMORE COOPER: D. H. Lawrence, “Fenimore Cooper’s White Leatherstocking Novels,” Classic Studies in American Literature (Garden City, n.d.), 10,800 wds.

EMILY DICKINSON: Allen Tate, “Emily Dickinson,” The Man of Letters in the Modern World (N. Y., 1955), 5,000 wds.

T. S. ELIOT: (to be chosen)

RALPH WALDO EMERSON: Charles Feidelson, Jr., “Three Notes on Emerson,” Symbolism and American Literature, pp. 119-35, 142-50, 157-61, 11,000 wds.

WILLIAM FAULKNER: Claude-Edmonde Magny, “Faulkner ou l’inversion theologique,” L’Age de roman Americain (Paris, 1948), p. 196-243, 15,000 wds.

F. SCOTT FITZGERALD: Arthur Mizener, “The Imaginative Possession of American Life,” Sewanee Review (Winter 1946), 9,600 wds.

NATHANAEL HAWTHORNE: On his career as a whole: (to be chosen)

Hyatt Howe Waggoner, “The Scarlet Letter,” Hawthorne: A Critical Study (Cambridge, 1955), 10,500 wds.

ERNEST HEMINGWAY: Harry Levin, “Some Observations on the Style of Hemingway,” Kenyon Review (Autumn 1951), 9,000 wds.

HENRY JAMES: R. P. Blackmur, “Henry James,” in Robert E. Spiller et al., Literary History of the United States (N.Y., 1948), pp. 1039-64, 11,500 wds.

Dorothy van Ghent, “Portrait of a Lady,” English Novel: Form and Function (N.Y., 1953), 6,800 wds.

HERMAN MELVILLE: Marcus Cunliffe, “Herman Melville,” The Literature of the United States (Harmondsworth, 1961), 4,800 wds.

Leslie A. Fiedler, “The Baptism of Fire and the Baptism of Sperm,” Love and Death in the American Novel (N.Y., 1962), 12,100 wds.

EUGENE O’NEILL: Joseph Wood Krutch, “Eugene O’Neill,” American Theater Since 1918 (N.Y., 1957), edited from pp. 77-120, 11,000 wds.

Please consider this a tentative outline. For a more definitive list, contact me. (1963)

* * *


My thesis is that the literary “hatchet job” is an art. Those essays included in the anthology, fine examples all, should confirm that point. As a secondary purpose, I want to provide readers with a collection of vehemently negative comments on major groups and individuals of American writing. So, in choosing the essays, I observed two principles. First, I wanted effective examples of the art and so included demolitions of minor or forgotten figures only if those essays were artfully done. (See Edgar Allen Poe on Thomas Ward or Alfred Sundel on James Purdy.) Second, I wanted to cover all of American literature, thereby making this collection a counterweight to all the anthologies of laudatory remarks.

The table of contents would follow an approximate historical order of their subjects. Hence Mark Twain on James Fenimore Cooper is the first essay, while Alfred Sundel on James Purdy is last. Each of them will be prefaced with several lines of terse notes explaining the background and the circumstance of each essay. For example, as a preface to Dwight Macdonald’s deflation of James Gould Cozzens, I would need to note the enormous popular and critical success of Cozzens’s novel and also write a short biography of the critic. Whenever necessary, the essays themselves should be edited of extraneous materials. The enclosed list of proposed selections includes more than forty essays. As many of my choices are already in the public domain, I would expect the cost of reprint rights to be no more than two thousand dollars.

Although this anthology is not designed to suit any particular group of purchasers, I suspect it would appeal to readers who, like myself, appreciate the art of demolition and thus have avidly read everything that, say, Dwight Macdonald or Leslie A. Fiedler ever wrote. I also think that students and teachers of American literature should want this volume for its set of contrary opinions on major writers; it could well be included in sophisticated survey courses as an alternate book of criticism. As there is nothing like it, I expect that “The Art of Demolition” could develop a reputation and sell quite well over the years. (1963)

* * *

A few years ago a professor of astronomy at Yale explained to me that his students were superb mathematicians, they had mastered the subject; they would fly to the moon—but they would never be astronomers, because, he said, ‘They don’t love the stars.’ How to produce disinterested and magnanimous people, whether scientists or artists or physicians or statesmen? But I have heard that the Office of Education, or the National Science Foundation in its curriculum improvements, or the Congress when it votes billions for schooling, cares about these things at all.

—Paul Goodman, “Wordsworth’s Poems” (1969)


This anthology will collect American plays so different from those in the mainstream of our drama that I regard them as constituting a countertradition. The major characteristics of this countertradition are sketched briefly in accompanying notes.

The book will contain these five plays:

E. E. Cummings, him (1927)

T. S. Eliot, Murder in the Cathedral (1935)

Robert Hivnor, Too Many Thumbs (1947)

William Carlos Williams, Many Loves (1942)

Louis O. Coxe and Robert Chapman, Billy Budd (1949)

The firm or person in control of the reprint rights to each of these plays has informed me that, in general, anthology permissions are available. Three of the plays are presently available only in hard-to-procure editions—Cummings’s, Hivnor’s and Williams’s; the other two are currently in individual paperback editions. The book will also have an introduction by me of approximately five thousand words which will include an extensive characterization of the counter-tradition and how its plays differ from those in the main tradition. This introduction will show how such plays presage the New American Theater of the past six years, in addition to offering a brief analysis of each play and its place in the counter-tradition. Some of this commentary will be drawn from my essay on “The New American Theatre” in The New American Arts (Horizon, 1964).

Only in the past few years, since 1958 to be exact, has what I call the countertradition of American drama become the dominant tendency of our theater. As we carefully scrutinize the plays of Edward Albee, the playwrights of The Living Theatre (Jack Gelber and Kenneth H. Brown), Arthur L. Kopit and other young writers, we begin to realize that they are, in some essential respects, quite different from the American drama of the past.

The dominant tradition of our theater, as I see it, embodies two central and often complementary characteristics—realism (as a literary mode) and sentimentality. On one hand, these plays are set in a definite historical time, usually in an identifiable place. The stage intends to evoke a scene factually familiar to us; thus, in the setting there is an emphasis upon accurately reproducing details and in the dialogue the characters reproduce authentic American idiom. This kind of play usually has a single dominant figure who often earns more of the audience’s sympathy than he really merits and, therefore, becomes a vehicle for the play’s sentimentality and the playwright’s key ideas.

Whereas the stock popular theater embodies both realism and sentimentality, the better American plays carry, in nearly all cases, only one of these two identifying marks. Playwrights such as Eugene O’Neill and Arthur Miller have been the leading realists, while the works of Tennessee Williams, William Saroyan and Thornton Wilder, all antirealists, are at base sentimental.

Looking back over the history of our drama, we see that several earlier isolated, eccentric plays resemble the new American theatre in repudiating both characteristics of the dominant theatre. Their setting is usually, as in Beckett’s plays, a nowhere—if the playwright specifies one place, it could just as well be another—that symbolizes the world. Rather than directly presenting the facts of reality, plays of the countertradition offer interpretations of the world, creating a microcosm that evokes dimensions of existence’s feel and tone. Likewise, they are scrupulously unsentimental, embodying a tragic view of human existence (though not, of course, the form of classic tragedy) that we associate with the best modern literature. These authors, eschewing protagonists, create situations in which all the major characters participate equally in defining the scene, just as these writers evoke their themes from the action rather than announce them in the dialogue. Similarly, whereas plays of the dominant tradition express didactic themes, intended to guide our lives, if not to reform our ways, the theater of the countertradition attempts to demonstrate the essences of existence. It is more descriptive than prescriptive. In this respect, Billy Budd depicts the irreconcilable split between the law of the heart and the heart of the law, Hivnor’s Too Many Thumbs presents the paradox of mankind’s evolution, Eliot writes about the conflicting purposes of religion and politics, and Williams describes the necessities and risks of human love.

This countertradition, then, has much in common with the dominant line of American fiction and poetry which, as recent studies by Leslie A. Fiedler, R. W. B. Lewis and Charles Fiedelson have demonstrated, is more mythic, symbolic, gothic and metaphysical than social, didactic or realistic. Thus, it is indicative that most of these plays are by authors more noted for their nondramatic works. All the plays I have chosen have received professional productions; all are enthusiastically admired by those who have read or seen them. (1964)

* * *


Before discussing the proposed project in detail, I think it appropriate for me to summarize my career as a critic of drama. My academic training at Brown and Columbia Universities was primarily in American literature and history. I did my undergraduate honors thesis on Henry Miller and my graduate work in American intellectual history. However, while a sophomore in college, I saw the Living Theatre’s production of The Connection. Quite excited by it—indeed, it was my first “great experience” in the theater—I wrote an enthusiastic review for the undergraduate newspaper. This piece I later expanded into an article on the play which appeared in The Texas Quarterly (Winter 1963). On the strength of that article, Contact, a new Bay Area magazine, commissioned me to do a comprehensive essay on the new American playwrights, which it printed in its October 1963 issue. This essay, in turn, led Horizon Press to commission me to edit a book of critical essays by younger critics on new trends in the America arts. For this I revised and expanded the Contact essay into “The New American Theater.” Since that first review I have developed a wider interest in theater, writing critically on recent playwrights and drama criticism for Minnesota Review, Stand and other magazines. I came to theater criticism without, in truth, ever having taken a course in modern drama, acted in a play or worked in a theater production. Though I feel I understand recent plays as literature and have used, with some success, the tools of literary analysis to explicate them, I have always felt my theater criticism suffered from my lack of knowledge of the theory and history of performance procedure. I hope to overcome some of these limitations this year in London, in the course of doing a Fulbright project on new trends in British theater and fiction; but since my program is administered through an academic institution and my advisers are literature professors, rather than theater men, I fear that my previous critical leanings will probably be reinforced, rather than tempered.

My proposed project is to study theatrical practice—styles of acting, techniques of directing, problems of production, methods of financing, varieties of stage design and related problems; and to do this I would like to visit as many significant theaters as possible and to talk with producers, directors, actors, local theater critics and patrons and, most important, to see productions of plays and, ideally, various productions of the same play. In general, I am more interested in companies that produce contemporary work than in those that confine themselves to the classic repertoire. Out of the basic material of a log of observations and conversations, I would like to fashion a long essay or a short book on the practice of theater in America today, to complement my earlier essay on contemporary plays and playwrights. Also, should I discover more new native plays and playwrights worth noticing, I would add an appendix to the earlier essay on “The New American Theater,” or perhaps revise it completely, for the book’s possible paperback edition.

The initial research, as I tentatively plan it, would require four trips. Since I am presently in London and my passage back to America is included in the Fulbright award, it would be foolish not to look first at some major contemporary European theater, primarily to enrich my awareness of modern theatrical possibilities and to offer me theoretical frameworks and practical standards for understanding and evaluating American theater.

The European tour would start early in September 1965 with the Edinburgh Festival, where I hope to see both the official and unofficial exhibitions. Then I would travel to Ireland to attend the Dublin Theatre Festival and other Irish theater. From there I would go to Paris, especially to see the work of Roger Planchon (or to Lyon, should he be there instead) and whatever important foreign groups should be visiting Paris; and to Berlin for the Berliner Ensemble and to Opole, Poland, for the heralded, but unknown, theater of Jerzy Grotowski and, perhaps, to Warsaw; then to Prague to look at the theatrical experiments of Josef Swoboda, to Israel for the Habimah and other modernist groups and finally to Milan for the Piccolo Theater of Georgio Strehler. From there I shall return to America (at Fulbright expense, fortunately). I expect to allow at least one week for each city, with two apiece for Edinburgh and Paris—ten weeks in all for the European tour.

The American portion of the project would involve, tentatively, three extensive trips across the United States between the two theatrical centers, New York and San Francisco. The first would be along the northern route, the second via the South, and the third through the Central states. Certain more important theaters, such as the Arena in Washington and the repertories in San Francisco, I would want to visit more than once. I would expect to spend about one week in each city, studying not only the principal theater but others in the immediate area. At the beginning of each trip, I plan to stay about three weeks in New York City, seeing acting schools, plays, repertories, actors and directors; and at the end of each trip, there will be a week in our second theater city, San Francisco.

[Each of the next three paragraphs, one for each tour, lists a route of nine theaters between New York City and San Francisco.]

Should any new theater group spring up in the coming year, such as the projected Los Angeles Civic Repertory, I would, of course, make a special effort to assay its work. In general, I expect to keep an extra eye out for shoe-string, sidetrack, experimental groups which, I suspect, will become more prevalent outside New York in the coming years. In my earlier essay, I noted in New York at least an increasing interest in writing important, rather than commercial, plays and, concomitantly, the rise of a more sophisticated theater audience. Now is the time to discover whether these developments are generally true across the U.S. Finally, I want to ascertain the character of American play production and whether shifts in theatrical presentation accompany changes in the writing of plays. (1964)

* * *

It can be asked if the real history of architecture is not that of schemes which were never built. . . and if there are not, in fact, two architectures, one of research and projects, the other of completed buildings—the second being but a weak echo of the first.

—Michel Ragon, “Retrospective de la prospective architecturale,” quoted in Alison Sky & Michelle Stone, Unbuilt Architecture (1976)


As an intellectual history, this is not an interpretation of an age’s artistic character, such as Roger Shattuck’s The Banquet Years; it is not a social history of a period, such as Frederick Lewis Allen’s two Yesterday books; it is not a history of ideas, especially as they are embodied in literature, such as The Twenties by Frederick Hoffman; or an impressionistic picture of the period, such as Thomas Beer’s The Mauve Decade; or a thorough survey of many aspects of a culture, such as Robert Graves and Alan Hodge’s The Long Week-End. This study will instead emphasize ideas as they are found in literature, only because literature is the most sensitive barometer of intellectual concerns. Hence, a model closer to my conception of this study would be Alfred Kazin’s On Native Grounds.

In discussing intellectuals in different academic specialties, I will necessarily emphasize those who engaged the problems of their age and thus contributed to, or swam with, the intellectual currents of our times. Therefore, the philosopher Walter Kaufmann’s ideas will be of more interest than those of the foremost practitioner of linguistic analysis, while the economist John Kenneth Galbraith is of more interest than the author of, say, “Price Stabilization in the Fur Industry.”

Organizing the materials will, of course, pose the biggest problem. The first temptation is to posit a number of key ideas to characterize the period and then merely group individual thinkers under each heading, as William York Tindall did in his Forces in Modern British Literature. This I find too easy to do in one respect and too disorienting in another. Ideas are attached to thinkers; and although ideas may characterize an age, it is thinkers who make a cultural period. It is more propitious, to my mind, to divide the study into areas of intellectual endeavor, apportioning one chapter to novelists, another to playwrights, another to sociologists, another to psychoanalysts, etc., and then develop the unifying themes through each of those chapters. Here one must choose whether to discuss the field as a whole, or to focus extensively on the work of an eminent but characteristic figure. When Kazin discussed literary criticism, he took the former path, one that I believe is more successful. In contrast, Roger Shattuck saw his era through admittedly second-level figures in visual art, poetry-art criticism, music and drama

Qualifications: Majored in American Civilization and did extensive work in the history of ideas in European literature. Did independent studies in comparative psychoanalytic theory, the city in American fiction, theories of history and an honors thesis on Henry Miller, Extensive reading in sociology and twentieth century American intellectual history. Have published articles and reviews discussing psychoanalysis, recent European writing, criticism of recent literature, American plays, sociological thinking, cultural criticism, and American fiction in Kenyon Review, Commonweal, Contact, Texas Quarterly and various other American magazines. (1964)

* * *


My work so far at King’s College [University of London] has focused more around and behind the central subject, contemporary English literature, than directly in it. I was quite familiar with the major post-WWII authors before I came here, as I had selected critical essays on many of them for the book I edited, On Contemporary Literature (1964). Thus, I felt that, first, it was necessary to gain a more thorough background in twentieth-century English literature and, then, to fathom the current intellectual scene and to learn of contemporary writers whose works, if not their names, were previously unknown to me.

For the first effort I have been attending at King’s College the courses on twentieth-century fiction and drama, as well as doing extensive readings of works not directly touched upon in the courses. I believe I have come to understand what is the British tradition in both these genres and, more important, what works might constitute a countertradition that is still relevant. Second, I have established contact with many of the younger critics who have written extensively on the current scene [named], as well as some of the people about whose work I may be writing. They have provided me with guidance, albeit of various kinds and in even more various directions, in approaching the mass of contemporary materials. Finally, I have done extensive readings in English history—political history, cultural history, literary history—as well as recent social thought and sociology, and I plan to pursue the suggestion made in conversation with our cultural attaché, Cleanth Brooks, that the entire Commonwealth of English-speaking people might be regarded as a single literary entity.

Work projected for the second year would include, first, systematic readings in contemporary literature, especially those writers recommended to me [listed]. When this is finished, I expect to develop my notes on the material into a critical book on recent English literature. My present hypothesis is that in the past decade Britain has witnessed the emergence of a viable, if scarcely known modernist literature. I expect to have several chapters on the various major writers, dealing particularly with their formal inventions and how form is used to convey meaning; several survey chapters on various promising writers, grouped probably by styles; a portrait of the literary scene; some notes on recent developments in critical and social thought; and, in closing, an evaluation of current achievements. Among the writers whose works I plan to discuss in some detail are the novelists William Golding, Doris Lessing, Samuel Beckett, Lawrence Durrell, J. G. Ballard, Derek Ingrey, Christine Brooke-Rose, Philip Toynbee, Nigel Dennis, Wilson Harris, Edgar Mittelholzer, Amos Tutuola, Stefan Themerson, B. S. Johnson; the playwrights N. F. Simpson, David Mercer, Henry Livings, Harold Pinter; the poets Jon Silkin, Peter Redgrove, John Furnival, Ian Hamilton Finlay, Dom Sylvester Houe’dard, Ted Hughes and Tom Gunn.

Other books about this period include John Press’s study of the poetry, John Russell Taylor’s of the playwriting, James Gindin’s (and peripherally Frederick Karl’s) of the fiction. I know of no book attempting an inter-genre approach; nor do I know of anyone who is writing such a study. (1965)

* * *

I felt myself to be a radical, not an ideologue; I was proud of the revolutionary yet wholly literary tradition in American writing to which I knew that I belonged.

—Alfred Kazin, Starting Out in the Thirties (1951)


The first project is a study of the major trends and figures of American thought in the period from 1945 to 1965. It will include a selective investigation of the work and ideas of the important novelists, poets, playwrights, critics of arts and letters, theologians, interpretative historians, social thinkers, psychologists, philosophers and unclassifiable intellectuals. The proposed study will then attempt to define the common preoccupations, the responses to original problems (e.g., thermonuclear war, automation), the various intellectual tendencies and the historical significance of the era.

The second project is a study of the American imagination as represented by our greatest creative figures. Tentatively, the research will concentrate upon the works and careers of a novelist (probably Melville), a poet (probably Whitman), a painter (A. P. Ryder), a composer (Ives) and perhaps also a philosopher (Pierce) and an architect (Sullivan), all of whom did their most important work between 1850 and 1920. The project may be supplemented by similar studies of the comparable masters of the period from 1920 to the present (e.g., Faulkner, Cowell or Cage, F. L. Wright, Cummings, Pollock). In addition to exploring the works of various individuals, this project will try to ascertain whether there exist any aesthetic and intellectual characteristics common to these major men and thus peculiar to American cultural excellence. Some of my thoughts on these matters are introduced in the second section of my essay, “Notes on the New American Arts” (1965). (1966)

* * *


This represents a rough outline, more tentative in detail than conception, of an extensive anthology of the essential statements of America’s major painters, sculptors, architects, composers and choreographers, from the beginnings to the present. Most of the selections come from artists who lived in the twentieth century, because only in the last fifty years has America achieved a tradition of sustained, rather than sporadic, excellence in all the arts. My choice of individual spokesmen, as well as the accompanying introduction and headnotes, would emphasize the uniquely eccentric, rather than the conventional and cosmopolitan, in our native traditions. The themes and figures, as well as the principle of gathering the various arts together, relate to books I have already written or projected for the future.


COPLEY, John Singleton: Excerpts from Letters and Papers of John Singleton Copley and Henry Pelham (Massachusetts Historical Society, 1914)

AUDUBON, John James: Selections from his writings

DURAND, Asher B.: “Letters on Landscape Painting,” Crayon I (1855)

FIELD, Erastus Salisbury. Descriptive Catalogue of the Historical Monument of the American Republic (Amherst, 1876)

RYDER, Albert Pinkham: “Paragraphs from the Studio of a Recluse,” Broadway Magazine (Sept. 1905)

EAKINS, Thomas: Selections from his writings

HENRI, Robert: “The New York Exhibition of Independent Artists,” Craftsman XVIII/2 (1910)

MacDONALD-WRIGHT, Stanton: Excerpt from Catalogue of Forum Exhibition (N.Y., 1916)

DAVIS, Stuart: “On Abstract Art,” in Abstract Painting in America (N.Y., 1935)

BENTON, Thomas Hart: Excerpt from An Artist in America (N.Y., 1937)

POLLOCK, Jackson: “My Painting,” Possibilities I/1 (Winter 1947-48)

DeKOONING, Willem: “The Renaissance and Order,” Trans/formation I/2 (1951)

------. “What Abstract Art Means to Me,” Museum of Modern Art Bulletin, XVIII/3 (1951)

MOTHERWELL, Robert: “The Painter and the Audience,” Perspectives 9 (August 1954)

REINHARDT, AD: “Twelve Rules for a New Academy,” Art News LVI/3 (May 1957)

------. “Art-as-Art,” Art International VI/10 (December 1962)

------. “The Next Revolution in Art,” Art News LXII/1 (March 1965)

RAUSCHENBERG, Robert: Excerpts from “Conversation with Richard Kostelanetz,” Partisan Review XXXV/1 (Winter 1968)

KAPROW, Allan: “The Legacy of Jackson Pollock,” Art News (October 1958)

------. Statement in Manifestos (N.Y., 1966)


RUSH, William: Selections from his writings

GREENOUGH, Horatio: “American Architecture” (1843), in Form and Function (Berkeley, 1957)

------. “Remarks on American Art,” Ibid.

SAINT-GAUDENS, Augustus: Excerpts from The Reminiscences of. . . . (1913)

CALDER, Alexander: Selections from his writings.

SMITH, David: “Notes on my Work,” Arts (February 1960)

------. “Thoughts on Sculpture,” College Art Journal (Winter 1954)

------. “The Secret Letters—Interview with Thomas B. Hess,” David Smith (N.Y., 1964)

RICKEY, George: “The Morphology of Movement: A Study of Kinetic Art,” in Gyorgy Kepes, ed., The Nature and Art of Motion (N.Y., 1965)

OLDENBURG, Claes: Excerpts from Store Days (N.Y., 1967)

MORRIS, Robert: “Notes on Sculpture,” Artforum (February 1966, October 1966)


MILLS, Robert: “A National Style for Architecture,” in H. W. Pierce Gallagher, Robert J. Mills: Architect of the Washington Monument, 1781-1855 (N.Y., 1935)

RICHARDSON, H. H.: Selections

JENNY, William Le Baron: Selections

SULLIVAN, Louis: “The Tall Office Building Artistically Considered” (1896) and “What Is Architecture?” Kindergarten Chats (N.Y., 1947)

WRIGHT, Frank Lloyd: “Roots” and “The New Architecture: Principles” in A Testament (N.Y., 1957)

FULLER, R. Buckminster: “Review of Building,” Ideas and Integrities (Englewood Cliffs, 1962)


BILLINGS, William: Excerpts from The Continental Harmony (1794), reprint edited by Hans G. Nathan (Cambridge, 1961)

IVES, Charles E.: “Epilogue” (1920), Essays Before a Sonata (N.Y., 1962)

------. “Music and Its Future” (1933), in Henry Cowell, ed., American Composers on American Music (Palo Alto, 1933)

VARESE, Edgard: “The Liberation of Sound: Three Essays” (1936-39), in Barney Childs and Elliott Schwartz, eds., Contemporary Composers on Contemporary Music (N.Y., 1967)

COWELL, Henry: Excerpts from New Musical Resources (N.Y., 1930)

HARRIS, Roy: “Problems of American Composers,” in Henry Cowell, ed., American Composers on American Music (Palo Alto, 1933)

COPLAND, Aaron: “The Creative Mind and the Interpretative Mind,” Music and Imagination (Cambridge, 1952)

GERSHWIN, George: “The Composer in the Machine Age,” in Oliver Sayler, ed., Revolt in the Arts (N.Y., 1966)

CAGE, John: “The Future of Music: Credo” (1938) and “Experimental Music” (1957), in Silence (Middletown, CT, 1961)

BABBITT, Milton: “Who Cares If You Listen?” High Fidelity (1957)


DUNCAN, Isadora: Excerpts from My Life (N.Y., 1927)

FULLER, Loïe: Excerpts from Fifteen Years in a Dancer’s Life (1913)

GRAHAM, Martha: Selections from her writings

NIKOLAIS, Alwin: “No Man from Mars,” in Selma Jeanne Cohen, ed., The Modern Dance (Middletown< CT, 1966)

HALPRIN, Ann: Excerpts from “Interview with Yvonne Rainer,” Tulane Drama Review 30 (Winter 1965)

CUNNINGHAM, Merce: “Space, Time and Dance,” Trans/formation I/3 (1952)

------. “The Impermanent Art,” in Fernando Puma, ed., 7 Arts (Indian Hills, CO, 1955)

For further information, please contact the author. (1968)

* * *


1. History and Autobiography: Aftermath of WWII. Truman’s commitment to defend the Western world. The Eisenhower fifties. McCarthyism. Economic boom and personal affluence. The Kennedy decade. The space race. Consciousness of excessive violence. A new mass culture. The coming of age of one born in 1940 (the author).

2. America and the World: While the U.S. has always taken most of its culture from the rest of the world, now much that is universally new and incipiently pervasive has its origins here. Differences between indigenous situations (eliminating the race problem, for instance) and those likely to become worldwide (music).

3. Technology and Affluence. The willful generation of research and development; organization of advanced knowledge. How everyday life has changed, is changing and promises to change in response to technology, and how dependent the average American has become upon commonly available machinery. Statistics and examples.

4. The interaction of “Black” and “White”: The reality of cultural integration, in spite of social segregation. The “Americanness” of U. S. blacks and the “Negroness” of U.S. whites. Social interest and radical myths. Evolution of U. S. blacks’ strategy, between general alternatives of separation and integration, violence and nonviolence. Is there an “Afro-American” culture?

5. The Cultural Boom. Money and the arts. Foundation and the audiences. Who gets paid and how much? Excesses, dishonesties, monopolies. The commercialization of “radical” culture.

6. The Popular Arts. Rock music, films, architecture, advertising illustration, studied for themselves and as reflections of social changes and aspirations, etc.

7. Transformations in the Esoteric Arts. What is new and important in all forms of literature, music, dance, painting, sculpture, film and artistic terrains across and between, in the early seventies.

8. The Hyper-Educated Society. Increases in numbers educated at all levels. Education as the major U. S. business and political issue. New practices and possibilities in schooling. Effects of hyper-education.

9. The Politics of Sex. A general view of who does what, how often, and where; and an analysis of what the much-proclaimed “sexual revolution” actually changed.

10. Politicians and the People. Is Nixon different from Johnson, and how do they both differ from Kennedy. Responses to Vietnam. The issues in cultural modernism. Possibilities of radical, visionary alternatives.

11. The Forging of an Antagonistic Culture. The generations. The development of hippies, new left, yippies, etc. Symbols and situations of confrontation—

marijuana, Chicago, Woodstock, etc.

12. Recapitulation and Prognostication. “Revolution”?

There will also be bibliographies to each chapter. The aim is to present details and perspectives not commonly known, and yet persuasive. I estimate 75,000 words of text, for delivery in 1972-73. (1970)

* * *


The concept of “thought” is interpreted as broadly as possible—to include the humanities, the social sciences and the physical sciences; yet the emphasis will be upon intellectual endeavor at the highest cultural levels. The project has grown to four volumes, one of which has already been published, the second of which is currently in production for publication in 1971. The first book, Master Minds (1969), focuses upon fourteen eminent artists and intellectuals of the first rank, not only to document their individual careers and achievements, but also to define personal and intellectual styles I take to be characteristically contemporary and American. The second volume deals entirely with the nonliterary arts—painting, sculpture, music, dance and filmmaking and the new art forms among and between, such as “environments,” “mixed-means events,” and “artistic machines”; and since my book’s major theme is the radical changes implicit in recent work, its tentative title is Metamorphosis in the Arts. The third volume, currently in progress, will complete the consideration of humanistic cultural achievements. Chapters already drafted cover post-WWII social philosophy, sociology, historiography, architecture, government, anthropology, esthetics, literary criticism, and arts criticism. This winter I hope to complete the remaining sections of this volume, tentatively intended to cover economics, jurisprudence, education, philosophy, psychology, city planning, fiction, theater and poetry. While approaching each field of intellectual endeavor as a distinct entity, with its own traditions and preoccupations, my study is continually relating ideas and patterns in one area to those in another, as well as setting contemporary contributions in a larger historical and cultural context. The overall thesis, evident throughout, is that only in the post-WWII period did American culture come of age, developing examples of acknowledged excellence in nearly all fields of intellectual activity. It has, thus, been my aim to define and characterize the important work in each area as judiciously and accurately as possible, particularly in introducing major achievements; but since my aim is an integrated and encompassing picture of genuine excellence, rather than a critique of hypocrisies and inadequacies, the book’s tentative title is “The Maturity of American Thought.”

The fourth book, still to be written, will treat intellectual areas less familiar to me. For this reason, I expect to spend next summer, when the hot weather customarily makes reading easier for me than writing, investigating those fields I plan to write about the following winter, ideally completing the four-book project in five years. The folders in my files currently have such titles as physics, chemistry, biology, zoology, computers, management, mathematics, linguistics, cosmology, computers, thermonuclear strategy, electronic communication; but I expect that further research will establish new topics. The final result of all this research and writing will hopefully be a comprehensive picture of American thinking in recent times. (1970)

* * *


This book will be a series of interrelated profiles of some of the most important minds in American intellectual history prior to 1850. The chapters will not only describe the work of each of the following men but will try to generalize from their example how creative achievement happens in America. The result, I hope, will be an encompassing theory of the American imagination.

1. Oliver Evans (1755-1819), who devised the first example of assembly-line manufacture

2. William Billings (1746-1800), a tanner by trade, who was also, by common consent, the first important American composer

3. Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790), who differs from the others primarily in being better known

4. Edward Taylor (1644-1729), by common consent, the first important poet

5. Samuel F. B. Morse (1791-1872), the painter who also invented the telegraph

6. John Woolman (1720-72), a prophetic social critic

7. Jonathan Edwards (19703-1758), the theologian and philosopher

8. Benjamin Rush (1745-1813), the medical doctor who investigated the physical causes of mental distress

9. Charles Brockden Brown (1771-1810), the novelist who originated the American gothic style

10. John James Audubon (1785-1831), the ornithologist who was also a pioneering naturalistic artist

11. John Singleton Copley (1738-1815), the first great American painter

12. Horatio Greenough (1805-1852), sculptor and aesthetician

13. Conclusions

As the chapters will average around 7,000 words in length, the final book will be about 90,000 words, or 224 pages. (1966)

* * *


More properly alternative writing, which is to say a workshop in exploring alternative ways in which poetry, fiction, drama and essays are written. The teacher will survey various current directions, and students will be required to submit creative work, in the medium of their choice, experimenting with structures radically different from those they had previously mastered. Kostelanetz has compiled several anthologies of avant-garde writing and written extensively on the subject. (1971)

* * *


A collection of moderately innovative work, most of it previously published only in periodicals, nearly all of it by young Americans, and all of it easily available for reprint here. What follows is a tentative table of contents, alphabetically listed for convenience; the final selection will be based on it. The book will run approximately 256 pages.

Author    Pages    Selection

Butterworth, Michael    8    Circularisation

Chin, Frank    20    Monday Monday Is Monday

Cohen, Keith    10    Madness in Literature

Coolidge, Clark    3    At One . . . , Torsion Brack

Cory, Jean-Jacques    1    Testimonial

Disend, Michael    8    The Strange Duet

Federman, Raymond    20    Take It or Leave It

Friedman, Ken    8    Papa Larabourrou

Friedman, Paul    10    The Story of a Story

Gangemi, Kenneth    5    Questions & Answers, Eleventh Miscellany

Graham, Dan    5    Income (Outflow) Piece, All You Need Is Love

Haselwood, Roy    4    The Weatherman of Death

Herman, Jan    4    One Talk One

Higgins, Dick    4    Empty Streets, Sophia, Structure

Israel, Philip    4    The Man Who Came Apart

Kaltenbach, Stephen    4    [Four untitled messages]

Kiyokawa, Schoichi    6    One Thousand

Lagomarsino, E.    6    Essay on Desks

Lamothe, D. L.    3    Triangles for Grace

Mella, John    9    Trial

Meltzer, Richard    5    Fan Club News

Morresey, John    4    Concerning the Game

Noonan, John Ford    15    The Effects of Trimethylchloride

Oppenheim, Dennis    6    Wall St. Stock Exchange Removal Transplant

Payerle, George    8    M’Od

Sanders, Ed    6    The Hairy Table

Shapiro, David    4    For Chagy

Simon, John Oliver    4    The Adventures of a Floating Rabbi

Siskind, Mitchell    6    A Day I’ll Never Forget

Sondheim, Alan    1    Totality of Consumption Possibilities

Spatz, Ronald M.    4    XCQWP BNKJYS FGHZTD

Veitch, Tom    4    New York Telegram

Walsh, Jon    2    From Desent

Weller, Michael    5    Moment

Wicklund, Willie Mae    2    Nemo’s Construction, etc.

Wilson, Lanford    5    Wandering

Winkfield, Trevor    7    Robinson Crusoe

Wulffson, Don    10    You Too Can Be a Floorwax That Even Your (Husband Can Apply

This book should particularly appeal to that increasing audience of readers interested in what is new and unknown in the most contemporary literature. (1972)

* * *


This course will present the work and life of exceptional Americans in a wide variety of “fields,” most, though not all, of them cultural. For various practical reasons, it should begin with contemporary figures and then work backward in history, so that the opening sessions will probably treat individuals already profiled in my book Master Minds (1969): Ralph Ellison, Allen Ginsberg, Marshall McLuhan and perhaps John Cage. Students will be urged to sample the man’s work and/or information about it, as well as some basic biographical data; and classes will discuss the nature of his genius and the possible meanings of his life. Among earlier geniuses I would probably present Jackson Pollock, David Smith, R. Buckminster Fuller, Frank Lloyd Wright, W. E. B. DuBois, Gertrude Stein, Isadora Duncan, Charles Ives, Henry Ford, William Faulkner, D. W. Griffith, Herman Melville, Samuel F. B. Morse, Walt Whitman and Benjamin Franklin. Similarities and contrasts will be continually defined throughout the survey, and students will be asked to do a paper on a similar figure of their choice. Although the course is structured to study interesting individuals, one cohesive theme would be general qualities peculiar to American genius; a second major thread would be the possibilities of American life, for among the ulterior motives of such a course would be the dramatizing of possible models for aspiring students. (1972)

* * *

The various reasons for [architectural] unbuiltness range from positive to negative, albeit the terms positive and negative become ambiguous when one is speaking of the state of being unbuilt (which is here considered to be a “positive” situation). Something built would have lost its magic, and here would be considered to be “negative.”

—George R. Collins, introduction to Unbuilt America (1976)


This proposed project represents an extension of the radical analysis presented in the opening portions of my forthcoming book, “The End of Intelligent Writing,” an elaborate critique of the current channels between intelligent writer and intelligent reader, which has not yet found a publisher, although chapters from it have already appeared prominently in several little magazines. The first half of this study examines the shape of literary politics in America, the development of the most powerful informal group (“The New York Intellectuals”), the forms and functions of literary power, and the current general crisis in the intermediary media—in sum, defining several developments contributing to constriction in the pathways of literary-intellectual communication. This research persuasively documents the existence of distinct blockages, of various kinds and for various reasons, in those channels customarily assumed to be “free,” and I suspect that further research will identify yet more barriers.

The first part of the proposed extension would investigate intellectual economics, in a general analysis of who gets paid for what and by whom? What kinds of intellectual work are more lucrative, both individually and corporately? And what kinds are not recompensed, and why? Is American intellectual life today subject to any kind of “class” analysis? If so, how do the divisory lines run? This research will necessarily attempt to separate cultural work financed by direct sale and/or royalties from that supported by universities, foundations, and the government, and thus ascertain which cultural enterprises are largely dependent upon subsidy, whether directly (e.g., strategic research) or implicitly (e.g., nearly all “quality” publishing)? How has the structure of U.S. intellectual economics affected the general understandings of literate people? And how has the structure changed in recent decades? How does the American situation differ from European? What are the most glaring inequities? How might the current arrangements be changed? This part requires systematic research and analysis of information that is, by and large, publicly available.

The second portion of this project will concentrate upon the channels of cultural dissemination, in order to ascertain precisely how intellectual ideas and/or works are presented and then circulated. More specifically, I hope to trace the evolution and dissemination of “successful” innovative ideas, such as Chomskyan linguistics, cybernetic theory, serial musical composition, “revisionist” interpretations of the Cold War, Marshall McLuhan’s hypotheses about electronic communication, Herbert Marcuse’s critique of industrial-bureaucratic society, always noting, in the course of tracing dissemination, what delays and resistances were encountered along the way. I also plan to identify how these researches were subsidized and whether any earlier research in similar veins was neglected and, if so, how these new ideas managed to overcome earlier neglects.

This study will necessarily deal with the role of private communications (e.g., letters, copies of drafts, etc.) and professional conferences, as well as with the influence of books vs. periodicals at popularizing such ideas. Did the post-literary media help? These questions can be answered through interviews with the participants and their professional associates, and then supplemented by research in libraries and elsewhere. From such investigations would come not only precise histories of intellectual dissemination but also some general descriptions of the forces likely to block innovative and/or radical intellectual developments—the kinds of possibly important ideas that are not becoming general intellectual knowledge.

Another realm of questioning concerns how cultural businesses profit from first-rank intellectual creation, and how the effort to maximize profit can affect intellectual communication. How has the pattern of profit in cultural enterprises changed in recent years? How has the current crisis in magazine and book publishing affected the situation? In this last respect, I want to pursue further the analysis broached in “The End of Intelligent Writing” by studying more closely the dissemination of “leftist” criticism in the U.S., documenting in yet greater detail the power of the Random House-New York Review combine and the precise character of the several strains of “radicalism” it has historically favored. This last study will also define, for purposes of contrast, the dissemination of other strains of “radical” ideas—leftist criticism from publishers other than Random House, Buckminster Fuller’s visionary architectural proposals, the hypothesis of a guaranteed annual income, the formation of “up-from-under” organizations for protest and reform, etc. What ideas are not getting through, and why not? Where does de facto censorship exist? And how does it function? The study will conclude by defining both recent changes in the pattern of intellectual communication and the possibilities of various alternatives. The result should hopefully be a sociology not of knowledge but of its dissemination. Both the example and evidence of such “hidden histories” might influence future studies of American thought.

I would expect to undertake this research in the coming academic year, during which I have no permanent commitments greater than a one-day-per-week college teaching position. Since this project should take at least a year to complete, may I please request support totaling $6,500, which I budget as follows: rent, $2,200; travel, $800; food, clothing, etc., $1,500; typist for final draft, $400; books and magazines, $500; postage and telephone, $600; writing supplies, $300; and miscellaneous, $400. I anticipate incorporating this research into articles suitable for periodical publication and the definitive published version of “The End of Intelligent Writing,” as well as the history of post-WWII American thought on which I have been laboring fitfully for the past few years. I have not applied to any other foundation for aid in this project, whose earlier research was financed entirely by previous free-lancing. (1972)

* * *


The course would begin by introducing essential distinctions between high art and commercial art, quality and trash (or rare pleasures and common), past art and contemporary, and then proceed to introduce, in the most comprehensible terms possible, some of the most interesting developments in post-WWII, mostly American poetry, fiction, theater, painting, sculpture, film, music, dance, architecture, television and mixed-media arts. The emphasis will be upon differences in the various media—how each has capabilities unavailable to the others. The functions and varieties of “criticism” will also be discussed. These presentations will draw upon my books on The New American Arts (1965, co-authored) and Metamorphosis in the Arts (1972-73). I would also expect to invite practitioners, were funds and/or individuals willing, to introduce their work to the class, or the students could visit studios, galleries, museums, concerts and poetry readings whenever possible. The course’s primary purpose is basic literacy in all the arts; secondary themes include interrelations among the arts and conceptions of quality applicable to all arts. Toward the end of the course, students will be asked to submit at least one creative project in any artistic domain, and these will be discussed in class. (1972)

* * *


Research toward a critical and historical study of the influence of avant-garde art upon American literature in the twentieth century. Rather than emphasize the interrelations of prominent individuals, I want to define precisely the major formal revolutions of modernist painting music, dance and film and then identify parallel formal developments in modernist writing. My assumption, which is derived from previous research, is that structural innovations have originated largely in nonliterary arts, for what we call “experimental writing” is generally the result of applying (or adapting) these structural ideas to literary creation. Among these innovations I would already identify collage, cubist perspective, constructivism, serialization, reductionism, intermedia; but I anticipate that further systematic investigation will reveal more subtle developments that will in turn suggest literary parallels. The enclosed essay on “Dada and the Future of Fiction” represents an early foray into such analysis; present research will hopefully be less breathless. I regard this work as preceding a long-projected comprehensive historical and critical study of the emerging “new literature.” (1972)

* * *


The exploration, individually and collectively, of radical ways of creating fiction, poetry and theater. The intention is not to inculcate a particular style but to encourage, if not insist, that participants work in ways previously unknown to them, as either writers and readers. The general aim is strengthening the imagination, both through one’s own creative endeavors and in appreciating the innovative works of others. The course will open with the instructor’s survey of pattern poetry, words in space, mixed-means theater, fictions without words, “concretism,” and other new forms yet unnamed. Students are expected to submit their own works for scrutiny not only by the instructor but by the class. The emphasis will be upon courage and adventure rather than slickness and familiarity. Enrollment presumes some experience with conventional literary forms and a commitment to the course’s purposes. The instructor has written The Theatre of Mixed Means (1968) and edited Imaged Words & Worded Images (1970), in addition to contributing his own stylistically radical poems and stories to magazines and anthologies here and abroad. (1973)

* * *


This would attempt to get students to write in ways other than those they have already developed. Therefore, its first rule would be that you can’t do what you’re already done. For that reason the workshop would be restricted to advanced students who would be required to submit samples of their work, less to determine their acceptability than to establish their principal style(s). The course will open with a collective effort to define, in formalistic ways, established ways of writing in each genre. With the help of invited guests (and a few of my own anthologies), we would then study the emerging radical alternatives in the nonliterary arts. All this would serve as a background to encouraging students to experiment, literally, with various alternative structures, both known and, hopefully, unknown. The aim is not to make everyone an avant-garde writer, as I suspect that most participants will continue to concentrate upon their previous styles, but to expand not only their arsenal of imaginative techniques but also their awareness of how artistic discoveries can be turned to personal uses. I don’t know of any course like this in the U.S., partly because very few people could teach it. Nonetheless, I think it would successfully supplement a writing program based, as most of them are, upon poetry or fiction. I’d prefer teaching in the evening, no more than one night a week; and since the weekly seminar I now conduct numbers thirty-five, a class of two dozen prospective writers does not seem forbidding. Indeed, given this course’s emphasis upon artistic variousness, more people would, until a certain number, be more desirable than less. (1973)

* * *


Now is the time to do a rigorously avant-garde anthology of North American poetry. In my reading and critical writing over the past few years, I have discovered several radically alternative kinds of poetry; and though works in these veins occasionally appear in survey anthologies or collections of only one kind, no one has ever devoted a book entirely to them. I’m speaking, roughly, of four general categories of new poetry—visual poetry, where the principal means of enhancing language is pictorial; sound poetry, where musical qualities, rather than syntax, are the unifying factor in a poem; minimal poetry, which realizes drastic reductions in the amount of language; and alternatively structured work, which is a looser category of radical poetic options. As these terms suggest, my criterion for newness in art is strictly formalist. My sense of experimental poetry is more elaborately defined in the seventeenth chapter of The End of Intelligent Writing (1974). Versions of this essay have also appeared in Canadian, British and Australian periodicals. Certain ideas were presented in a television program I wrote and narrated for Camera Three (CBS network). Some of these poets are also included in an exhibition, Language & Structure, that I am presently preparing for an opening in Toronto and subsequent travel around North America. I expect to do more writing and lecturing about this subject.

The anthology I have in mind would have a categorical organization similar to that of my Possibilities of Poetry (Delta, 1970), and I regard “The New Poetries” (note plural) as an appropriate sequel to that earlier book. This new collection will, like its predecessor, open with a substantial critical introduction and close with an appendix of bio-bibliographies. It would be unrealistic to provide a specific table of contents at this point, as final selection depends not only upon further research but upon availability and budget. However, among the poets I would expect to include are Vito Acconci, Charles Amirkhanian, Bill Bissett, George Brecht, John Cage, Clark Coolidge, Kenneth Gangemi, John Giorno, Dick Higgins, Jack Kerouac, Robert Lax, Jackson Mac Low, bp Nichol, Norman Henry Pritchard II and Emmett Williams. I would also try to include the appropriate eccentric works of poets with more conventional reputations, such as Thomas Merton and Edmund Wilson. I regard “The New Poetries” as a prelude to another anthology, tentatively entitled “The American Tradition” that would represent a similarly radical reinterpretation of excellence in the history of American poetry.

One historical precursor for this anthology is Donald Allen’s The New American Poetry (1960), which similarly gathered together kinds of poetry that were neglected at the time (and were often, like current experimental work, dismissed as not poetry). Not only did this Allen anthology change our sense of recent American poetry, but it remains in print fifteen years after its initial publication; I suspect that my book will do as well. The only recent anthology that partially broaches this new terrain is Ronald Gross and George Quasha’s Open Poetry (1973), which is grossly fat, overpriced and under-edited. The book I have in mind would, by contrast, run approximately 320 pages. “The New Poetries” would ideally become the concluding book in survey courses of modern poetry and American literature, and it would appeal hopefully not only to aspiring poets and to poetry readers but also to reviewers and purchasers of my previous anthologies of avant-garde writing. Were this book contracted before the end of 1975, I would expect to deliver it by the fall of 1976. Since I am personally acquainted with most of the book’s contributors, I would prefer obtaining the permissions myself. (1974)

* * *

Youth must distinguish carefully between the essential duties and the nonessential, between those which make for the realization of the best common ideas, and those which make merely for the maintenance of a dogma or unchallenged superstition.

—Randolph Bourne, “The Dodging of Pressures” (1913)


For several years now, both publishers and fellow writers have been suggesting that I do a comprehensive critical book on the you

nger generation of American literary writers. I have continuously followed their works, from my earliest days as a book-reviewing critic, and have kept annotated copies of their books. Several of my anthologies have included many works by my chronological contemporaries. Perhaps because my own writing has taken various forms, I have met colleagues in several fields—not just fellow essayists but novelists and poets too; and my memory of these conversations tends to be strong. My book on The End of Intelligent Writing (1974) includes two chapters on that generation born between 1937 and 1947, which is to say that they graduated from college between 1959 and 1968 and will thus be in their thirties in 1977. The fact that visiting European scholars frequently ask me about “the new writers” indicates, I should think, a recognition of my continuing concern.

Whereas my earlier essays on younger American writers were mostly synoptic, the book I am now proposing, tentatively entitled “Contemporaries,” would focus upon approximately thirty prominent individuals. Organized as a series of personal profiles, averaging 2,500 words in length, this book would describe and analyze their particular literary activities. The essays will be diverse in approach, emphasizing what is important about each person—a single masterpiece, or a developing concern, or a body of significant writing, or literary endeavors other than writing. As these portraits will deal with writers as well as work, I will describe, wherever possible, the people and their lives. Though the tone of the book will be generally sympathetic, I will not resist considered critical judgments. The model in my own previous writing would be the profiles that became Master Minds.

One good reason for doing this book now is the widespread sense that it ought to be done—that someone ought to organize our critical understanding of a chaotic scene; and if I felt that another critic could do it better, I would gladly step aside. I regard the book as an opportunity to cast my accumulating perceptions and judgments into a definitive form.

I tentatively expect that “Contemporaries” will include chapters on most of the following individuals, listed alphabetically for convenience.

Vito Acconci Richard Goldstein Thomas Pynchon

Renata Adler Dick Higgins Ishmael Reed

Margaret Atwood Erica Jong Ed Sanders

Bill Bissett William Melvin Kelley Aram Saroyan

Steward Brand John Leonard David Shapiro

Clark Coolidge Lucy R. Lippard Sam Shepherd

Jerome Charyn Richard Meltzer Robert Stone

Michael Crichton Jack Newfield James Tate

Shulamith Firestone bp Nichol Ronald Tavel

Frances FitzGerald John Ford Noonan W. I. Thompson

Richard Foreman Joyce Carol Oates Diane Wakoski

Kenneth Gangemi Norman Henry Pritchard II Anne Waldman

The order of the chapters will hopefully develop an appropriate logic, and I am sure that certain themes will be reiterated at appropriate points throughout the book.

“Contemporaries” ought to appeal to readers of my other critical books and literary anthologies, especially to those who have been following, so to speak, my earlier writings on this literary generation. More specifically, it should be important to aspiring writers, younger readers, teachers of courses in contemporary literature (in all genres), and many others. Where this book contracted soon, I would probably finish it within eighteen months. (1974)

* * *


Further work in “constructivist fiction,” both for projected books and periodical contributions, as well as larger formats for visual (gallery) display. For an introduction to constructivist fictions, see the enclosed samples. (1975)

* * *


Of all the arts, perhaps the most mistreated within television culture is literature. Adaptations, enactments, readings and other methods have attempted to re-create literary works visually, but what is proposed here is a television station’s inviting a well-known experimental writer to approach the possibility of creating for the medium from scratch.

“Author Richard Kostelanetz has already crossed the barrier into sound by participating in WXXI-FM radio project, the prize-winning Intergalactic Poetry Energy Circus. For several months he has been talking to our television staff about extending his ideas into the visual medium. During a one-week residency next fall, the facilities of a fully professional environment will be made available to him to test the limits of sound and image within the broadcast medium.

“Among the ideas he is considering: (1) Declaration of Independence: ‘The making of chroma-keyed footage of me reading the same text at various distances from a single repositioned camera or before cameras at various distances.’ (2) Autochronology: ‘An autobiographical piece that involves me performing live before a camera in addition to a voice-over narration of me reading a text that will also appear, thanks to a character-generator, on the screen.’ (3) ‘Reading aloud, in some inventive way, visual poems that appear simultaneously on the screen.’” (1977)

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Further work in experimental fiction. (1977)

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I repeat: It suffices that a book be possible for it to exist. Only the impossible is excluded.

—Jorge Luis Borges, “The Library of Babel,” Ficciones (1956)


Initially a professional prose writer, I began in the late sixties to do various kinds of highly experimental creative work—visual poetry, minimal fiction, visual fiction, nonsyntactic prose—all of which have been widely published, exhibited and anthologized, as well as acknowledged in critical histories of American literature. In the past three years, I have begun to work horizontally, out of printed rectangular pages into other media, such as ladderbooks (4 inches high, several feet long), newsprint books, posters, drawings, silkscreen prints and photolinen. As a guest artist at WXXI-FM in Rochester, New York, March, 1975, I made audiotapes that involved multitracking and inventive microphone placement, among other techniques, to realize initially literary texts in radically different experiential forms. The resulting audiotapes, a unique aural experience, have been broadcast over WXXI-FM itself, the National Public Radio Network, the National Educational Broadcasting Association network, and WBAI-FM (in a two-hour program, devoted entirely to my audioart, which will be rebroadcast on 4 December, 1977, Sunday, 9:30 p.m.). These audiotapes have also been aired at many universities, art museums and comparable “concert” situations. The Intergalactic Poetry Energy Circus, of which I was a principal part, won an award for innovative cultural programming from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting in 1977. In July 1975 and then again in May 1976, I returned to WXXI-FM to make other tapes, and I expect to return there again.

In September 1975 I was guest artist in video at the Synapse studio of Syracuse University, where I exploited the indigenous possibilities of the video medium to realize in distinctive ways four initially verbal texts. For one story, “Plateaux,” I introduced an evolving moiré pattern; for “Excelsior,” which switches rapidly between two voices (audible on the videotape), I created two abstract kinetic fields, and then swiftly alternated between them. The central work in my initial videotape, Three Prose Pieces (1975), is “Recyclings,” in which nonsyntactic prose texts are read by several nonsynchronous voices, all of which are mine. The color image consists only of pairs of identical lips (mine), moving synchronously with the audible speech. That is, the first section has one voice and one pair of lips; the last section, devoted to a different text, has six voices and six pairs of lips, which were made by laying one atop the others, through six generations. Thanks to the technique of video superimposition, I was able to make a chorus of myself (and my lips). For Openings & Closings (1975), a fifty-five-minute tape, I instructed a populous crew to switch rapidly between black-and-white and color images, in response to switches in my own aural declamation, ideally making each new image as radically different as possible from its predecessors. It was my aim to reproduce visually the kinds of leaps in time and space that characterize the printed text of 330 one-sentence stories.

What I should like now would be another collaborative situation in which I could do alternate versions of these earlier video pieces. I belatedly discovered that “Recyclings” should have been done with two-inch videotape, which would “hold” several generations of overdubbed imagery far better than the one-inch tape we used at Synapse. Second, the imagery of “Plateaux” could be improved, or a wholly different visual experiment tried. Anyone who has collaborated in several audio studios knows that each one offers different inputs, in both technologies and personal tastes, which ultimately influence artistic output; and I think that the same principle is applicable to video studios, in my continuing quest to make definitive realizations of my initially verbal texts. I have been reliably informed that no other video artist is using the medium in this way, and it is commonly known that few published writers have made creative video, as distinct from documentary video. The attached packet contains my much-reprinted essay, “Literary Video,” which includes a general description of personal purposes that I take to be artistically unique.

Beyond that, I would hope as well to bring new, previously unrecorded prose texts to the Video Lab. One of these, “Declaration of Independence,” would involve making my face into a chorus of itself, which would require not only multigenerational passing of imagery (as in “Recyclings”) but also the multiple image-maker (that I saw in Ed Emshwiller’s Polobolus, on your demonstration tape). Another nonsyntactic prose text, “Prunings,” would probably require an extended narrative of kinetic abstract shapes, to complement visually the electronically processed prose declamation.

For a retrospective exhibition of my creative work in all media, Wordsand, which will open at the Gallery of Simon Fraser University and subsequently tour, I should also like to make a videotape catalogue, so to speak, in which I would introduce the various phases of my creative work; examples of it would be cut into the tape as I talked. (In format and structure, this would resemble the twenty-eight-minute feature program, “Poetry to See & Poetry to Hear,” that I wrote and narrated for Camera Three, CBS network, May 1974, a tape of which is presently distributed by the New York State Education Department.) This documentary videotape would then become a keystone in the video component of the exhibition Wordsand, which would include an audiotape catalogue and a conventional spine-bound book-catalogue as well. Like the audiotape and the book, this video Wordsand would survive the gallery tour to be a documentary in its own right. Given the large amount of visual and verbal material to cut into the basic narrative, I suspect that editing this tape would require computer-assistance. Otherwise, my pieces involve a minimum of props, travel and setting. If there is anyone on camera, it is myself.

Having also worked with words (visual poetry) and numbers (numerical art), I should like to experiment with your Vidifont character-generator, probably in sequential animation. A machine of this kind was introduced to me at Synapse in 1976, but I was not able to use it during my week there. One advantage of an extended residency at a place convenient to my Manhattan home (unlike Synapse) will be, I assume, sufficient time to discover and consider the unique possibilities that video offers to all strains of my artistic activity. (1977)

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In 1917 Ezra Pound hoped to edit magazines as whole entities—having the kind of completeness, formal integrity, structure and continuity or progression you find in a good poem or novel. . . . Since Pound’s efforts we have had—as far as I know—only one gut innovation in magazine editing technique. That came in 1970 when Henry Korn and Richard Kostelanetz founded Assembling.

—Karl Young, “Assemblings,” Margins (1975)


Since the two recent Assemblings are 40% larger than their largest predecessors (and Eighth had to appear in two volumes), it is clear that we are serving a large number of writers and artists, mostly American, who would not otherwise be so freely published. In line with the stated intentions of “Development Grants,” we are applying to do three “Grand Assemblings” which will differ from the current versions in that we will print and bind all camera-ready material submitted by invitees (rather than requiring them to submit a thousand copies of their contribution, appropriately sized). In this respect, the “Grand Assemblings” will resemble the one-shot Critical Assembling, funded by NEA-Literature for 1978 for publication in 1979. For “First Grand Assembling,” we will invite at least four hundred possible contributors to submit no more than two camera-ready pages of anything “otherwise unpublishable” that they want to include. For “Second Grand Assembling,” we will invite at least four hundred possible contributors to submit no more than three sheets into a thousand-page book; and for “Third Grand Assembling,” we would invite five hundred experimentalists to submit no more than four pages. The results would not only be a grand inventory of contemporary literary possibilities, but also be truly incomparable annuals, the best in America since New Directions of the forties or American Caravan (1927-36). Copies will go gratis to the contributors, who constitute the initial sophisticated audience; and the remainder will be sold mainly to libraries and collectors. By 1982, “Grand Assemblings” should be economically self-sustaining in some form. We think that “Grand Assemblings” constitute the most propitious way to extend our editorial concept, which Karl Young identified in Margins as the “only one gut innovation in magazine editing technique” since Ezra Pound’s Exile. Assembling was recently honored with an exhibition at the Pratt Graphics Center in New York City, as perhaps the first U.S. periodical-small press to have an institutional show since The Dial. (1978)

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