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


Art Retrospectives on Videotape and Audiotape

American Writing in 1980

Fellowship for Music Composition

An Assembling of “American Photography in 1980”

Fellowship in Art Criticism

Fellowship for Creative Writers

The Updating, Revision and Publication of “Text-Sound Art in North America”

Fellowship for Creative Writers

Periodical Publications of “Epiphanies”

An Assembling of “American Art in 1980”

A Film of “Constructivist Fictions”

A Festival of American Sound Poetry

The Preparation of a Series of “Autobiographies”

An Anthology of “The Other Poetries of New York City”

Wordworks: Poems Selected & New

An Audioautobiography

A Book of “Preambles”

Vidifont Writing

A Critical History of Recent Innovative Literature

Artists’ Proposals: An Assembling

A Comprehensive Study of Publicly Funded Literary Granting in the U.S.

Text-Sound Tapes

Public Art Project for Portland

The Book Publication of “Epiphanies”

United States/Japan Exchange Fellowship

“Lovings”: A Book

Radio Production

Translating “Epiphanies”

“All Along The Edge”: A Richard Kostelanetz Reader

An American Television Version of a German Film About Pre-WWII Berlin

Proposal for Line Book-Art Competition

“Epiphanies” in Several Media

American Poets & Recording Technologies

Further Work on Video “Epiphanies”

A Museum Exhibition About The Great Jewish Cemetery of Berlin

A Theatrical “Epiphanies”

An Exhibition of “Epiphanies”

An Anthology of New American Radio Art


In the autumn of 1978, the Gallery of Simon Fraser University initiated a comprehensive traveling exhibition of Richard Kostelanetz’s art with words, numbers and lines, in books, prints, audiotapes, videotapes, film and a hologram. In the preface to the accompanying catalogue, it is suggested that just as the gallery space is an exhibition medium, so can both audiotapes and videotapes be. Since Wordsand, as the exhibition is called, includes both these media, it would be appropriate at this time to do a comprehensive audio presentation about this work and then a videotape exposition as well. In each of these exhibitions, the aim is to bring scattered work together—to show where the art has been, how the different parts relate to one another, and where the art is going. Whereas the gallery remains the incomparable form for exhibiting large prints and drawings, the electronic media should be more effective at presenting such durational arts as audiotapes, videotapes and films. We presently request support to produce entirely on our own initiative, renting equipment and studios as necessary, a one-hour audio Wordsand and a one-hour video Wordsand; both have already been scripted. The principal precursor for this in Kostelanetz’s experience is not his creative video but the program “Poetry to Hear & Poetry to See” which he wrote, organized and narrated for Camera Three-WCBS (1974); a videotape copy of it is enclosed. Both the audio and video Wordsand will not only be exhibited on his personal tours and in conjunction with later installations of the gallery exhibition, but they will also be offered to public channels that have previously broadcast his work—SoHo Artists Video, Synapse, WXXI-FM, WNYC-FM, WBAI-FM, as well as National Public Radio and the Australian Broadcasting Commission. (1978)

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Extending the compositional principle of A Critical Assembling, funded in 1978 by NEA-Literature for publication in 1979, we should like to publish a compendious anthology entitled “American Writing in 1980.” It would be realized in the following innovative way: two thousand U.S. writers, working in a wide variety of modes, would be invited to contribute a single page, 5” by 8”, camera-ready for offset reproduction, in an alphabetically organized book. This invitation would state that the invitee’s contribution may consist of literally anything he or she wishes: a fresh manuscript in whole or in part, a page cut from a previously published book, a resume, a manifesto, a list of previous publications, a display that would include both examples and commentary, or anything else that can be reduced to a single 5” by 8” mass-reproduced format. Every page received from those invited will appear intact. Were this proposal fully funded, invitations would go out in May 1979, with a deadline of 1 October, for book publication at the beginning of 1980: one copy will be mailed gratis to every contributor. The book’s principal editor has produced over two dozen anthologies, both selective and inclusive, historical as well as prophetic. As indubitably the most populous anthology of its sort ever published in the U.S., “American Writing in 1980” will serve more writers than any other and no doubt stand as a monument for our time. Tied to a particular calendar milestone, this proposal will not be made again. (1978)

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Further work in text-sound art, which is my term for language creations whose primary means of both coherence and enhancement are based in sound, rather than syntax or semantics. This work will include the realization of several new tapes of varying complexity and varying duration (including an evening-length “opera” in this mode), as well as the redoing of previous work whose current realizations are technically inferior. Some of this composition will require the expensive rental of a synthesizer and a multitrack audio studio, not only for the creation but for subsequent postproduction (e.g., mixing down into quadraphonic and stereo tapes suitable for concert performance and radio broadcast). Further text-sound work with videotape is also a possibility.


Thanks for your request for a “more detailed description of the work proposed.” One hesitates to give away too many professional secrets to a jury of peers, especially prior to realization, let alone dissemination; but here are a few compositions I would like to do:

(1) A more sophisticated Praying to the Lord, whose initial version was produced on primitive machinery at the Western Front in Vancouver, BC, a year ago. Make two basic tapes, one of the Lord’s Prayer in English and the second of a comparable Hebrew prayer. Then quadra-canonize each of these modules through five generations, so that four voices in staggered succession appear on the second generation tape, and then sixteen voices on the third generation, up to 256 on the fifth generation. Should I have access to super-sophisticated equipment (i.e., a two-inch tape recorder with sixteen or more tracks), I should consider a sixth generation. More professional machinery would enable me to eliminate the noise and hiss that plague my current tape, which has nonetheless been aired over public radio here.

(2) “Counting,” in which I count to one hundred, using one voice for the number “one,” two variations of my own voice for the number two, up to one hundred voices of me, each preferably different in quality, for the number one hundred. This should be spectrumized; and given the number of voices I want to process, obviously the more audiotracks that are available the better the results will be.

(3) A series of pieces involving tape-delay of nonsyntactic language, so that related words are heard simultaneously in varying arrangements.

(4) Further experiments along the line of “Recyclings,” which require that the spectator hear (and distinguish) several words simultaneously, much as a musical chord incorporates several notes simultaneously.

(5) My plans for an evening-length “opera” I would rather keep to myself, but suffice it to say that I would function as both “the composer” and “the librettist” for this work. Okay, let me just hint that it will deal with the rhyming properties of language.

Even though this work is based upon language, it is music in that it uses structures and machinery more typical of music than “literature.” That accounts for why the primary means of both coherence and enhancement are, as I noted in my original application, sound, rather than syntax or semantics.

At the suggestion of a member of your staff, I also enclose a videotape of mine, realized two years ago at the Synapse studio of Syracuse University. The third piece on the tape, roughly six minutes down, incorporates a musical piece into an audiovisual experience. (The overdubbed imagery is my lips.) The first two pieces on the videotape I would classify as closer to “literature” than music. Let me suggest that categories are useful in classifying work, not people, especially at a time when the most adventurous artists want to work in more than one area, at once importing ideas from other arts and yet respecting the particular possibilities of the art at hand, which is in this case music. (1978)

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You wrote two film-scripts too, didn’t you?

Yes, but they failed. They were published as books.

—Richard Burgin, Conversations with Jorge Luis Borges (1969)


Following the innovative book-compositional principles of Assembling, we will invite four hundred notable American photographers to submit one 8” x 10” photograph apiece for inclusion in an alphabetically organized book. All photographs submitted by those invited will be included in “American Photography in 1980,” which will thus become the most open and comprehensive inventory of the art in the U.S. today: 368 pages, 8 1/2” x 11”, 300-line screened halftones, 70-lb. coated stock, 2,000 copies. One copy will go gratis to every contributor. (1978)

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May I propose an extended critical essay on polyartists, which is my coinage (acknowledged by Merriam Webster’s) for individuals who do distinguished work in two or more unadjacent media. (Sculpture and painting are as adjacent as poetry and fiction, or video and film, while painting and film, say, are not adjacent. A polyartist should not be confused with a dilettante, whose work in several areas is undistinguished.) After describing the polyartistic imagination in general, I hope to deal with specific figures, defining qualities common to a particular polyartist’s work in two or more domains and/or identifying those fundamental esthetic ideas that appear in various arts. My hypothesis is that the polyartist should be considered a radically different kind of artist. The essay’s introduction will then survey the total work of such great modern polyartists as Marcel Duchamp, Kurt Schwitters, L. Moholy-Nagy, El Lissitzky, Hans Richter, Hans (Jean) Arp, Jean Cocteau and Wyndham Lewis.

Most of the essay will be devoted to discussing in critical detail those contemporaries, mostly American, who extend this tradition: John Cage, R. Buckminster Fuller, Claes Oldenburg, Dan Graham, Sol LeWitt, Michael Snow, Yvonne Rainer, Vito Acconci, Tom Phillips, Andy Warhol, Alison Knowles, Leonora Carrington, Robert Morris, and Dick Higgins, among others. I expect that this essay, once completed, will appear in a periodical and perhaps be incorporated into an illustrated book. (1978)

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Further work in experimental writing. (1978)

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The shift from object to concept denotes disdain for the notion of commodities—the sacred cow of this culture. Conceptual artists produce a professional commitment, that restores art to artists, rather than to “money vendors.” The withdrawal of art into itself may be its saving grace. In the same sense that science is for scientists, and philosophy is for philosophers, art is for artists.

—Ursula Meyer, Conceptual Art (1972)


A fifty-page essay was initially written in 1976, after years of informal research, under a modest NEA Visual Arts Services Grant. Text-sound art is my definition for the intermedium between language and music, where words are enhanced primarily in terms of sound, rather than syntax or semantics. Text-sound art has been performed live in concerts, broadcast over media, and recorded on tapes and records. This essay was, to my knowledge, the first comprehensive survey of North American text-sound artists ever published; at minimum, it makes everyone aware of American exemplars of an art that has received far more attention in Europe. An abridgment of this essay appeared in Performing Arts Journal II/2-3 (Fall 1977; Winter 1978); a more severe abridgment appeared in the New York Times (24 July 1977). People continually ask for copies. In an appendix to the NEA report, I proposed an anthology of printed materials relevant to the art, “Text-Sound Texts.” The production of camera-ready copy for this book was funded by NEA Visual Arts Services in 1978.

What I should like to do now, with requested support, is update the previous essay, revising and enlarging it to utilize newer knowledge about and experience of text-sound art (traveling if necessary to secure it). The definitive essay, “Text-Sound Art in North America,” I would then publish in a paperback edition of two thousand copies that would probably be 5” x 8” in size, ninety-six pages in length, and inexpensive in price. As an experienced small-pressman, I would handle all aspects of book production myself, and copies of the book would be consigned to the major small-press distributors. In the past two years, I have proposed this book to several commercial publishers, university presses, and even noncommercial publishers, yet all for their own reasons were unable to contract it. Nonetheless, an audience for this book exists, initially among practitioners, who have no other source for comprehensive knowledge of what other North Americans are doing, and then among the producers of radio and other audio programs who would like to air a language art—a “poetry,” if you will—that is particularly appropriate to both their medium and our times. (1979)

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Further work in experimental writing, including a series of “Autobiographies” with various structures, in various media. (1979)

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Epiphanies is a large collection of single-sentence fictions that have no necessary relation to one another. These are offered to literary editors to excerpt to their tastes. The idea is that editors are invited to extract from the entire text the individual sentences they wish to publish—it is, after all, the forte of editors to select. These sentences may then be published in any order, as long as the published arrangement clarifies that the sentences were not otherwise connected to one another—say, with extra space between them, or separate paragraphs, or blocks of type afloat in the space of the page. Publishers should consider this an opportunity for innovative design and typesetting—for doing something different not only from what they usually do but from what others have done. The sentences in Epiphanies will also become the material of an audiotape, a film, a videotape, and perhaps a book, as well as a gallery installation in which all printed versions will also be exhibited, with acknowledgment to their respective editors. (1979)

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I’ve written. . . a poem about a friend who promised us a picture. He died. He’s a well-known Argentine painter, Larco, and then I thought of the picture he had promised us, promised my wife and me—I met him in the street—and then I thought that in a sense he had given us a picture because he had intended to do so, and so the picture was in some mystic way or other with us, except that the picture was perhaps a richer picture because it was a picture that kept growing and changing with time and we could imagine it in many different ways, and then in the end I thanked him for that unceasing, shifting picture, saying that, of course, he wouldn’t find any place on the four walls of a room, but still he’d be there with us.

—Jorge Luis Borges, in conversation with Richard Burgin (1969)


Extending the book-compositional principles of Assembling, an annual compilation that I have co-produced since 1970, I should like to publish a compendious anthology entitled “American Art in 1980.” It would be realized in the following innovative way: Eight hundred upper-rank U.S. visual artists, working in a wide variety of modes, would be invited to contribute one page apiece, 8” x 10”, camera-ready for offset reproduction in an alphabetically organized book. The invitation would state that this contribution may consist of literally anything that artist wishes: a black-and-white (veloxed) reproduction of self-selected work, a manifesto, an original drawing, a resume, a compressed catalogue, a proposal, a display that would include both examples and commentary, or any other possibility that fits into a single 8” x 10” mass-reproduced format. Every page received from those invited will appear intact. Were this proposal fully funded, invitations would go out in the summer of 1979 with a deadline of 1 October, 1979, for book publication at the beginning of 1980. When the grant is securely in hand, other funding sources will be canvassed for support sufficient to enlarge the number of pages (and thus the number of invited contributors). As indubitably the most comprehensive anthology of its sort ever published in the U.S., this will no doubt stand as a monument for our time. Drawing upon my experience in organizing and producing such compilations, I would expect to publish the book in an edition of two thousand copies, 8 1/2” x 11”, 70-paper, perfect-bound and individually shrink-wrapped; one copy will be mailed gratis to every contributor. Costs of printing and postage can be expected to run at least $8,000. The remaining copies would be distributed by Jaap Reitman, Printed Matter and other specialists in contemporary art books. If contributors tell their friends and colleagues about the book. the other copies will quickly be gone. It is hoped that everyone professionally interested in the subject will want to have “American Art in 1980.” (1979)

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The production by Richard Kostelanetz and Peter Longauer, collaborating as equals, of a ninety-minute, three-part film of Constructivist Fictions is to be a collection of unrelated episodes (expanding the demonstration film), a single sustained narrative (“Symmetries”), and a single narrative with overlapping sequential parts (“Intermix”).

Constructivist Fictions are line drawings that change in systemic sequence. The systems informing these changes may be additive, reductive, permutational, or combinational, among other syntactic techniques. One recurrent theme is variation and development within a systemic constraint. In film, unlike graphic media, the rate of progression can be manipulated, so that the transitions occur at precisely determined speeds that can, for example, be constantly slow, medium or fast, or progressively accelerating or decelerating. Film enables us to control not only the sequential ordering of the individual images but the time allowed for their perception as well. Such cinematic devices as fades and dissolves, when judiciously employed, serve the ends of Constructivist Fictions and become elements of it, widening the potentialities of the work itself and further enhancing the esthetic experience. Although the filming of Constructivist Fictions depends upon animation techniques, the result is not animation in the usual sense. Rather, filmed Constructivist Fictions become, we feel, visual poetry of a precise mathematical order comparable to music and could indeed be defined as a visual approximation of music. Both artists have shown their work widely, Kostelanetz at universities and art museums, Longauer on both public and commercial television. (1979)

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Text-Sound Texts is the title of an anthology that Richard Kostelanetz produced under a 1978 grant from NEA-Visual Arts Services. This fall, its four-hundred-plus camera-ready pages will be delivered to William Morrow, Inc., which has contracted to publish both hardback and paperback editions in the spring of 1980. Since this collection is the first of its kind exclusively of North American work, several of us sound poets would like to organize in the wake of its publication the First American Sound Poetry Festival, surely in New York (at a major local museum), probably with satellite festivals elsewhere in the U.S. (e.g., San Francisco and Ann Arbor). At these festivals, contributors to the book would present their text-sound works, on the average of three per evening for twenty sessions. Although European countries have frequently presented comprehensive sound-poetry festivals, it is unfortunate, as well as indicative, that none has yet happened in the U.S. These performances should also be professionally recorded for subsequent radio broadcast. Contributors to the book are listed, along with their works, on an enclosed table of contents. Some of these people are better known as “composers” or “painters”; nonetheless, all of them create language works that are best defined as “sound poetry.” This application requests support for honoraria, travel reimbursements, organizing costs and recording expenses for at least sixty participating poets. This First American Sound Poetry Festival should be regarded as a prelude to the Fifteenth International Festival—the first to take place in the U.S.—hopefully in 1982. (1979)

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In conceptual art the idea or concept is the most important aspect of the work. When an artist uses a conceptual form of art, it means that all of the planning and decisions are made beforehand and the execution is a perfunctory affair. The idea becomes a machine that makes the art. This kind of art is not theoretical or illustrative of theories; it is intuitive, it is involved with all types of mental processes and it is purposeless. It is usually free from the dependence on the skill of the artist as a craftsman.

—Sol LeWitt, “Paragraphs on Conceptual Art” (1967)


in a wide variety of forms and media, including a book or, more likely, books; poster-maps; essays of diverse lengths; an audiotape; a videotape; and perhaps a film and hologram. All of these are genres and media in which I have previously worked. Composing a self-portrait from many perspectives in time and space, including dimensions omitted from most earlier autobiographies (e.g., the actual sound of a subject’s voice), I hope to allow the reader-spectator a greater opportunity to interpret a wealth of data—not only the biographical facts, but also the ways in which these facts are presented. My experimental hypothesis is that the truest autobiography of a many-sided person would necessarily be even more various in its approaches. An abundance of Autobiographies could perhaps realize a complexity of self-understanding and self-presentation that would be less likely, if not impossible, in a more conventional narrative. As a trained historian, I am less interested in myself per se than in the exploration of biographical structures, which is to say the various ways in which a complex life can be understood. In part for convenience, the life I choose is my own. (1979)

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Since the spring of 1979, Charles Doria and I have been collecting poetry written in New York City in languages other than English. We are requesting funds to prepare a special issue of Assembling of these poems, reprinting camera-ready offset the original texts (and typesetting previously unpublished poems), en face from translations, detailed glosses or other explanatory material that Dr. Doria will prepare in collaboration with the authors and sympathetic translators. It can be expected that this proposed project will include poems initially written in French (including Creole), Spanish, Hebrew, Yiddish, Ukranian, Polish, Chinese, Russian, Greek and Lithuanian, among other languages. Announcements of this project will appear in the literary press at the end of 1979, and we expect that practitioners will advise one another to submit their exemplary works. Dr. Doria is personally proficient in Greek, Latin, Coptic, French, Italian, French and German, and he has translated from most of these languages. We expect that this Assembling of “The Other Poetries of New York City” will run at least four hundred pages and be printed in a perfect-bound edition of at least two thousand copies. There should be extensive publicity in the New York City ethnic press and distribution to ethnic bookstores, as nothing like this anthology has ever appeared in New York (or the U.S.) before. (1979)

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This will be Richard Kostelanetz’s sixth book of poetry. Within its ninety-six pages will be the best and most anthologized poems from his earlier collection: “Disintegration,” “Live-Die,” “Concentric,” and “Nymphomania,” among others. It will also contain illustrations of his recent poetry hologram.

The intent is to cull a volume that is better than any of his previous individual books: Visual Language (1970), I Articulations (1974), Rain Rains Rain (1975), Portraits from Memory (1975), Illuminations (1977).

“Wordworks” would benefit from appearing in the wake of Kostelanetz’s collected essays on poetry, The Old Poetries and the New (1981), in the University of Michigan Press’s distinguished series, “Poets on Poetry.”

His poems have been published and exhibited around the world, and they have also been included in over thirty-five anthologies. In recent histories of American literature (e.g., Literary History of the United States, The Harvard Guide to Contemporary American Writing), he is commonly acknowledged as one of America’s major experimental poets.

Since little in the book requires fresh typesetting, the manuscript is nearly entirely camera-ready, and a photocopy of it can be submitted to book publishers promising a quick reply. (1980)

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My principal multimedia project at present is the production of a series of Autobiographies. My experimental hypothesis is this: since it is the nature of the autobiographer to leave out more than he puts in, the truest autobiography would be various in its approaches, each element ideally containing something that the others lack. The “Audioautobiography” will draw upon recordings of my voice, the voices of my family and friends, recordings of passages from books that have influenced me, and historic audio materials, reproducing not only sounds from my life but, literally, the sound of me, which are two dimensions that previous autobiographers, dealing only with the medium of print, were unable to include. Examples of extrinsic excerpts include FDR announcing the end of WWII, Ralph Ellison reading the opening of Invisible Man (for which both tape and permission have already been obtained), All-State Choir in 1956, memoirs of friends, family and colleagues. Parts of the composition will depend upon multitracking, as the narrator in the present speaks over sounds from the past; and the whole must be edited with the highest precision. I expect to produce it out of my own studio and multitrack studios rented in New York City.

As a sometime historian (listed in the 1968 and 1973 editions of the Directory of American Scholars—Historians), I am less interested in myself per se than in the exploration of a diversity of autohistoriographical structures, which is to say the various ways in which one’s life can be understood. In part for convenience, the life I choose is my own—its facts are more familiar to me, and about it I am less likely to be inconsistent.

I know of no audiotape like it. There have been autobiographies in print, to be sure, but no audioautobiography known to me; and in this sense, mine might become a model for what others might do, not only for broadcast but for private purposes. (1980)

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“Preambles” is a tentative title for a proposed book that would collect Richard Kostelanetz’s introductory essays written for the following collections of literature, art, criticism and social thought: On Contemporary Literature (1964, 1969), The New American Arts (1965), Twelve from the Sixties (1967), Beyond Left & Right (1968), Possibilities of Poetry (1970), Imaged Words & Worded Images (1970), Social Speculations (1971), Seeing Through Shuck (1972), In Youth (1972), The Edge of Adaptation (1973), Breakthrough Fictioneers (1973), Short Fictions (1974), I Articulations (1974), Essaying Essays (1975), Younger Critics in North America (1976), A Critical Assembling (1979) and Autobiographies (1981). Nothing included here appears in either the author’s Twenties in the Sixties (1979) or his Wordsand (1978), both of which collect essays of his that had not previously appeared in books published under his name.

As many of these collections are presently out of print, “Preambles” would be the only place in which these essays could be conveniently found. Several are regarded among the best of kind; most were prepublished in magazines; some have already been reprinted in anthologies edited by others. Kostelanetz’s essays could be offset directly from their original publications, or be entirely reset and perhaps revised for this new book. Each should be prefaced with a brief headnote, recalling the occasion for which it was written and perhaps describing the book it introduced; and “Preambles” will open with an introduction to the problems of introductions. The only book comparable to this is W. H. Auden’s Forewords & Afterwords (1973), which actually contains, its title notwithstanding, more book reviews than essays initially written to introduce books. It is expected that readers interested in contemporary art, literature, criticism and social thought will continue to consult these essays and, thus, want to obtain “Preambles.” Since nearly two hundred thousand copies of these earlier collections have already been sold, it can be assumed that many readers are familiar with the author’s name and his work. (1980)

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In 1979, I began to work with the video character-generator, the electronic letter-making machine, initially for Declaration of Independence and then with Epiphanies. The latter is based upon over twenty-five hundred single-sentence stories, which were initially written on 3” x 5” cards, in unfixed order, for publication in several possible forms: in a book, as a gallery exhibition on cards, on an audiotape, for a film and/or a videotape. The proprietor of a private New York video production studio, Davidson Gigliotti, invited me to use his character-generator, which is limited to a single style of type and a grid ten lines high and twenty-eight characters wide, to throw the stories individually on the screen in various typographic arrays.

Obviously, it would be more advantageous to compose further video Epiphanies on the Vidifont Mark II which, I understand, has multiple type styles, proportional spacing, typefaces of various sizes and a voluminous memory. Because I would want each story to look as different as possible from all the others, I would expect to exploit the total capabilities of this technology. (According to its caretakers, this has scarcely been done before.) Whether these Epiphanies require background imagery remains to be known. (I think not; but if so, I would, true to my constructivist tastes, use nothing more complicated than different individual colors or regular patterns as edge-to-edge background. I have no intention of ever shooting outside the production studio.) As audio background, I will probably continue to use Samuel Feinberg’s spectacular recording of J. S. Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier. The result would be several thirty-minute programs (or perhaps thirty seven-minute programs, or both) ideally for serial distribution over National Educational Television.

Several other prose pieces of mine suggest possibilities for the character-generator. “Stringtwo” is a seventy-foot typewritten word, composed as it is of overlapping English words, and it would be interesting to run this as a continuous horizontal crawl, probably in conjunction with an audiotaped reading of the same text. “Partitions” is a work initially composed for the eight-page memory of the limited character-generator mentioned before. Here the six words within a single word would become successively visible before the entire word appears again (e.g., partitions/pa/par/part/art/tit/it/partitions). One hundred and ten different words, enhanced in these ways, would appear on the screen in a rigorous incremental presentation that moves progressively from one at a time (twice) up to ten at a time (also twice), the visual-verbal perception thus becoming progressively more difficult. Experience with successful residencies also tells me that this work with the Vidifont Mark II is likely to inspire new writing that is created especially for the machine’s particular capabilities. Naturally, work on these secondary pieces depends upon available budget and time.

Because I have never used this sophisticated character-generator before and have never before employed a typesetting technician, I have no credible idea of how much these works would cost to produce or even how long they would take to make. Your administrator cites the rates of twenty dollars per hour for the Vidifont and thirty-five dollars per hour for the required operator. Since the typesetting of twenty-five hundred separate stories, each ideally with its own typography, is alone likely to take 160 hours (at four minutes apiece), it seems appropriate to budget at least 200 hours here. Since that will cost ten thousand six hundred dollars (@ fifty-five dollars per hour), it seems to me that fifteen thousand dollars would be a reasonable total; the remaining funds will go to pay for videotape, dubbing copies, re-editing, transportation, assistance and contingency fees.

My work with video has so far focused upon its possibilities as a literary medium, discovering how it can enhance language, rather than deflect it, and what kinds of language can best exploit the unique capabilities of the medium. It is unfortunate, I think, that public television in America has presented remarkably little original contemporary literature, preferring instead to produce interviews with prominent writers and adaptations of familiar short stories. The contrary examples of European public media show that this absence need not be. (1980)

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An interesting thing to start with would be the whole notion of the object, which I consider to be a mental problem rather than a physical reality. An object to me is the product of a thought; it doesn’t necessarily signify the existence of art. My view of art springs from a dialectical position that deals with whether something exists or doesn’t exist. I’m more interested in the terrain dictating the condition of art.

—Robert Smithson, quoted in Lucy R. Lippard, Six Years (1973)


I have observed, in The End of Intelligent Writing (1974, 1977) and elsewhere, that literary experimentation continues in America, even if such work is rarely acknowledged in the prominent reviewing periodicals. What I am presently proposing is an extended examination that is both historical and critical of significant formal innovation in recent American literature. My historical assumption is that certain literary styles that were prominent in the sixties—for instance, expressionist confessional poetry, collage and pastiche, ironic narration, etc.—have by now all become milestones that an authentic avant-garde must decisively surpass. With this distinction in mind, I have identified currently innovative forms in poetry, fiction, drama and the essay. This literature was sketchily surveyed in the penultimate chapters of The End of Intelligent Writing; some of it has been anthologized by me in several books and included in the traveling exhibition I curated, Language & Structure in North America (1975-77). Generalizations about this work were presented in “An ABC of Contemporary Reading,” which I included in Esthetics Contemporary (1978) and which I recently worked into a longer manuscript that will appear in a special issue of Poetics Today devoted to “The Poetics of the New Literature.”

What I am presently requesting is a full year’s support to write a book-length critical survey of this recent writing, discussing major writers and works in depth and detail. In the section on poetry, for instance, I would expect to discuss not only visual poetry and sound poetry—the intermedial forms of poetry—but also minimal poetry, abstract poetry, asyntactical poetry, among other currently radical forms. In my chapters on fiction, I likewise expect to separate those innovative works that purify the elements indigenous to fiction from those that mix them with materials, ideas and structures more typical of the other arts. I expect, in addition, to do comparable chapters on innovative dramatic writing and on innovative literary exposition. I include Canadians because, for reasons explained elsewhere, I consider English-language Canadian writers to be a neglected minority within North American literature.

Since this avant-garde American literature has not received much criticism before, let alone notice, my approach shall be initially introductory—identifying general developments, making discriminations between old and new, placing individual works within larger art-historical tendencies, identifying important individuals, describing their works, analyzing major achievements in considerable detail. Since my theme is formal evolution, these more extended analyses will be formalist in method, not only characterizing the forms precisely by illustrating how they relate to ostensible content; beyond that, I expect to use whatever critical strategies (and essay lengths) the works demand. While the body of the book will be organized around art-historical categories, I expect to conclude it with short bio-bibliographical profiles of the major figures. All this is to say that, the radicalism of this work notwithstanding, my critical approach will be fairly traditional.

To give a more specific sense of the literature I plan to discuss, I give the following list of [seventy] writers and publications [ranging alphabetically from Vito Acconci’s selected writings/performances/installations to Paul Zelevansky’s books]. It should be clear that it is my aim to write a definitive critical introduction to these works and what they represent in the evolving history of literature in America, which is to say that I hope that this first book on this emerging avant-garde will stand above all future essays on the same material, because it is essentially correct in its selection of individuals, its distribution of emphases, its identification of major esthetic developments and its analysis of major works. In this respect, I hope that my critical essay will be the equal of Marcel Raymond’s From Baudelaire to Surrealism (1933), L. Moholy-Nagy’s Vision in Motion (1946), Martin Esslin’s The Theatre of the Absurd (1961) and P. Adams Sitney’s Visionary Film (1974). It thus aims to be better than other books that, by contrast, appear to be definitive when they are first published but are later judged to be limited—for example, Edmund Wilson’s Axel’s Castle (1931).

It should also be clear that I would not propose this project unless I knew it could (and should) go beyond my previous commentaries on this work—not only that in The End of Intelligent Writing and the essays collected in the second half of The Old Poetries and the New (1980) but in my general introductions to the anthologies collecting the new writing: Imaged Words & Worded Images (1970), Future’s Fictions (1971), Breakthrough Fictioneers (1973), Essaying Essays (1975), Language & Structure in North America (1975), Text-Sound Texts (1980) and Scenarios (1981). This proposed history is a book I plan to write from scratch, much as the books mentioned in the previous paragraph were written from scratch; yet it will culminate my principal critical interest of the past decade. The tentative title is “The New Literature in America.”

Although scholars of contemporary literature sometimes publish short reviews of new books or extended critical articles on just one author or a single work, I know of only one single-authored book partially on this period that treats all genres together, as I plan to do; and that is Ihab Hassan’s Contemporary American Literature: 1945-72 (1972), which incidentally acknowledges my own contributions as a critic, poet and anthologist. However, this book hardly touches upon the innovative literature I am favoring, although Hassan himself has acknowledged it in his essays since then. The only prolific critic I know with a strong sense of what is genuinely contemporary in American literature today is Jerome Klinkowitz, who differs from me in writing all but entirely about fiction and in concentrating upon writers whom I consistently take to be less innovative. It is commonly understood that the literature I wish to examine at length has no other serious comprehensive critic—that nobody else is, as you say, as “qualified” to write the pioneering study that is proposed in this application. (1980)

* * *


For A Critical Assembling (1979, NEA-funded), Richard Kostelanetz solicited camera-ready contributions and then published them in alphabetical order, rather than, as in previous Assemblings, collating thousands of pages the contributors submitted to us. For a new Assembling, entitled “Artists’ Proposals,” over one thousand American artists and art administrators will be invited to respond to the following question: IF YOU COULD APPLY FOR A GRANT OF $500,000, WHAT PRECISELY WOULD YOU PROPOSE TO DO? All responses must be no more than one page in length, they must be camera-ready (as we will not edit, typeset or “reject”), and they will be published in alphabetical order. For a grant of seven thousand dollars, we estimate that we can produce sixteen hundred copies of an 8 1/2” x 11” book with 480 pages (on sixty-pound paper). Since 10 pages will be reserved for house business, we will accept only the first 470 camera-ready submissions to arrive at our P.O. Box. All contributors to Proposals will receive two copies of the published book (representing choice “readership”); the remainder of the edition will be sold through Jaap Reitman, Printed Matter and the like. For obvious reasons, “Artists’ Proposals” will be dedicated to the Minnesota artist Don Celender. We believe that “Proposals” should be the most marvelous, interesting, diversified and comprehensive collection of fantasies, speculations and solid suggestions ever compiled anywhere. It may also have a beneficial effect on U.S. arts funding and, ultimately, upon American art. Assembling Press made a comparable application to the Literature Program [of the NEA] for a “Literary Proposals” with an entirely different collection of contributors. Gratified to do either one, we would be especially pleased to do both. (1980)

* * *

Ideas alone can be works of art; they are in a chain of development that may eventually find some form. All ideas need not be made physical.

—Sol LeWitt, “Sentences on Conceptual Art” (1969)


Although the federal Arts and Humanities Councils were formed in the 1960s, as a facet of Lyndon B. Johnson’s Great Society, it was not until the 1970s that they blossomed and become, sheerly by the size of their beneficence, a major cultural force. Indeed, the NEA, NEH and comparable regional organizations have become such a prominent factor in American culture today that it is initially hard for us to remember that ten years ago scarcely any of their activities existed. This project proposes to ascertain critically what effects they have had upon the creation and dissemination of American culture; but rather than deal with the public funders in general, I expect to concentrate upon their literature programs and literary granting, because literature is the cultural area I know best—its personnel and issues are more familiar to me.

Thus, the initial questions of my study are what effects has the growth of public funding had upon American literature? Where have these programs succeeded? And how have they failed? What are or should be their purposes? How do American programs, both federal and state, compare with those in other countries? What secondary effects have they had?

My initial hypothesis is that they have influenced, often in subtle, unexpected ways, the shape and tone of noncommercial cultural activity in the U.S., and then that they all have serious problems, ranging from deleterious bias to the mismanagement of internal information to scandals verging on corruption. However, since the problems of one organization are not always present in another, and no fault known to me is common to all cultural funding agencies, my conclusion is that none is inevitable. A more critical hypothesis examines the possibility of improvement, in part because of self-correcting experience but also because of the salutary effects of outside criticism. (One informant, a Canadian, suggested that in general the U.S. programs “were ten years behind the Canadian and twenty years behind the British.”) A final intuition is that the expected corruption—the undue influence of politicians upon their selections—has scarcely occurred.

As there is no known “method” for examining such institutions, I expect to function as a critical intellectual historian, using statistics and other empirical materials at some points and personal critical judgments at others. There is no immediate model for this project, in part because American intellectual historians have never before had government cultural funders to study. (The WPA, by contrast, was simply an employer of last resort for a limited number of artists and writers.) It could be said that this study is about the impact of government intrusion into a domain that previously lacked it, in part to compensate for cultural failures in the commercial process. (Differences in “produce” notwithstanding, certain governmental farm programs are in certain respects the most comparable precursor.)

I take it that this project thus fits securely into your category of “American Society and Politics” whose stated mandate is support of “projects that develop new perspectives on the evolution of modern American society and that emphasize the interplay of ideas, values and institutions in the emergence of our present civic culture.” Speaking personally, I should add that with my projected book I hope to do for public cultural funding what my Literary Politics in America (1974, 1977) did for its subject—not only demystify definitively but open a previously neglected subject to further critical analysis. (1980)

* * *


What is most necessary now for text-sound art to survive in America is a recorded anthology of only the very best work, and with that principle in mind may I offer the following proposal for a two-record long-playing set, with times listed along with the pieces and their composers:

Side One : Beth Anderson, “If I Were a Poet,” 1:15; Glenn Gould, Prologue from The Idea of North, 4:00; Steve Reich, “It’s Gonna Rain,” 20:00; Norman Henry Pritchard II, “Gyre’s Galax,” 3:00.

Side Two : Bliem Kern, “Jealousy,” 1:16; Tom Johnson, “gbda,” 4:00; Charles Amirkhanian, “Seatbelt, Seatbelt,” 14:58; Richard Kostelanetz, “Praying to the Lord,” 10:00.

Side Three : Bliem Kern, “Sound Poetry,” 9:00; Jackson Mac Low, “The 1st Milarepa Gatha,” 10:00; Jerome Rothenberg, “10th Horse Song,” 4:10.

Side Four : Charles Amirkhanian, “Roussier (not Rouffier),” 4:00; Emmett Williams, “Duet,” 1:58; Four Horsemen, “Allegro 108,” 3:00; Toby Lurie, “Innocence,” 2:00; Charles Morrow, “Sunchant,” 3:50; Mary Ellen Solt, “Zig-Zag,” 5:00; John Cage, excerpts from Empty Words.

With these pieces we have, in my judgment, not only the best American text-sound art—a corpus of work that is good as the best European text-sound—but a coherent sense of where this fertile intermedium might go. (1981)

* * *


What I am proposing for the ceiling of the Justice Building arcade is a multiple sequence—a set of visual narratives, if you will—that can be comprehensibly “read” in six different ways: (1) from its far left end to its far right end; (2) from its far right end to its far left end; (3) from the middle to the left end (from image #8 to image #15); (4) from the middle to the right end (or from #8 to #1); (5) from the left end to the middle; (6) from the right end to the middle. In each narrative, there is a beginning to the sequence, a complication, a denouement and an end. While this work has beginnings and ends, the individual images have neither tops nor bottoms and are thus equally present to the eye from any viewing angle.

The overall scheme is mostly symmetrical—as befits a building that is, as far as I can tell, likewise mostly symmetrical both in its overall design and its individual designs (e.g., the lamps).

What are now ink lines on the drawings will be made entirely of black mosaic tiles 3/4” wide against a background of white tiles, while pencil lines portray gray tile also 3/4” wide. These pencil lines thus represent “ghosts” echoing both the dark diagonal lines within their images and their mirrors within the scheme. All lines will run to the edges of the coffers, and the blacks and whites will be as black and white as possible, better to reflect the lights directed at them. The tabletops will have patterns whose ratios correspond to those on the ceilings immediately above them. The lamps will be hung at the distance we discover most effective for illuminating the ceiling. (This last fact would be impossible to determine in advance of on-site experiments.)

The individual designs have the scale of 1/2” to 1’, because larger drawings seemed unnecessary.

I wish I had sufficient information to present a comprehensive budget, but this has not been easy to ascertain. Nonetheless, it seems reasonable to expect that the extra costs of putting my works onto the tiles of the ceiling would not exceed that of the available funds.

I hope that my work will engage attention, rather than distract it, and that it will be regarded, both by those who experience the space daily and by those who see it only once, as major contributions to public art. (1981)

* * *


“Epiphanies” is large collection in progress of single-sentence fictions, over two thousand in number at last count, that have no intentional connection to one another. Excerpts have appeared in literary periodicals, on videotape, in radio plays both extended and brief, on cards in a gallery exhibition, as the sound track of a film (one in German, another in English), and in live theatrical performances, both here and abroad. A selection of German translations will be published as a small paperback in 1983 by Literarisches Colloquium Berlin. In a book version, these Epiphanies should appear in physically separate blocks of type, several to a page, ideally in a variety of typefaces (to reinforce the fundamental idea that these are indeed distinctly separate stories), with plenty of separation between them (forcing the reader to acknowledge space as he or she moves from one to another). As the stories themselves are not intrinsically difficult, especially after their principle is understood, the book should attract fiction readers willing to appreciate a series of surprises whose theme is the exhaustive experience of the experience of fiction. My own recommendation would be that “Epiphanies” be published in two editions—a 6” x 9” trade paperback and a 10 3/4” x 16 1/8” hardback, photographically enlarged 180 percent (so that individual Epiphanies would come to resemble newspaper headlines). Publishers should consider “Epiphanies” an opportunity for innovative design and typesetting—for doing something different not only from what they usually do but from what others have done. If the publisher wishes, the author would be able to take charge of the design and deliver camera-ready copy. (1982)

* * *


1. Further work in producing Audio Art in languages other than English. (One of the enclosed sample audiotapes, Invocations, contains speech in two dozen languages other than English. I am presently completing a sixty-minute radio program, entirely in German, on commission from the Hörspiel department of Westdeutscher Rundfunk.)

2. Collecting more “outtakes” (by other filmmakers) for “Epiphanies,” which is a universal film in progress designed to be at least 240 minutes in duration, composed from over a thousand outtakes/excerpts so far gathered only in Germany and in the U.S. (The sample was made in Berlin; footage of equal length has already been gathered in the U.S., but not yet incorporated into this early draft.)

3. Exploring the possibility of preparing a sound track in Japanese for the film Epiphanies.

4. Creating original video and holography, probably with imagery of language, in English or Japanese or both.

5. Meeting with friends, correspondents and friends of both correspondents and friends.

6. A greater understanding of Japanese approaches to media and art. (1982)

* * *


“Lovings” is a collection of autonomous single-sentence fictions that aims to include within a single text (and context) a multitude of erotic experiences. Whereas most erotic writing is about one thing, this is meant to be about everything. Periodical editors are invited to select the ones they wish to publish. Those individual stories can then be run in whatever order an editor prefers. Please allow in the design and typography sufficient space (or distance) to establish that these are separate stories, with no particular connection to one another, other than common subject. My own recommendation would be that the designer use different typefaces for adjacent stories and, better yet, that blocks of type be floated in the space of the page (or the magazine column). Another suggestion is that a periodical interested in using a good deal of the text consider publishing their selections as a kind of serial, with a dozen or two stories in each successive issue, the whole thus functioning as a continuing feature to which readers might immediately turn as they open each new issue. Stories from “Lovings” may well be published as a book of similar design. Beyond that, these “Lovings” could, with the aid of a sophisticated character-generator, also become the content of a videotape and the base of a feature-length film. (1982)

* * *


1. Further work in audio art with religious texts. These tapes will use multitracking, tape-delay, voice-modification, computer-assisted voice resynthesis and other sophisticated techniques. Some will be produced at the Brooklyn College Center for Computer Music, where I have a gratis residency.

2. The preparation of a five-hour continuous tape of “Epiphanies,” a collection of over two thousand single-sentence stories read by over fifty people. Two thirds was already recorded at WBAI-FM, New York.

3. The preparation of a series of feature programs on “The Sound of Literature,” which cover an area between sound poetry and audio art on one side and high literary declamation on the other. It will include commentary by the producer and/or interviews with the authors. Sample subjects: Glenn Gould (on his radio documentaries), Allen Ginsberg reading Jack Kerouac’s “Old Angel Midnight,” Klaus Schoning on Neue Hörspiel, Mauricio Kagel, Sten Hanson, James Theobald, Donald Hall on poets’ readings, Jackson Mac Low, John Giorno, Gertrude Stein’s sound poetry, Charles Dodge, Bliem Kern, Jerome Rothenberg’s Horse Songs, Gerhard Ruhm, Eberhard Blum performing Kurt Schwitters’s Ursonate, Vachel Lindsay reading “The Congo,” Carl Sandberg, Barbara Stoler Miller chanting Sanskrit poetry, Norman Henry Pritchard II, The Last Poets, Ralph Ellison reading the preface to Invisible Man (private tape in hand), Charles Amirkhanian, Lord Buckley, etc. (1982)

* * *


“Epiphanies” is a large collection of single-sentence stories each of which is meant to be the key moment, or the epiphany in the James Joycean sense, of a larger, otherwise nonexistent story. As each is a discrete unit, there are no intentional connections among the stories.

Given such thorough disconnection, translating them into another language became more of a problem than we initially supposed. Most professional translators are especially skilled at rendering their native language consistent—they know how to assimilate a style in another language and then create a comparable coherent style in their own language. They impose consistency by, among other things, making sure that each time a certain phrase appears in the original text it is translated with the exact same words.

With “Epiphanies,” however, just the opposite is required. Given the premise of the utter independence of each story, it would be better if the translation had a variety of styles—if, say, the same phrases were translated in various ways. Unsuccessful in our quest for an individual translator to do the entire text into German, we realized it would be better to organize a squad of translators—indeed, a populous team with both professionals and amateurs. The stories, cut into individual slips, were laid out on tables. Two dozen translators were then invited to select the ones they wanted to translate. I as the author was present to answer particular questions about meaning. My publisher checked the translations for accuracy. Within four hours a thousand stories were German—such being the effectiveness of American-style mass production; and a good time was had by all, to whom I am grateful, not only for their participation in this experiment in translation but for their idiosyncratic German words. (Now it might be interesting, if not appropriate, to organize yet another team to retranslate these German Epiphanies back into English.)

This unusual method could be applied to translations of “Epiphanies” into other languages. (1982)

* * *

Regarded in isolation, an idea may be quite insignificant, and venturesome in the extreme, but it may acquire importance from an idea which follows it; perhaps, in a certain collocation with other ideas, which may seem equally absurd, it may be capable of furnishing a very serviceable link.

—Friedrich Schiller, as quoted by Sigmund Freud, The Interpretation of Dreams (1913).


This would collect the best of his works, in all genres and media, between a single set of covers, representing comprehensively a versatile and prolific American author. It will open with selections from his Autobiographies, including the “Self-Profile” of 1969 and his “Autochronology” of 1980, and then have two of his journalistic profiles, one of Glenn Gould and the other of Gertrude Stein. Then come selections from his literary criticism: the introduction to The New American Arts (1965), the introduction to Twelve from the Sixties (1967), the introduction to The Theatre of Mixed Means (1968), the opening chapter of The End of Intelligent Writing (1974), as well as such polemics as “A Magazine of Verse” and “The New Class.” A third section will be devoted to his writings on art: essays on Charles Ives, Moholy-Nagy, recent American music, artists’ self-books, in addition to essays on his own art—“Book Art” and “Art Autobiography.” A fifth section of the book will be devoted to selections from his creative work, as well as prefaces about them. Visual poems: Disintegration, Manifestos, Live-Die, Concentric, Tributes to Henry Ford, Me, The East Village. Visual fictions: Biography, Come Here, Football Forms, Replicate, Passage, Impose, Ripening, March. Verbal fictions: Milestones in a Life, Dialogue, Plateaux, the first section of Foreshortenings, excerpts from both Openings & Closings and Epiphanies. Numerical art: 1024, Two Intervals, Increments, Exhaustive Parallel Intervals, etc. Experimental prose: Declaration of Independence, Recyclings, Conspandextract. The conclusion of this section will include stills from his films and videotapes, photographs of his holograms, and production notes on his audio art. The book will open with a new introduction and close with an elaborate bibliography. As an introduction to work that is currently scattered in many places, this “Reader” should run about four hundred pages, 6” x 9”, and perhaps use, whenever possible, original printings for offset reproduction. (1982)

* * *


In the Wiessensee section of (East) Berlin is the largest Jewish cemetery in Europe (with over 110,000 graves). Founded in 1880, mostly intact, it is a surviving representation of Berlin Jewry (and Berlin as a whole) between 1880 and 1940, when Berlin had the largest Jewish population of any city between Warsaw and New York and when Berlin’s Jews, though never more than five percent of the total population, had a disproportionate prominence. In the cemetery as a whole one sees the culture of Berlin’s Jews at this time, confidently constructing mausoleums that they expected their children would visit and honor, if not aspiring to be buried nearby, in sum revealing their innocent assumption that Jews (and everyone else) would survive and prosper forever in the promised land of Berlin. In the details of many gravestones the viewer can imagine not only individual lives but the culture of a community. What we are doing is an imaginative documentary about this cemetery as an evocative relic of this lost Berlin.

The film opens with the front gate of the cemetery; and after the titles, the camera tours down the honor row, culminating with the gravestone of Leo Baeck, Berlin’s last great rabbi, but, as it swings around, revealing that only his wife is buried here. (Baeck, in fact, is buried in London.) From here onward, the graves are shown in mostly chronological sequence, beginning with the cemetery’s first stone (1880). We go through the mausoleums of the pre-WWI period to the interior burial ground devoted exclusively to those Berlin Jews who died in WWI. After this is a stone honoring Russian war prisoners who happened to die in Berlin. The film then progresses into the postwar period, beginning with a spectacular tour of the mausoleums along the cemetery’s outer wall, the camera’s eye reminding us of the sky under which all are buried. As the survey approaches the Hitler period, we see companion stones belonging to the parents of Kurt Tucholsky, the father dead at the beginning of the century, his grave topped with ivy, the mother dead at Theresienstadt, her ground space empty. The film shows the stones of couples who died in the same year, and then couples who died on the same day in October 1942: double suicides on the verge of imminent deportation. In short, the visual track of the film consists only of scenes from the cemetery. The sound track consists of Berliners and ex-Berliners talking about the cemetery in the prewar period. The current version, roughly twenty-one minutes long, was composed under a grant to Literarisches Colloquium Berlin from the Berlin Senat. This grant, for “low-budget” productions, is intended to produce short films for projection in standard German moviehouses.

We are petitioning for support for an English-language version scaled for television. This means that certain scenes will need to be reshot so that the words, now enlarged, can be read on the smaller television screens; the opening walk down the honor row will need to be slower. We will also need more stills of stones to fill out the twenty-eight-minutes slot that is standard in the U.S. And we shall need to compose a separate sound track from the English portions of those interviewed for the earlier film. *** Those interviewed have become a de facto advisory committee, aware of what we were doing before we shot a single roll: [listed]. To them add the following advisers: [listed]. Research for the film was done in l981-82, during my residency in Berlin as a guest of the DAAD Kunstlerprogramm; the interviews and filming were done in 1983.

We also propose to produce, from sound materials not used in the film, an audio documentary, a radio program, about Jewish life in prewar Berlin. This will run sixty minutes and be offered initially to English-language stations that have previously broadcast my works: Canadian Broadcasting, Australian Broadcasting, National Public Radio and Pacifica Stations. *** It is possible that we will later produce versions of the film with sound tracks in Hebrew and Swedish, among other languages, again based upon interviews with surviving ex-Berliners. *** We may also produce both a book and a museum installation about the Cemetery. Each of these latter media has the advantage of allowing the inclusion of more stones (and thus more names); the main disadvantage of the book is that photographs must necessarily be black-and-white. Neither of these media can equal film in introducing the cemetery and in evoking the experience of visiting the remarkable place.

One sub-theme that connects this project to the author’s previous work is the sense that gravestones in this period constitute a kind of visual poetry, or can be appreciated as visual poetry. To be precise, I consider the experience of the cemetery to be about visual history, or the evocation of history through visual artifacts. All cemeteries “live,” but to different degrees; and in my experience, none is as historically evocative as this. *** We expect to obtain permission to shoot again in the Cemetery. Ask any filmmaker who has worked in East Germany and you’ll understand how difficult this is. Since the German version was a success, we assume that we can come again. *** Among the television outlets asking to see the final English film are WNET, New York, and Sender Freies Berlin, which previously aired a Kostelanetz-Koerber film. (1983)

* * *


Working with the concept of “Constructivist Fictions,” I have produced several hundred pages of sequential line drawings. Some of these sequences or “stories” appeared in two collections, Constructs (1975) and Constructs Two (1978), as well as numerous literary magazines here and abroad. Rather than produce more collections in this mode, I think it would now be more interesting to incorporate many of these several-page sequences into a single narrative titled “Intermix” that would extend the following organizational principles for its entire length: Page one of “Intermix” would be page one of story A (as untitled now as the others); page two would be B1; page 3, C1; page 4, A2; page 5, D1; page 6, B2; page 7, E1; page 8, A3, and so forth. Therefore, each new page of “Intermix” would either continue a previously established narrative or initiate a new one. The book I propose to do of this material would contain at least 500 images on 500 sheets, photocopied on only one side, in edition of seventy-five copies (which is an appropriate number for a book so thick), and then perfectbound with a wrap-around cover of heavier stock. The cost of photocopying and collating 500 sheets of 25% cotton content paper would run at least 4 cents per sheet, bringing the cost of each book to at least $20.00 for the pages alone. The cover and binding would be $6.00 or so per book, bringing the total costs for seventy-five copies to nearly two thousand dollars. I would expect to match your grant with my own funds, in addition to doing all the artwork and overseeing the book’s production. Though I have previously produced book-art books in an incomparable variety of sizes, editions, subjects and modes, the proposed “Intermix,” in the structure of its materials and its physical composition, resembles no other book I have done. (1983)

* * *

Rabelais indulged in the conception of visionary cities, as did other great writers of the times, among them Shakespeare and Cervantes. In Shakespeare’s play The Tempest, Prospero and Miranda find themselves on a distant island, again set within the utopian tradition of an arcadian analogy, which is envisioned by Gonzalo as the incarnation of nature in man, “the opportunity to organize a community untainted by competition or the shadow of ambition, an arcadian anarchy founded upon the permission given to each of its members to follow his own instincts.

—Udo Kultermann, Visible Cities—Invisible Cities (n.d.)


My principal creative project these past few years has been “Epiphanies,” which is a collection of over two thousand discrete single-sentence stories which can be “published” in several forms:

1. A set of at least three thick pocket-size volumes with one story on each page, printed not across the shorter dimension, as in conventional books, but parallel to the longer side of the page.

2. A series of audiotapes of at least ten hours’ total duration in which nearly every story would be individually dramatized.

3. A theatrical version, as outlined in my anthology Scenarios (l980), with at least fifteen performers distributed among the audience in a nontheatrical space (say, a ballroom or a gymnasium).

4. A series of videotapes, likewise at least ten hours’ total duration, in which the texts of the stories would appear on the screen, one at a time, with letters produced by a video character-generator.

5. A museum exhibition for which the stories would be typeset with headline-sized letters and individually mounted on 8” x 10” boards which would be distributed throughout a space.

6. A film composed of Epiphanies found in other filmmakers’ footage (“outtakes”)—at least a thousand excerpts for a film of four hours’ duration. (The sound track for this film would come from #2 above.)

7. An operatic version with additional musical material by Bruce Kushnick; here some Epiphanies would be of words alone, others of music alone and yet others of both words and music, used in the widest variety of complementary ways.

8. Boxes of cards, with one story to a card.

9. Other realizations no doubt inspired by the first eight. (1983)

* * *


This series of twenty-six thirty-minute radio programs will progress through three kinds of material: (1) The earliest recordings of American poets. (2) The classic recordings of that generation of native poets who were prominent between the Wars. (3) Post-War American poets’ direct involvement with recording technology. This section will feature, for one program apiece, the audio literature of John Giorno, John Cage, Norman Henry Pritchard, Dick Higgins, Jerome Rothenberg, Raymond Federman, Charles Amirkhanian, Beth Anderson, Jackson Mac Low et al., with introductions, examples and interviews by me. (1983)

* * *


Single-sentence stories appear on the screen in typography made with a video character-generator. The sample tape was made on an elementary letter-making machine, donated to the author-typesetter; it was limited to a single size and style of type arrayed in a grid that is ten lines high and twenty-eight characters wide. With sufficient funding, we hope to rent a character-

generator with more possibilities in the presentation of language: a machine that can, say, create typefaces of various styles and sizes, whose words can emerge from any place in the visual field or can expand in size within the visual field, whose words can flip and turn like acrobats, which can present the words within a sentence in an irregular sequential flow, etc. We plan to make at least four hours of videotape that can then be divided into lengths most appropriate for distribution (8 x 30 minutes, l6 x l5 minutes, or 48 x 5 minutes). A sound track especially for this work will be composed by Charles Dodge, the master of computer-assisted speech synthesis and the director of the Brooklyn College Center for Computer Music. (He has previously produced Richard Kostelanetz texts for Swedish Radio.) (1983)

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In the Weissensee section of (East) Berlin is the largest Jewish cemetery in Western Europe (with over 110,000 graves). Founded in 1880, it is the principal surviving representation of the great age of Berlin Jewry (and, by extension, of the Lost Berlin), when Berlin had the largest Jewish population of any city between Warsaw and New York, when Berlin’s Jews, though never more than five percent of the total population, had a disproportionate, spectacular influence. Looking at the gravestones of the pre-Hitler period, one can imaginatively reconstruct from visual, verbal and numerical detail not only individual lives but images of a community wealthy and confident, constructing stylish mausoleums that they expected would be visited and honored by their children and grandchildren, who would of course aspire to be buried nearby. By contrast, in the stone of a husband and wife who committed suicide on the same day in 1942 is the conclusive destruction of this dream. (And the modest stones of the post-WWII period tell yet another evocative story.)

During a residency in Berlin (West) as a guest of the DAAD Kunstlerprogramm, I took a large number of photographs of gravestones, mostly in black-and-white, that I initially envisioned for a 6” x 9” book about the Cemetery, as well as color slides that were initially intended to accompany concert performances of an audiotape “Kaddish” that I am presently making. However, once the slides were developed, it became vividly clear that color prints of these slides (which have negatives) could become a museum exhibition. (The fact that the cemetery lies physically in East Germany makes an exhibition more necessary.) Since my interpretation of the significance of the cemetery depends upon the abundant accumulation of evocative details, my vision of this visual history has at least two hundred color prints, 8” x l0”, with horizontal photographs mounted one above the other, the vertical ones by themselves, with footnotes, as needed, and succinct statements gathered from the literature about Berlin Jews (and a few of my own), in large type on cards, say, l8” x l2”, interspersed between. Other exhibition formats are no doubt possible. In these color prints is also sufficient material for a memorable catalogue. (1983)

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“Epiphanies” is a large number of single-sentence “lines” that are available for theatrical performance. Since these are meant to be the resonant key lines—Epiphanies, in the Joycean sense—of longer, otherwise nonexistent narratives, my principal request of the performers is that they read each sentence in ways that evocatively communicate their sense of what the remaining, implicit story might be. Any number of performers may sit or stand as they wish, in a proscenium or an open space; and there is no need to costume or mime any activities, since it is assumed that most, if not all, of the action is in the lines and how they are spoken. The performers are functioning more like musicians who play their solos on cue. For the premiere performance, with both faculty and students at the University of North Dakota, the lines were read one line at a time, with pauses between, by four informally dressed performers distributed around the circumference of a circle made by the audience seated in the middle. (This was an inversion of the traditional theater-in-the-round.) From the ten-thousand-word manuscript of single-sentence lines, the director chose those she preferred, had them typed on individual 3” x 5” cards and then distributed these cards over large tables, inviting the four performers to choose those Epiphanies each felt he or she could articulate best. The director then assigned some of the remaining Epiphanies to those performers she thought could render them best. (No director is obliged to use all the lines; none of them is necessarily more essential to the whole than any of the others.) Appropriate direction should emphasize the individuality of each story and thus avoid, in the ordering of elements, suggesting any relation between the story at hand and any other near it. Though the original production had stories emerging in succession from various points around a circle, with the director on a podium in the middle (functioning more like an orchestral conductor in revising entrances and speech volume), I allow that other directors might want to have them spoken, if not dramatized, in other ways and set in other kinds of theatrical spaces. A subsequent production, exclusively with students at Vassar College, took place within an art exhibition gallery, with spectators scattered about; and since this director instructed her dozen performers to speak often in canon or unison, she used three times as many stories within a production that took just as long as the initial one—forty-five minutes. Moreover, as the order of the lines need not be fixed, I could envision the director changing the sequence from performance to performance in an extended run, or the performers exchanging Epiphanies with one another, in part to keep their renditions continually fresh. There is no doubt in my mind that different groups will (and should) perform “Epiphanies” in totally different ways, much as Gertrude Stein’s similarly open texts are susceptible to radically different theatrical interpretations, and lengths could vary from a few minutes to several hours, much like the works of John Cage. (Video and audio renditions are also possible.) Despite variations in interpretation, the text has its own intelligence; it will always be about one theme that is unique to it: the exhaustive experience of the experience of story.

Since “Epiphanies” is conceptually so different from standard theatrical texts, potential producers and directors are asked first to consider whether they can (or wish to) realize the concept; and if this sounds feasible to you (or at least not impracticable), please write me for a copy of the entire text. (1983)

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What the work of art looks like isn’t too important. It has to look like something if it has physical form. No matter what form it may finally have it must begin with an idea. It is the process of conception and realization with which the artist is concerned. . . . If the artist carries through his idea and makes it into visible form, then all the steps in the process are of importance. The idea itself, even if not made visual is as much a work of art as any finished product. All intervening steps—scribbles, sketches, drawings, failed work, models, studies, thoughts, conversations—are of interest. Those that show the thought processes of the artist are sometimes more interesting than the final product.

—Sol LeWitt, “Paragraphs on Conceptual Art” (1967)


“Epiphanies” is the collective title for over two thousand single-sentence stories—Epiphanies in the Joycean sense—that have been “published” in several media: in literary journals, as a book (in German, l983), in two radically different theatrical performances (both of which are preserved on videotape), as a radio play several hours long, on a videotape that exploits the technology’s unique capabilities of electronic character-generation, and in a film. What is proposed is a complete exhibition of this project, an exhibition that would draw upon the multi-media capabilities of American museums and universities. This exhibition should ideally include:

1. The mounting of over two thousand cards, each 4” x 6”, over the gallery space.

2. The display of the book(s) and of versions previously published in literary magazines (whose editors were encouraged to select the stories they liked best and then print them in whatever order they thought best).

3. Videocassettes of earlier theatrical productions and of the version produced with a character-generator and audiocassettes of the radio play; all cassettes should be available in the exhibition space for insertion into appropriate playing equipment, as individual viewers request.

4. A fresh production of the theatrical text, which is susceptible to various interpretations; this should coincide with the exhibition’s opening.

5. Occasional screenings, perhaps twice a week, of the film that is, at last count, seventy minutes long and will soon be much longer. (It would also be possible to make a separate installation of this film, which could be divided into four equal parts, and then projected continuously and simultaneously onto four screens at four points of the compass, while a single sound track, drawn from the radio performance, would be broadcast over the installation space.)

6. The presentation, at the conclusion of the exhibition, of the “musical” version, with a score for small ensemble by Bruce Kushnick. (This, like the theatrical version, is suitable for student-amateur performers.) It should be noted that in every form “Epiphanies” is concerned with the same things—those heightened moments that are the Epiphanies, or cohering climaxes, of longer stories and then the exhaustive experience of the experience of fiction; the theme of the project as a whole is the experimental exploration of different media as vehicles for story-telling.

Possible sponsors can consider copies of previously published versions and of sample exhibition cards, slides of images from the videotape and the film, videotapes of the earlier theatrical performances and of an earlier, twenty-eight-minute version of the film. Interested sponsors should consider applying to appropriate departments of the National Endowment for the Arts for matching funds. The author-artist would like to participate in the production and design of an appropriate catalogue. Those interested in exhibiting “Epiphanies” should contact him. (1983)

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This book will contain scripts, texts, retrospective descriptions and other printable materials about creative (nondocumentary) radio programs designed not to adapt live theater or, mostly, even to create the illusion of live theater, but to exploit the unique possibilities of strictly audio experience. Selections tentatively include: Archibald MacLeish, Fall of the City; Norman Corwin, Daybreak; Lucille Fletcher, Sorry Wrong Number; Violet Atkins, The Return to Berchtesgaden; Norman Rosten, Paris Incident; Kenneth Patchen, The City Wears a Slouch Hat; Bob (Elliott) & Ray (Goulding), Spelling Bee; John Cage, Roaratorio; R. Murray Schafer, Dream Passage; Michael Palmer, Idem I-V; Beth Anderson, Riot Rot; Sandra Braman, Vellum; Albert T. Cook, Recall; Larry Johnson, Weorald; Peter Ganick, Targets; Welch D. Everman, Trio and Duet; Doug Kahn, Ronald Reagan Speaks for Himself; Carol Adorjan, Portions Mechanically Reproduced; Stephen Dixon, Hugh; Lawrence Weiner, Need To Know; Francis Schwartz, The Madness (?) de Robert Schumann; Henry H. Roth, Hotline; Bern Porter, Abu-Abu; Glenn Gould, Arnold Schoenberg; Jackson Mac Low, Dialog Unter Dichtern/Dialog Among Poets; Richard Barnes, Radio 66; Alison Knowles, Bean Sequence; Anson Kenney, Conceptual Radio: Five Performances; Reuben Ship, The Investigator; John Chu, Out of My Mind; Richard Kostelanetz, The Gospels/Die Evangelien

In the editor’s opinion, these are not only the radio texts that propose how best to exploit the medium; they are also include many of the best ever written in this country. The German word horspiel is used, because it simultaneously expands and elevates the prosaic notion of “radio plays.” To make this selection, the editor read all the historical anthologies; he also asked service magazines in both radio and literature to publish announcements of the project. (The response was approximately a hundred original manuscripts, ten of which are included above.) Several texts were edited at his suggestion; others were produced especially in response to his interest. The book as a whole will run approximately five hundred pages, and it will be, incidentally, the first anthology of North American Radio Plays in over thirty-five years. Like its immediate precursors in the editor’s own history—Text-Sound Texts (Morrow, l980) and Scenarios (Assembling, 1980)—this book will contain a critical introduction. Publishers interested in contracting it should contact him. (1983)

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