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


An Exhibition of the Unique Publishing Program of The Future Press

The Publication of “Intermix”

Book Proposal: “The Great Jewish Cemetery of Berlin”

An Exhibition of Anthologies

Dear Director of Public Arts:

The 16 mm Film “Epiphanies”

A Speech-Music “Kaddish” for Radio

Modular Audio “Epiphanies”

“Wordsand”: A Traveling Exhibition

A Residency in Audio Art

An Exhibition of Fictions

A Series of Programs on American Horspiel

The Sound of German/American Poetry in America/Germany

Possibilities of Longer Poetry: An Anthology of American Contemporaries

A Collaboration with Polyartist Francis Schwartz

The Automated Pen, a Book on Word Processing for Writers

Filming “New York City”

Modest Editions of Unpublished Book-Art Books

“Epiphanies”: An Opera

A New, Expanded Edition of Master Minds

Further Work in The Production of “Audio Writing”

An English Edition of a German Book

Further Work with Language in Holography

Caribbean Sound

Collaboration Toward the Production of Sound Fiction (Audio Narrative)

The Writing of Four Extended Essays of Radio Criticism

An Anthology of “The American Tradition of Poetry”

Five Radio Programs of “The Voices of American Writing”

“Media Writing”: Professional Development in Literature


Established and directed by Richard Kostelanetz, himself a noted critic and anthologist of experimental writing, The Future Press is devoted exclusively to radically alternative materials for literature and alternative forms of books. Toward the realization of these aims, its publications have so far included a visual fiction in the form of a poster that must be cut out and taped into a polyhedron that contains a multipath maze (Bob Heman’s The Journey); a typographically inventive visual-verbal essay, 40” x 26”, of remarks (in French) about the Marquis de Sade (Paul Nagy’s SadisfactionS); a set of seven cards of numerical art (Kostelanetz’s Numbers Two); a minimal fiction, with no more than two words to a paragraph, in two radically different book formats—folded newsprint, 11” x 17”, and a spine-bound paperback, 5 1/4” x 4” (Kostelanetz’s One Night Stood); the most spectacular individual collection of verbal-visual poetry ever published in this country (Ian Tarnman’s First Principles); and Kostelanetz’s third one-man collection of his visual poetry, Illuminations. Upon receipt of expected grants, the Future Press will publish the collected verbal-visual essays of Loris Essary and Carl D. Clark; Bob Heman’s Roads, which will contains one hundred 2” cubes of visual fictional material—cubes that can be variably arranged in three dimensions; Particulars and Exhaustive Combinations by Jean-Jacques Cory, who works exclusively with words in lists; Zoomorph, a four-color, 23” x 29” poster-book-scenario by Fred Truck, winner of the Kontexts 1976 international “originality award”; an audiocassette of previously uncollected text-sound pieces by Jackson Mac Low and W. Bliem Kern; an anthology of New York State sound poets; and several formally related, structurally alternative books by Richard Kostelanetz (including his film Constructivist Fictions made in collaboration with Peter Longauer). In the proposed exhibition, all available works will go on display: the posters and book pages on the walls; the book-sculptures on pedestals; the audiotapes on playback machines; and the films in either continuous or special showings. The space requirements for this exhibition would be modest. There should also be a catalogue comparable to that produced by Kostelanetz for the retrospective Assembling Assembling (1978). This new book would include a brief history of the press, illustrations of exemplary work, reviews, documentation of publications, and other relevant materials. Precisely because The Future Press is so unique, this exhibition would also be unquestionably singular. (1983)

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A constructivist novel of six hundred leaves (twelve hundred pages, by conventional ways of counting), with several sets of narratives of symmetrical abstract drawings that metamorphose, from image to image, in systemic sequence, “Intermix” represents the culmination of a vein of constructivist fiction begun in 1974 and already informing two collections of stories, Constructs (WCPR, 1975) and Constructs Two (Membrane, 1978), and two novellas in the form of ladderbooks, Modulations (Assembling, 1975) and Extrapolate (Cookie, 1975), in addition to one variation with over a hundred loose leaves, And So Forth (Future, 1979), and another novel with 392 images, Symmetries (forthcoming). All these volumes will eventually be exhibited, as well as sold, together. The cost of photocopying and collating six hundred sheets is $18.00 (@ three cents per sheet); and for two hundred copies the printing costs alone would be $3,600. Binding such books would cost an additional $1,000. The author has produced over a dozen other book-art books of numbers, words, lines and photographs, in formats ranging from conventional spine-book books to sets of cards, tabloid-sized newsprint, and ladderbooks. These books have been exhibited and distributed around the world. (1983)

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We now perceive that we should have reached our theory of the hidden meaning of dreams by the shortest route had we merely consulted the vernacular. Proverbial wisdom, it is true, often speaks contemptuously enough of dreams—it apparently seeks to justify the scientists when it says that “dreams are bubbles”; but in colloquial language the dream is predominantly the gracious fulfiller of wishes. “I should never have imagined that in my wildest dreams,” we exclaim in delight if we find that the reality surpasses our expectations.

—Sigmund Freud, The Interpretation of Dreams (1913)


Many images of prewar Berlin are familiar to us: the lush elegance of Unter den Linden, the grandeur of the Hotel Adlon, the urban spectacle of Potsdamer Platz or Alexanderplatz; but these images survive only in miniature photographs that scarcely represent the grandeur of their subjects. There remains in Berlin today another image of lost Berlin, this less familiar than the others, but no less grand and compelling, with a scale and detail that is more suitable to a reasonably priced book of photographs. That relic is the Great Jewish Cemetery in Weissenssee, a rather inaccessible section of (East) Berlin. First established in 1880, it differs from other Jewish cemeteries in its immense size (over 110,000 graves) and its short history, which gives both firsthand and secondhand experience of the place an epistemological coherence. Here are the gravestones of Jews who lived in Berlin after 1860, when Berlin Jews received full civic equality, when Jews, though never more than 5 percent of the total city population, had such a disproportionate prominence that, to the remainder of Germany, Berlin was known as a Jewish city.

Choosing to regard this graveyard as the principal surviving representation of a Lost Berlin, I have assembled a book of my photographs, punctuated by short texts, as an exemplary visual history or, to be ironic, modern archaeology. Two of these black-and-white photographs are set on each 6” x 9” page, except when a text supersedes a photograph. The book has a brief preface and will have in the back explanatory footnotes correlated by page numbers to certain individual photographs, adding essential information that might not be apparent in the photographs alone. I also hope to obtain, for an appendix, a complete list of all the individuals buried there, along with their birth dates and death dates (thinking that this would make the book yet more attractive to the descendants of Berliners). All this prose notwithstanding, the unusual presupposition of the book is that the photographs tell most of the story, for in the gravestones we see not only individuals, whose lives are sketched in the data and design of their unusually idiosyncratic stones, but an entire community that, at least until the middle l930s, clearly felt glad to be in Berlin, confident that the city would remain secure for Jews forever. By contrast, the fewer stones installed after l933 and then after l945 tell other sorts of stories.

Color slides of the cemetery are scheduled to be included in a New York museum exhibition in l984, while a traveling installation of slides and audiotape exclusively about the cemetery is also a future possibility. With the aid of a grant from the Berlin Senat, a German colleague and I are producing a twenty-minute documentary film about this extraordinary place, Ein Verlorenes Berlin, and expect eventually to receive funds to redo this film in other languages of the Berlin Diaspora—English, Hebrew, Swedish, Spanish, French and perhaps Portuguese—not only for screenings at festivals and cultural centers but for broadcast over television. We are also completing for RIAS-Berlin a ninety-minute radio documentary (in German) about the cemetery and will be exploring the production of similar documentaries in other languages. The project was begun during my 1981-82 residency in (West) Berlin as a guest of the DAAD Kunstlerprogramm.

Notwithstanding such interest from other media, this project which began as a book should eventually appear as a book. My first-draft dummy runs over 250 pages; my sense is that the final product should have at least 320 pages. Book publishers interested in considering a photocopy of The Great Jewish Cemetery of Berlin, and promising a quick reply, are invited to write me. (1983)

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Over two dozen books of literature, criticism, art and social thought, edited for publishers both large and small—a retrospective of two decades’ work—would be put in display cases or, more attractively, left on a supervised table for reading on the premises, in either an art gallery or a library. The display would include On Contemporary Literature (l964, l969), The New American Arts (l965), Twelve from the Sixties (l967), The Young American Writers (l967), Beyond Left & Right (l968), Imaged Words & Worded Images (l970), Possibilities of Poetry (l970), Moholy-Nagy (l970), John Cage (l970), Social Speculations (l97l), Future’s Fictions (l97l), Human Alternatives (l97l), Seeing Through Shuck (l972), In Youth (l972), Breakthrough Fictioneers (l973), The Edge of Adaptation (l973), Language & Structure (l975), Essaying Essays (l975), Younger Critics in North America (l976), Esthetics Contemporary (l978), Assembling Assembling (l978), Visual Literature Criticism (l979), Text-Sound Texts (l980), The Yale Gertrude Stein (l980), Scenarios (l980), Aural Literature Criticism (l98l) and American Writing Today (two volumes, l98l). The exhibition should have a catalogue that would open with an expanded version of an autobiographical essay (already drafted for another medium) about the general purposes of these anthologies and then particular histories of individual books. Space permitting, it would perhaps include reproductions of tables of contents, excerpts from introductions and comprehensive bibliographical data. Materials from this catalogue could also be displayed. The exhibition would be the first of its kind, to my knowledge, and would probably be particularly appropriate for libraries with modest exhibition facilities. (1983)

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Four years ago I received from the Visual Arts Program of the National Endowment for the Arts a Planning Grant for Art in Public Places. Since most of my creative work has been literary, the people awarding me this grant no doubt expected that I would come up with proposals for public art different from the common run. Well, I have. One principal way in which they differ is that most are for extended spaces, such as the edge of a train platform, a series of vaults in a hallway ceiling, the vertical risers of a wide flight of steps, or the floor of a very long passageway, such as that connecting one train line to another or the airline’s terminal to the departure pad. Although I once submitted slides of the kinds of images that might fill such spaces, I found that this is less relevant than my declaring in writing, as I am doing now, my preference for such spaces (which most other artists inclined to public art judge impossible) and acknowledging as well that I work within a literary tradition. That last means that I work either with language or literary forms. For the edges of train platforms, for instance, I am proposing the installation, in brass letters at least four inches high, two feet from the edge, their bottoms facing away from the tracks, of texts I call strings. These are extended sequences of letters that are composed of overlapping words, each new word including at least three letters of its predecessor. Let me quote, as an example, the beginning of Stringfive:

Stringfiveteranciderideafencerebrumblendivestablishmentertaintegerunderwritemperament orthographysicisternumericalibereavesdropenervous. . . .

I calculate that, if the letters are four inches high and set lower-case, the exhaustive text (which is a hundred inches long on my typewriter) would be two hundred feet long, which happens to be the length of a typical subway train station. Since these strings, unlike most public art nowadays, cannot be understood in a single glance, they need a captive audience, like people waiting impatiently for a train, willing to work on a puzzle, with full assurance that should they not entirely solve it now, it will surely be there the next time they return. I have already completed six exhaustive texts in this vein—three in English, one in French, one in German and one in Swedish—and would like to believe that in a university town or a sophisticated city at least the French and German would not be entirely incomprehensible. One charm of these Strings is that they are complicated and engrossing enough to survive repeated viewings, especially in public situations where, incidentally, their pedagogic value should not be minimized. For extended passageways and ceilings, I have works I call constructivist fictions which are sequences of square symmetrical abstract line drawings that metamorphose in some sort of systemic narrative and, in contrast to verbal fiction, can be “read” from either end. Some involve only a few successive drawings; others fall into the range of twenty images (and are thus suitable for spaces extended to the ratio of twenty to one); one is nearly four hundred images long (and thus perfect for the driveway to the CIA!). One of these Constructivist Fictions was the finalist in a Portland competition for thirteen ceiling vaults. A final public-art proposal I have is for a film installation of “Epiphanies” ideally in a place where people are waiting against their wishes. It is described in more detail on the enclosed sheet [reprinted below]. Now that I have written this letter, as well as the enclosed proposal, could I please ask you to show both, which may be freely copied, in lieu of slides from me, the next time your council or a similar panel meets to consider artists’ ideas for art in public spaces. Naturally, if I pass the first hurdle, I would be willing to make more specific models for more specific sites. If you or your colleagues have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask. (1983)

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The real problem now seems to be whether work outside the conventional art-work role may still be regarded as having any chance of remaining within the general category of art-work. Does it make sense, as the saying goes, to pick up the ball and run with it only if everybody thinks one is still playing soccer?

The main problem with contemporary practical art, it seems to me, is that there’s a tendency to overlook that practice is based on rules and that rules are prior to practice.

—Ian Burn/Mel Ramsden, “Some Notes on Practice and Theory” (1969)


This film, long in progress, contains heightened narrative moments, both visual and verbal—Epiphanies, in the James Joycean sense—that have no ostensible connection to one another, either horizontally (in time) or vertically (in space); for two dimensions of this radical experiment are, first, numerous parts that are identical only in structural kind and, then, a sound track that proceeds independently of the visual (and yet continually complements it esthetically). The sound track contains single-sentence stories I have written and the visual element is drawn from found footage, both color and black-and-white, collected from innumerable sources and edited by me into continuous film that emphasizes the particularity of each visual Epiphany. In its abundance of discrete stories, “Epiphanies” has been (and will be) ultimately concerned with exploring, within the verbal/visual form indigenous to film, the exhaustive experience of the experience of story. The final film should be four hours long, for both continuous showing and an installation in which one hour segments would be projected continuously to four sides of the space (while the separate four-hour sound track is aired continuously). This application requests support for further gathering and editing of found Epiphanies and for further electronic processing and editing of the sound track. After five years of work on “Epiphanies,” I for one would like to see how the complete film turns out; I hope the panel agrees.

Of “Epiphanies” in progress: A twenty-six-minute version, enclosed with this application, has been screened at Arsenal (Berlin), Literarisches Colloquium Berlin and Donnell Library (N.Y.); a seventy-minute version exists but has not yet been printed; a twenty-minute version with a German soundtrack, commissioned by Sender Freies Berlin as part of its Projektionen ‘83 series, was broadcast over the North German television network in 1983. Yet more footage has been gathered for future re-edits. Several hours of rough audiotape (in English), with over fifty readers, were produced in 1982 and 1983. Approximately forty-five minutes of this raw material was electronically processed during a two-week residency at WGBH-FM in 1983. Selections of the text have appeared since 1980 in over two dozen American literary magazines and in theatrical productions in 1980 and 1981; a selection in German translation was published as a book in 1983. Another version of “Epiphanies” explores the use of a primitive video character-generator, while a three-minute excerpt toward a full-length opera, written in collaboration with the composer Bruce Kushnick, was accepted for broadcast over Westdeutscher Rundfunk. An exhibition at Albright College (1983) included not only the film and videotape but a wall of small cards, each with a single story.

Notes on the film “Epiphanies”: Each sentence is meant to be the epiphany, or encompassing climactic moment (in the James Joycean sense), of a longer, nonexistent story. My aim in writing these stories is to make single sentences so evocatively sufficient that the remainder of the story need not be said. Collected together, these stories make a fictional experience that is not linear, but spatial; not sequential, but thoroughly discontinuous; not nineteenth-century, but twentieth-century (though also echoing Homer, whose parataxis Herodotus compared to beads on a string). To me, the author, no story in “Epiphanies” is more important than any other; in context, none is is merely transitional. Another aim was to touch upon the fullest range of human experience, making perhaps the most universal fiction ever written.

Wishing to extend the principle of Epiphanies into film, I had to decide how such climactic moments could best be made. Since each visual epiphany is meant to stand by itself, absolutely without reference to sequences either before or after (and with no ostensible connection, other than structural similarity, to the different stories on the sound track), I decided it would be best (esthetically, as well as financially and for efficiency) not to shoot fresh footage but to find Epiphanies (perhaps unintentional) in outtakes gathered from many other filmmakers. Had I shot my own footage, I figured, the style of a single cameraman or single director would inevitably impose a consistency that would be utterly contrary to my purpose of making each sequence a distinctly separate entity, as well as contrary to my desire for universality. So, thousands of feet of 16 mm film in a diversity of formats and styles, gathered from the widest variety of sources, were viewed to find the few hundred that I used. The result is, to make two crucial distinctions, not a “compilation film” but a film best made with the compliments of others; and not a film adaptation of a text but a realization in film of unique esthetic principles that likewise inform the text (and, in point of fact, precede it).

The work is so various and abundant that people viewing it tend to come away with (1) a sense of the whole and (2) moments, either verbal or visual, that particularly appeal to them. In my experience, everyone has his or her own favorites, usually for personal reasons (and whether these favorites are visual or verbal often indicates much about his or her perceptual outlook). Whereas another film also made with Martin Koerber, Ein Verlorenes Berlin, has a particular theme that, even if it is not told, must be communicated for the film to succeed, “Epiphanies” is so expansively open that I can expect no more than the reception of its esthetic theme: the exhaustive experience of the experience of story. Everything else any viewer takes away is, literally, his or her own to possess (and beyond my design).

Several people who have seen the same version-in-progress twice have asked me if the “second film differed from the first.” This indicates not any trickery on my part but a quality peculiar to “Epiphanies”: A film so rich in discrete parts simply cannot be assimilated thoroughly in a single sitting. As the film becomes longer, and yet more various, it will become yet more impossible to view fully in the conventional way—perhaps not even in several sittings! With this problem in mind, let me suggest that “Epiphanies” is best seen in venues where members of the audience can enter and leave as they wished, confident that they can return at any point without difficulty. While they may, it is true, have missed certain episodes, they would not upon their return in any sense feel lost. In that case it would be more appropriate to show the film continuously in situations where viewers could stay as long as they liked. There would be no starting time other than the opening of the projection and no closing time other than turning off the lights. (This is politically agreeable to someone like myself who dislikes the convention of forcing an audience to seat themselves at a certain time, not to arise until another time.)

The further I get into this film, the more I find it differs from 99.9 percent of the films ever made, not just because its parts are so disconnected (whereas most films aim for continuity) or because its sound track does not—and need not—synchronize with the visual track, but in the kind of alternative cinematic experience it offers. Yet in spite of these conceptual differences and its unusual origins, “Epiphanies” is still very much about exploiting (and exploring) possibilities unique to the medium of film. (1983)

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I have a spiteful motive in writing such a book in the present climate of society. It is to establish that if you do not do better, it is not because there are no alternatives, but because you do not choose to. . . . Our problems are not technological and sociological; they are moral and political.

—Paul Goodman, Utopian Essays and Practical Proposals (1962)


In an earlier work, Invocations (1981), I mixed the prayers of over sixty ministers from different faiths, speaking over two dozen languages, into a work of art about the sound of the language of prayer. By contrast, the proposed “Kaddish” will focus upon a single prayer that is spoken in a great variety of styles and accents. A prayer for the dead that exists only in Aramaic (and differs from others of its kind in not mentioning death), the Kaddish is also the most poetic statement in the Jewish liturgy. The following rough English transliteration of one system of pronunciation gives some sense of its special sacred sound:

Yisgadal v’yiskadash sh’me rabbo, b’olmo deevro chiruseh v’yamlick malchuseh, b’chayechon uvyomechon, uv’chayey d’chol beys yisroel, baagolo uvizman koreev, v’imrue omen. Y’he sh-meh rabbo m’vorach l’loam ulolmay olmayo. Yisborach v’yistabch v’yispo-ar v’yrisroman v’yisnaseh v’yis-hador v’yisaley v’yishallol sh-meh d’kukdsho b’reech hu l-elo min col birchoso v’shiroso tuscho’choso v’nechemoso daamiron b’olmo v’imru omen. Y’he sh’lomo rabbo min sh’mayo v’chayim olenu v’al col yisroel, v’imru omen. Oseh sholom bimromov, hu yaaseh sholom olenu v’al col yisroel v’imru omen.

[The best translation known to me is: Magnified and sanctified be his great Name in the world which he hath created according to his will. May he establish his kingdom during your life and during your days, and during the life of all the house of Israel, even speedily and at a near time, and say ye, Amen. Let his great Name be blessed for ever and to all eternity. Blessed, praised and glorified, exalted, extolled and honored, magnified and lauded be the Name of the Holy One, blessed be he; though he be high above all the blessings and hymns, praises and consultations, which are uttered in the world; and say ye, Amen. May there be abundant peace from heaven, and life for us and for all Israel; and say ye, Amen. He who makest peace in his high places, may he make peace for us and for all Israel; and say ye, Amen.]

The plan is to collect readings of this traditional text from ministers and cantors around the world, the sounds of their voices implicitly representing the scope of the Diaspora. Here, as in Invocations, I prefer recording religious professionals, because not only do they say the prayer accurately, they have more experience at articulating the nuances of every phrase. Therefore, it is requested that each radio station interested in the work please endeavor to record local rabbis and cantors. These readings will then be mixed into duets, choruses, fugues, and successive solos, in the tradition of Invocations and the Eight Nights of Hanukah produced for the CBC in 1983. My “Kaddish” will be produced, funding permitting, in 1985, at a length between forty and sixty minutes (with excerpting probably feasible), ideally for broadcast on or around Yom Kippur 1985. Radio directors seriously interested in co-producing the work, or in auditing either of its predecessors, are advised to contact me. (1983).

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Background : “Epiphanies” is a collection of over two thousand single-sentence stories that have been published in both literary journals and an anthology of theatrical Scenarios (1980). They also became the text of both a performance piece and a character-generated videotape. In German translation, selections from the text were published as a book; other parts became the sound track of a film shown on the North German television network. Back in America, over a thousand of these stories were recorded by thirty-five readers at WBAI-FM, New York, in February 1982, and then several hundred more were recorded at WGBH-FM, Boston, in January 1983, for editing into a single uninterrupted program at least four hours long. In James Joyce’s theory of the short story, we remember, the epiphany is the encompassing climactic moment that functions to illuminate the entire story. In my “Epiphanies” I have tried to suggest the same momentous quality within a single sentence that is, hopefully, so evocatively sufficient that the remainder of the story need not be said. As no story is intentionally related to any other, the experience of a succession of them is necessarily discontinuous—not nineteenth-century, but twentieth. In time-based media, where the Epiphanies come at a moderate pace, listeners tend to remember what suits their taste and experience, as well as assimilate another quality I take to be the principal theme of the work as a whole: the exhaustive experience of the experience of story.

Foreground : What is proposed is a different use of this taped material. As the stories can be heard in any order, the long tape can thus also be divided and distributed into a large number of short programs—at least fifty, perhaps as many as one hundred—that range in length from twenty seconds to a few minutes. Distributed over the satellite, these brief programs could then be spontaneously inserted, in any order, at available lengths, into the empty spaces of each station’s programming. (They are better than most promos and, better yet, would sustain interest in promos if interspersed between.) In an individual station’s programming, “Epiphanies” should appear as a continuous unscheduled feature—each program a surprise that should nonetheless refer to others. The initial constraint for me as the author/producer is to separate the individual stories—no story should sound connected to any other. Thus, in addition to using a great number of readers with distinctive voices, I have been using audio processing to give each story its own setting, so to speak. Approximately thirty-five minutes of material were processed to my satisfaction during a sixty-hour guest residency at WGBH-FM in Boston in 1983. I shall need to process a few hours more before this is done (and the whole can be cut apart). Since variety is key, the plan is to use various technologies in several studios. These “Epiphanies” will initially be distributed over a satellite system as a continuous program, with the segments prefaced by a voice announcing the length (which will aid in cuing) and then the suffix, “Those were “Epiphanies” by Richard Kostelanetz.” From time to time there will be a longer credit to its benefactors.

This is not the sort of program that commercial radio would ever want to do (since it cannot be sponsored), and there is no mechanism known to me for either producing or distributing it at National Public Radio at present. By contrast, were it made available gratis to independent stations, it could be easily plugged into the available open spaces in the imprecise programming formats that customarily allow announcers and engineers to improvise within an overall structure. (1983)

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Conceptual art is only good when the idea is good.

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


A traveling exhibition of my creative work with language in several media, Wordsand presently includes spine-bound books of my visual poetry, visual fiction, experimental prose and numerical art; ladderbooks of visual fiction; card books whose pages can be distributed over an exhibition space; silk-screened prints; a poem on adding machine tape over fifty feet long; offset cards; stereo-audiotapes; color videotapes; 16 mm sound films; and a hologram. The spine-bound books have customarily been placed on an open shelf adjacent to a comfortable chair. The ladderbooks have been strung out over the display space. The card books can be mounted on walls, along with the prints. The cassettes of audiotapes and videotapes can be played whenever visitors wish. The film can likewise be shown on demand or at scheduled times. A holographic film is available, if the host already has (or can arrange to borrow) a clear cylinder 16” in diameter, a circular projection stand, and appropriate installation know-how. The exhibition has been installed in a space 100’ x 20’, in two adjacent rooms roughly 20’ x 30’, within a single space 35’ square divided by thin screens and within a space 20’ x 50’ punctuated by a pillar. Only the sixteen large prints need be framed; they are already matted. All the materials fit into a single crate 46” x 30” x 9” that weighs roughly ninety pounds, and it has so far gone, mostly by “package express” (bus), to Simon Fraser University, University of Alberta, Cornell College (Iowa), University of North Dakota, Miami-Dade Community College, Vassar College, and California State University at Bakersfield. The Gallery at Simon Fraser co-published a ninety-two-page catalogue that is filled not with illustrations but with theoretical and art-autobiographical writings. Even though I would like to do a larger illustrated catalogue before long, I can supply copies of this first edition to retail at three dollars apiece. It appears that Wordsand may well be the first comprehensive one-person exhibition of its particular literary-artistic kind in America.

The following materials are available for the Wordsand exhibition:

Word Prints , seven silk-screened prints, nonsequential, 26” x 40” each.

Echo , one silkcreened print, 23” x 29”.

Numbers One , six prints, 22” x 30”, only two of which must be displayed together.

Modulations and Extrapolate, two ladderbooks, each roughly 4” x 80”, to be mounted vertically on a wall.

Posters & cards: Manifestoes, Radar, Autobiography, Combinations, Echo, Metamorphosis, Evolving, Milestones in a Life.

Loose-leaf books: Numbers One (seven images), Rain Rains Rain (twenty-four >cards)

Books: Visual Language, In the Beginning, Accounting, I >Articulations/Short Fictions, Recyclings (Volume I), Openings & Closings, Portraits from Memory, Come Here, Constructs, Numbers: Poems & Stories, Three Places in New Inkland, Illuminations, One Night Stood (both newsprint and perfect-bound), Constructs Two, Foreshortenings, Turfs/Arenas/Fields/Pitches, Wordsand, And So Forth, Exhaustive Parallel Intervals, More Short Fictions, Autobiographies, Recyclings, Reincarnations.

String Three , adding machine tape three inches high and over fifty feet long.

Videotapes: Three Prose Pieces, Openings & Closings, Declaration of Independence, Epiphanies for character-generator, Literary Video, a copy of the film Epiphanies with a German sound track, and video documentations of two radically different theatrical performances of the dramatic version of Epiphanies.

Audiotapes: Experimental Prose, Praying to the Lord, Audio Art, Foreshortenings & Other Stories, Monotapes, Openings & Closings, Invocations, Seductions, Relationships, Dialogues, Conversations, New York City, Asdescent/Anacatabasis, The Gospels, Die Evangelien.

Films: Constructivist Fictions, Epiphanies, Ein Verlorenes Berlin.

Hologram: On Holography.

Sponsoring organizations interested in exhibiting Wordsand should contact the artist. (1983)

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Even though I was an Artist in Residence last year, please hear me out. It took me a while to discover what your Fairlight CMI could do best with speech—how I, as a language artist, could best exploit the new machine’s extraordinary potentials, within its severe limitations; and while I was more than pleased with what I did with your technician last summer, I’d like please to request another free pass at the system. My experience tells me that, given that it can handle units no longer than four seconds, the Fairlight works best with individuals words. In my first foray at the Fairlight, I used the German words for yes, no and sure. A future piece would consist of collections of related words, such as these:

Kill, Slay, Hang, Massacre, Bump Off, Choke, Drown, Murder, Execute, Smother, Decimate, Strangle, Immolate, Slaughter, Incinerate, Snuff Out, Asphyxiate, Exterminate, Assassinate, Put to Death, etc.


Live, Arise, Thrive, Vivify, Prevail, Endure, Subsist, Animate, Breathe, Turn On, Continue, Activate, Energize, Propagate, Invigorate, Resuscitate, Walk the Earth, etc.

These words would then be enhanced and combined in various ways, ideally creating a linguistic synergy that exceeds the impact of any individual word.

Another possibility would involve using a collection of Hebrew religious imperatives.

Both works extend my esthetic desire to do on audiotape language constructions that cannot be done live, to create language experiences radically different from anything heard or read before. In the course of producing these pieces, I would also like to explore the studio’s other technologies for their possibilities in speech modification. (1983)

* * *


Richard Kostelanetz has for the past fifteen years worked in a variety of formats unusual for fiction, including newsprint books, ladderbooks, nonsequential cards, mostly blank books, audio, video and film, with a variety of unusual fictional materials, including single-sentence stories, fictions with only one or two words to a paragraph, stories composed exclusively of numbers and of line drawings. On the walls will be mounted several hundred cards of single-sentence Epiphanies, a frieze of Openings & Closings, the large-format newsprint stories (“Milestones in a Life,” certain numerical fictions), the ladderbooks (Modulations & Extrapolate) and the original drawings/versions of some of the abstract stories. Rare and fragile fictions (Tabula Rasa, Inexistences, Obliterate) will be under glass, their pages open to reveal their contents. More common books will be on a table, available for reading on the premises: Short Fictions, In the Beginning, Numbers: Poems & Stories, One Night Stood (in both editions), Constructs, Constructs Two, More Short Fictions, Come Here, Foreshortenings, the German edition of Epiphanies, Openings & Closings, And So Forth, Exhaustive Parallel Intervals, Reincarnations. The audiotapes of fiction (Experimental Prose, Monotapes, Openings & Closings, Foreshortenings, Epiphanies, Seductions, Conversations, Dialogues) should be available from the attendant, to be played in a stereo cassette player (with earphones) whenever a spectator wants to hear one. The same procedure should govern the exhibition of creative videotapes (Openings & Closings, Three Prose Pieces, Epiphanies) which can include videocopies of both theatrical performances of Epiphanies and the four films based on fictions: Constructivist Fictions, Openings & Closings and two completely different versions of the film Epiphanies that are in turn completely different from the theatrical and video versions, and utterly different from each other as well, one having a German sound track, the other an English sound track. In a separate place, for reference, could be the artist’s three anthologies of fiction—Twelve from the Sixties (1967), Future’s Fictions (1971), Breakthrough Fictioneers (1973)—and, if published in time, a book of the author’s essays on fiction. The exhibition should include a catalogue itemizing the work and relating it to other developments in contemporary art and the traditions of fiction. (1984)

* * *


As we approach the sixtieth anniversary of American radio drama, I would like to propose a series of twenty-six programs, each one hour long, devoted to the American Tradition of Hörspiel. Here, as elsewhere, I prefer to use the German term which means, literally, hear-play, because it includes so much more than the English-language equivalent of “radio drama” (but drop the original’s umlaut, because I want to Americanize the word). All the works I wish to include are available on transcriptions, most of them scarce. This series would open with Archibald MacLeish’s Fall of the City (l937), which remains a milestone to us all (and incidentally his greatest single work in this genre); but from there we would differ from any other series that might likewise start with MacLeish in concentrating upon the more radiophonic North American works. By “radiophonic” I mean those pieces that successfully exploit the unique acoustic possibilities of radio, to realize stories and experiences that could succeed only on radio, my theme being that in this age when film and television predominate, radio works best when it does what the other media cannot do—not when it attempts to re-create the situation or even the illusion of live theater but when it realizes experiences that can exist only in the ear. From the classic period, we will play such works as Orson Welles’s War of the Worlds (l938), Lucille Fletcher’s Sorry, Wrong Number, Norman Corwin’s Daybreak and Kenneth Patchen’s He Wears a Slouch Hat. Since I have suggested elsewhere (most recently in a program for Westdeutscher Rundfunk) that the greatest American radio theater of the prewar years appeared in radio comedy, we will feature, for one program apiece, several major figures from this period, including Amos ‘n Andy, Jack Benny, Fibber McGee and Molly, George Burns and Gracie Allen, the Easy Aces and Fred Allen. Here we will play both whole programs and choice excerpts, depending upon what is available and how much commentary is necessary. The contemporary (post-1950) period will include excerpts from Stan Freberg, Nichols and May, Cheech & Chong, John Cage’s Roaratorio, the Firesign Theater’s Do Anything You Want To and selections from Bob & Ray, among others. I would edit the programs and also write the brief commentaries. If the series successfully develops a positive reputation, the whole cycle could be repeated; ideally, it could also provide the sponsoring station with a foundation for fresh productions of American horspiel. (1984)

* * *

When art does not any longer depend upon its physical presence, when it becomes an abstraction, it is not distorted and altered by its reproduction in books. It becomes “PRIMARY” information, while the reproduction of conventional art in books and catalogues is necessarily (distorted) “SECONDARY” information. When information is PRIMARY, the catalogue can become the exhibition.

—Seth Siegelaub (1969), as quoted in Ursula Meyer, Conceptual Art (1972)


What I propose to do is record at least two dozen native-born Americans reciting a favorite German poem of their choice, and to compose from these readings an interwoven, multitrack piece ostensibly about the sound of German poetry in America. I would choose readers whose competence in German was various, from a friend with her baby jingle to Americans who frequently travel in Germany. My sense is that the work would be comic, sure, not only about the sound and rhythms of English colliding with the acoustic qualities of German, but I hope the piece will get into much else, including the profound differences between two languages with similar roots. I would do the original recordings here and there, but would in the composing need to work with a German writer whose love of language comedy equaled my own. (There are several possible collaborators in mind.)

There should also be a companion about The Sound of American Poetry in Germany. This would be composed in similar ways from literate Germans reading their favorite American poems.

My preliminary calculations are that these are two separate pieces, each roughly thirty minutes in length, that could be broadcast separately or sequentially. It might also be interesting to try to compose a single piece incorporating both sets of readings, but I am less sure about what the result of that would be (or whether it would be as successful). My expectation is that the principal producer of this project will be a German station. If it were co-produced by an American organization, certain expenses could easily be shared. The compositional work will probably be done at the Electronic Music Studio of Stockholm, where I have worked several times before. (1984)

* * *


This aims to be a diversified collection of important post-1959 long poems (integral wholes, rather than collections of parts, over ten pages in length, but shorter than a whole book), along with an extended historical-critical introduction to recent longer poetry, the requisite bio-bibliographical notes, and a selective bibliography, after the model of my earlier Possibilities of Poetry (Delta, 1970), whose introduction was reprinted, among other places, in my The Old Poetries and the New (University of Michigan, 1981). My theme here, as before, is that postwar poetry represents a series of reactions to the post-Eliot hegemony of 1945, and that these reactions have been so various that it is fair to speak of this recent period as, first of all, unprecedentedly plural. The length of the book ultimately depends upon the publisher’s budget (with 320 pages as minimum), and the following selections are tentative, in part because all material will be reexamined and the advice of colleagues solicited, especially about options that have recently appeared, but mostly because all possible contributors will be offered the following terms of payment: as two thirds of the publishers’ entire advance to the editor be allocated to the contributors upon publication, that sum will be divided by the number of pages in the book to reach the basic per-page rate, with each contributor receiving this amount multiplied by the number of printed pages of his or her selection, without exception. Those poems whose authors/publishers cannot accept these equitable terms will simply be listed in an appendix for readers to find on their own.

ANDREWS, Lyman. “The Death of Mayakovsky,” New Writers VIII (London, 1968), 10 pp.

ASHBERY, John. “Europe,” The Tennis-Court Oath (Middletown, CT, 1962), 24 pp.

BERRY, Wendell. “Window Poems,” Openings (N.Y., 1968), 22 pp.

CAGE, John. “Empty Words IV,” Empty Words (Middletown, CT, 1979), 10 pp.

COOLIDGE, Clark. “AD,” Space (N.Y., 1970), 19 pp.

DUNCAN, Robert. “Apprehensions,” Roots & Branches (N.Y., 1964).

ECONOMOU, George. “Ameriki: Book One,” Ameriki (N.Y., 1977), 18 pp.

GINSBERG, Allen. “Kaddish,” Kaddish (San Francisco, 1963), 20 pp.

HIGGINS, Dick. “Thrice Seven,” Foew&ombwhnw (N.Y., 1969), 16 pp.

JARRELL, Randall. “The Lost World,” The Lost World (N.Y., 1965), 10 pp.

KEROUAC, Jack. “Sea,” Big Sur (N.Y., 1962), 20 pp.

KINNELL, Galway. “The Last River,” Body Rags (Boston, 1967), 15 pp.

KOCH, Kenneth. “Some South American Poets,” The Pleasures of Peace (N.Y., 1969), 15 pp.

KOSTELANETZ, Richard. “The East Village (1970-71),” I Articulations (N.Y., 1974), 14 pp.

LAX, Robert. “Black & White,” Black & White (N.Y., 1971), 15 pp.

LIEBERMAN, Laurence. “Orange Country Plague: Scenes,” The Unblinding (N.Y., 1968), 10 pp.

MAC LOW, Jackson. “The Presidents of the United States of America,” 12 pp.

O’HARA, Frank. “Biotherm,” Collected Poems (N.Y., 1971), 15 pp.

OLSON, Charles. “Earth Was Born Without Union of Love,” Maximus Two (London, 1966), 10 pp.

OWENS, Rochelle. “The Queen of Greece (A Narrative),” I Am the Babe of Joseph Stalin’s Daughter (N.Y., 1972), 10 pp.

PRITCHARD, Norman Henry, II. “O,” The Matrix (Garden City, 1970), 10 pp.

REXROTH, Kenneth. “The Heart’s Garden, the Garden’s Heart,” Collected Longer Poems (N.Y., 1968), 22 pp.

ROTHENBERG, Jerome. “The Cokboy,” Poland/1931 (N.Y., 1974), 10 pp.

SHAPIRO, David. “A Man Holding an Acoustic Panel,” A Man Holding an Acoustic Panel (N.Y., 1971), 15 pp.

SNYDER, Gary. “Myths and Texts,” A Range of Poems (London, 1967), 25 pp.

SOLT, Mary Ellen. “The Peoplemover,” The Peoplemover (Reno, NV, 1978), 20 pp.

For further information, please write the editor. (1984)

* * *


We would like to produce a polyartistic, polyglot, evening-length theatrical work (or contemporary “opera”) utilizing instrumental sound, olfactory stimulation, video, climatic manipulation, electronically generated sound, speech collage, monologues and spatial effects. Thematically, the material will derive from ancient Jewish themes and their subsequent presence in both Christian and Islamic liturgies and commentaries (e.g., parallels and extensions of the Song of Songs on one hand and the Book of Job on the other). Given the ecumenically sacred nature of this piece, it could be presented on the occasion of a consequential date in the religious calendar of any of the three religions; it could be presented as well in spaces other than formal concert halls. We plan to incorporate not only techniques but excerpts from previous works of ours, such as Kostelanetz’s Invocations (1981) or Schwartz’s Caligula (1975), among others. Kostelanetz will be particularly responsible for language and media, Schwartz for music and theater. Schwartz has composed extended musical/theatrical works, Kostelanetz evening-length tape works. Not only has each worked in the other’s domains, but we have known each other for over a decade and have worked together before. Remembering that religious services at their highest have always been overwhelming multimedia experiences, we think that the work we propose to do will be profoundly traditional in feeling and thoroughly contemporary in expression. While we particularly envision a live production, radio-record or television-videotape versions will also be feasible. Should any producers seriously interested in our vision have any further questions, please contact either of us—Kostelanetz in English, Schwartz at the University of Puerto Rico in English, Spanish or French. (1984)

* * *

One can see in some of his applications for Guggenheim fellowships (he never got one) that he usually had a good idea of what he was trying to create and how to go about it, and if one looks closely his plans are seen to grow out of some already realized work, the analysis of which has determined the next step. It is therefore a little unsettling to read rapidly through these fellowship applications—1942, 1943, 1945, 1946, 1947—for the career unfolds too fast, novels and plays conceived, brought forth (midwife or not) and autopsied, like animated cartoons. Perhaps this haste was anxiety, the result of having no audience to justify his art.

—Taylor Stoehr, introduction to Creator Spirit Come: The Literary Essays of Paul Goodman (1977)


This will differ from guidebooks already popular, such as Peter McWilliams’s Word Processing Handbook, in concentrating not upon differences in machinery but upon the various word-processing programs which my colleagues and I will discuss critically from the perspective of their capabilities and accessibility for writing everything from letters to books. One truth that seems to be lost in current advice is that while all the new machines have advantages over typewriters, not only do they do different things, but even the same tasks are often done differently. For instance, in evaluating some of the popular cheaper systems, we will show precisely why their programs, though useful for writing neat business letters, are not good for writing long essays or books.

In discussing the more sophisticated programs, such as those available for the IBM-PC, we will evaluate and contrast the differences in printing options and, say, physical manipulations, for instance separating those that use the function keys excessively from those that use them scarcely. We will analyze such supplements as Word Plus and Grammatik as well the genuine advantages of an expensive “dedicated” word processor, if only to show what is ultimately feasible in word processing with computers. We shall not ignore machines other than the IBM; but since our thesis is that no single program is always best—they just have different capabilities for writing—our general advice about machines is that you should purchase that which best operates the program that best suits your writing needs. If, for instance, you prefer the operational style of the Spellbinder program, the Eagle is probably best; but if you want to do a footnoted text and to split your screen horizontally with, say, your outline in the top part and your work area in the bottom, you should consider a machine sympathetic to programs with split-screen capabilities. Should you want to use programs that allow you to write in the different alphabets of foreign languages, another machine would be best. And so on.

We expect that our commentary will be sophisticated and discriminating, in the tradition of McWilliams, who gains the reader’s trust through his critical-advisory style. One of us is a professional writer who has authored over twenty books and incidentally advised many colleagues about word processing; his partner has worked for several years in the technical writing department of a computer installation and is thus accustomed to explaining technical procedures to laymen. If this book were contracted now, we would expect to deliver within a year computer disks ready for typesetting a 256-page book. (1984)

* * *


New York City is an extended 140-minute audiotape composed of sounds both typical and unique to New York City, which were then mixed together not to create scenes but to reveal acoustic qualities and audio experience. It was commissioned by the Hörspiel (radio play) department of Westdeutscher Rundfunk for broadcast in 1984 in its Metropolis series (which also includes Pierre Henry’s Paris and two 1930 radio pieces about Berlin by Walter Ruttmann and Alfred Döblin). What is proposed here, in a reversal of convention, is basing a film on this sound track. As the tape is composed of sounds unique to New York, so the footage would be of images likewise unique. To capture the variousness of the city, it would be better, I think, if this footage were shot not just by me, but by others as well. Colleagues would be asked for their outtakes, while I would offer advanced New York City film students 16 mm stock, in exchange for credit in the film (and payment for footage actually used). The latter, especially, would be encouraged to shoot extended sequences, as many sections of the tape run over five minutes. This footage would be edited, and sometimes superimposed, by me, at times to accompany the film track explicitly, other times to complement it with parallel impressions. This procedure for producing the film New York City resembles what I am doing, with some success, in my film “Epiphanies” (in progress since 1981), which was likewise composed from footage shot by others. Behind the idea of the film stands the main principle of my current creative work, which is realizing in a new medium what began in another (mostly audiotapes from texts, but also, in the case of “Epiphanies,” exhibition cards, audiotape, videotape and film, all from a text). Another form for my audio New York City would be a concert presentation with thousands of slides; but one advantage of film, it seems to me, is that its images are kinetic, as my sounds as kinetic. (A second advantage is that film is potentially a mass medium, while concerts are not.) Oddly, the only earlier example known to me of a radio play that became a film was also the initial model for my own hometown portrait—Dylan Thomas’s Under Milk Wood. (1984)

* * *

In the center of Fedora, that gray stone metropolis, stands a metal building with a crystal globe in every room. Looking into each globe, you see a blue city, the model of a different Fedora. These are the forms the city could have taken if, for one reason for another, it had not become what we see today. In every age someone, looking at Fedora as it was, imagined a way of making it the ideal city, but while he constructed his miniature model, Fedora was already no longer the same as before, and what had been until yesterday a possible future became only a toy in a glass globe.

—Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities (1972)


For the past decade Richard Kostelanetz has been working on several book-art dummies that have not been funded in the past and are probably not going to be funded anywhere else, including “Intermix” (interwoven sequences of drawings, several hundred pages long), “Symmetries” (a visual novel with 392 line drawings, to be produced in a ninety-six-page format 4” high x 14” wide), “Recall” (based upon systematic recompositions of a classic symmetrical photograph of the Brooklyn Bridge), “Relationships” (in a scroll several feet long), “More Numbers” (in a conventional saddle-stitched format), and Prose Pieces (nonsyntactic writing, also for a more conventional format), all of which are/will be written/drawn and produced by the artist.

Richard Kostelanetz has authored and produced over a dozen book-art books, in a variety of formats ranging from conventional spine-bound books of drawings, words, photographs and numerical arrays to ladderbooks, newsprint books, two-front books, loose-leaf books, card books and much else, which have been distributed through Jaap Rietman, Printed Matter and other choice outlets. There have been several one-person exhibitions of his book art in New York and elsewhere, and his book-art books have been incorporated into Wordsand, a traveling retrospective of his work with words, numbers and lines in several media. In the theoretical discussions about “Artists’ Books,” he has stood for the position that evidence of esthetic consideration of the medium is more important than the biography of the author and thus that the term Book-Art Books is more appropriate than the more familiar epithet. (1984)

* * *


Epiphanies began as Richard Kostelanetz’s text of single-sentence stories that are epiphanies in the Joycean sense. Some of them have appeared in American literary magazines; a selection, translated into German, appeared as a book in 1983. Fifty voices were recorded, reading most of these stories, for a long radio play whose production (i.e., audio processing) is still in progress. The stories also became the sound track for a film whose visual element was composed of cinematic epiphanies gathered from other filmmakers’ footage. A version of this film, with a German sound track, was broadcast over the North German Television network in 1983. There is also a theatrical version of the text that has been produced both at Vassar College and University of North Dakota (in remarkably different productions). A video Epiphanies, composed exclusively on a character-generator, also exists.

What is proposed here is an operatic realization of the enclosed text with music by Bruce Kushnick. As can be observed on the sample audiotape, some of the stories are read alone, while others are set to music; in yet other passages is music alone with a similarly epiphanic quality. Changes in media notwithstanding, there is an overall effort to make each event stand by itself, distinct from all the others. As author-composers, Kushnick and I expect to provide elements of written text and sound scores (and tapes) that can be selected and assembled to the director’s taste and then distributed among available performers. (With neither sound nor text need all our elements be used.) We look forward to interpretations that are radically different from one another, and very much regard our work as a sort of outline offering performance opportunities beyond our own imaginations. The enclosed audiotape sample we have so far produced was accepted for broadcast, as is, by the Hörspiel (radio play) department of Westdeutscher Rundfunk in Cologne. Should anyone considering our proposal have any further questions, don’t hesitate to ask. (1984)

* * *

In the end there were no developers interested. The neighbors who had hoped to acquire the property found they couldn’t, and the developer who originally did acquire the property did the houses very differently.

—Robert Venturi and John Rausch, in Unbuilt Architecture


Master Minds (1969) is a book of my long comprehensive profiles, mostly from the New York Times Magazine, of major American artists and intellectuals, including Marshall McLuhan, Herman Kahn, Glenn Gould, Allen Ginsberg, Paul Goodman, Ralph Ellison, Reinhold Niebuhr, John Cage, Milton Babbitt, and Robert Rauschenberg, among others. In these pieces, I have tried to introduce first-

rank intellectual and artistic achievements in terms comprehensible to laymen and then to show how such work reflects its authors. Since cultural achievement is the source of my interest, these profiles are mostly sympathetic, though scarcely uncritical. People familiar with my writing tend to judge them as my most popular (or incipiently popular) prose. Nonetheless, when Master Minds first appeared in 1969, its publisher was administratively disintegrating; and even though the book was scarcely advertised and never reprinted, it was kept in print for a dozen years before its copyright was returned to me. In the meantime I have done similarly extended profiles of other seminal figures, including Kenneth Burke, Edwin Land (the Polaroid chief), Noam Chomsky, Northrop Frye, Robert Wilson, Hannah Arendt, Merce Cunningham, John Ashbery, and B. B. King, among others.

What I propose now is a new edition of Master Minds that would include these new pieces, revised for their inclusion here. (If these can be set in type identical to that of the original book, the earlier chapters need not be reset.) I would like to think that this new Master Minds not only would attract literate general readers; especially in paperback, it would also be used in courses devoted to intellectual history and contemporary studies. Any editor seriously wishing to consider the original volume, along with the new pieces, is advised to contact me. (1984)

* * *




1. An Audioautobiography, probably sixty minutes long.

2. A series of sixty-minute pieces about the sounds of American poetry as spoken by individuals whose mother tongue is German, Swedish, French or Italian, and the sounds of familiar poems in those languages spoken by native Americans, produced in collaboration with audio colleagues native to those other languages.

3. The completion of “Epiphanies,” in progress since 1982, to be at least four hours long as a continuous piece, but probably also divided into sets of shorter programs for wider distribution.

4. The beginning of “Epiphanies” in German and Spanish, produced with the cooperation respectively of the DAAD Berliner Kunstlerprogramm and the University of Puerto Rico.

5. The completion of “Constellations,” in progress since 1979, in which groups of words that relate in various ways interact in various ways in acoustic space.

6. “Kaddish”: Whereas Invocations brought into a single acoustic space the various prayers of sixty ministers, in over two dozen languages, this hour-long piece, requiring (like its predecessor) several weeks of field recordings, will mix on a multitrack tape machine the various versions and accents of a single text

7. The exploration of further work with sacred texts, especially at the Electronic Music Studio of Stockholm and the studios of both Westdeutscher Rundfunk and the Brooklyn College Center for Computer Music.

8. Two sixty-minute audio montages, one in English, the other in French, about Jewish life in Berlin prior to WWII, to be composed from excerpts from long interviews made for the film Ein Verlorenes Berlin (l983) and its successors.

9. The completion and preparation for publication of “Texts & Proposals for Radio,” in progress since 1981, which would be the first American book of a single practitioner’s ideas for and about alternative radio. (1984)

* * *


American Imaginations , a collection of my writings on American avant-garde artists, was published in Berlin by Merveverlag in 1983; all other rights to the material in it were retained by me. Since this Germam edition has been successful, not only critically but commercially, I would like to offer the English originals to publishers here. What this short book contains are long comprehensive profiles of Gertrude Stein, Robert Wilson, and Merce Cunningham, along with a shorter profile of Charles Ives and three pieces about John Cage—one a critical review of his poetry (from the New York Times Book Review), the second an unusual interwoven conversation about his Empty Words, and the third a more conventional interview about his Writings Through Finnegans Wake. The book’s theme is announced in the opening sentences of its preface: “Just as America is different from Europe, so American artists at their best are different. In the following pages are essays about some of the most different artists ever to have come from my home shores, and what connects these essays to each other, what makes them a book, is my sense that collectively they reveal an American imagination that is fundamentally different from European or Oriental, perhaps even more different than America itself is from Europe.” In the original manuscript were chapters that were not translated, but could be restored to this English edition—long profiles of Kenneth Burke and John Ashbery (both from the Times) and shorter pieces on Phillip Glass, Dick Higgins, and Don Celender. All the pieces are written to be accessible (except perhaps one of the Cage conversations), for the book should appeal to students of contemporary art as much as literate laymen. Editors wishing to consider either the German edition or the English manuscript are advised please to contact me. (1984)

* * *

Our problem is not a causal but a conceptual one.

—Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations (1953)


For the past few years, I have been envisioning two kinds of holograms that would use language entwined in capabilities unique to holography: one would involve a multitude of words that are not just orthographic palindromes but also visually self-reflective (MOM, HUH, WOW, TOOT, MUM, TIT, TAT, TOT, TOOT-TOOT, etc.) in a 360 degree hologram, so that they continually spin on themselves, perhaps in combination with words whose visual reversals are not identical but other words (such as, MAY-YAM, HAY-YAH, etc.). This strikes me as quite feasible. The second hologram would involve the creation, probably on a flat (painterly) plate, structures of verbal-visual revelation that would require the spectator to move his or her head, either from side to side or up and down, to see words behind the initial foreground word, or to see how the lines of some letters metamorphose into the lines of other letters, thereby making other words that ideally relate critically to the initial words. The realization of this hologram depends upon further research into current capabilities. For each of these pieces, I might also create a complementary audiotape comparable to the one produced for On Holography (1978). This proposal extends from my earlier work with visual poetry and then with language in film and videotape. (1984)

* * *


It has been observed that there is a particular sonic quality common to much Caribbean speech, even though its speakers came from different islands and are speaking different languages (among them, English, French, Spanish, Dutch, Danish, Papiamento), often with diverse accents. It is also true that much of this speech is unusually beautiful in ways audible to ears that hardly understand its words. What I would like to do in this piece is get at an aural definition of this Caribbean sound by recording natives from all over the Antilles and then mixing these recordings on a multitrack machine into a continuous sound piece. In my initial field recordings, I would expect to confine the speakers to a limited range of verbal materials, such as recitals of familiar prayers (the Twenty-third Psalm, the Lord’s Prayer) and identifications of their native lands and perhaps their languages; for since this is to be a piece of audio art, rather than a documentary, there shouldn’t be any commentary. Nonetheless, the materials will be composed to be comprehensible to listeners familiar with western languages. It is anticipated that most of the speakers will be recorded in New York City, which has large colonies of West Indians, and that I will be using the assistance of student interns descendant from these groups. In the evolution of my work “The Caribbean Sound” descends from Invocations (1981), which was about the sound of the language of prayer, as heard in ministers speaking over two dozen languages, and The Eight Nights of Hanukah (1983), which was about the various accents of the Diaspora as heard in a single Hebrew prayer. I would like to believe that with minimal introduction “Caribbean Sound” could eventually be broadcast in public stations in Canada, Germany, Britain, Holland, France, Spain, Sweden and the United States. Should anyone have any suggestions for support, as well as critical ideas, could you please communicate with me. (1985)

* * *


Paul Kresh and Richard Kostelanetz, both writers and radio artists both, began meeting in early 1985 to discuss the production of “Sound Fiction,” which the latter defines (in a forthcoming book of his essays on fiction) as “stories whose principal means of narrative enhancement would be acoustic [rather than verbal], whose ultimate realization would be on audiotape (whatever printed text becoming the equivalent of a musical score).” One suggestive example in their minds is Naoya Uchimura’s Marathon (1958), in which, to quote Mark Ensign Cory:

<blockquote>The plot is carried by two micro-durational or rhythmic figures: the anapest of [the runner’s] breathing and the iambus of his footsteps. Each can be extremely effective, as in the moment when the steady rhythm of [the runner’s] controlled breathing begins to falter, or when the clean beat of his footsteps becomes uncertain and then is momentarily obscured by a passing competitor.

Another precursor is Ronald Steckel and Walter Bachauer’s Das Ohrenlicht (WDR/NDR/SFB, 1984), in which the protagonist responds to audibly different acoustic spaces. Kresh and Kostelanetz plan to start their exploration with “generic stories” told with the fewest possible words. Among later possibilities might be stories exclusively of less definite, if not abstract sounds that would nonetheless succeed each other with a narrative thrust—metamorphose in a narrative way.

Paul Kresh has produced radio programs for over thirty years. He has also worked as an executive at both Caedmon and Spoken Arts, the two most prominent producers of literary records in America (and N.Y.). Among his writings are many reviews of records of music and spoken arts, the latter most visibly in the New York Times, and a book about Isaac Bashevis Singer. His creative compositions for choral speech date back thirty years. Richard Kostelanetz has produced extended hörspiele (ear-plays) for German radio since 1981. One of these works—Invocations (1981)—appeared here as a Folkways Record. Australian Broadcasting recently invited him to produce a second retrospective feature about his “Audio Writing.” He has also written extensively on American sound poetry and radio art, in addition to scripting radio features about both subjects for public stations abroad.

Though Kresh and Kostelanetz have different literary-musical tastes, the former invariably disparaging the avant-garde admired by the latter (both arguing endlessly while exchanging favorite records and tapes), they come together over a common enthusiasm for speech-music and the possibilities of acoustic literature. They hope that the results of their collaboration will appear not only on radio stations but on records and/or tapes. (1985)

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l. For Westdeutscher Rundfunk Richard Kostelanetz organized, edited and scripted a seventy-five-minute feature on the Radio Art of his late friend Glenn Gould. Though it is commonly known that Gould was one of the great musicians of the age, his recorded performances remaining best-sellers, Americans are less familiar with his radio compositions, which are rarely broadcast here. With special dispensation from the Gould estate, Kostelanetz heard them all (as only three are now publicly available) and in his German-language radio feature focused upon their technical and conceptual innovations. We propose that Kostelanetz be commissioned to write, now in English, a long critical essay based upon this research. Most of the essay will be devoted to Gould’s trilogy about isolation in Canada and the three extended portraits of musicians (Stokowski, Schoenberg, Richard Strauss). This should be considered a sequel to Kostelanetz’s earlier long critical essays on radio excellence that were likewise adapted from features commissioned by radio stations abroad—one on Radio Comedy as the Principal Tradition of American Radio Drama (funded in 1982) and another on the Radio Art of John Cage (funded in 1984). Both Perspectives of New Music and a new magazine envisioned by the Museum of Broadcasting (NYC) have asked to publish this proposed essay.

2. Future Press would also like to commission Kostelanetz to make an extended critical essay of the script of his radio “Portrait of New York City Radio,” which was commissioned by Klaus Lindemann of Sender Freies Berlin. Here Kostelanetz focuses upon the abundance of stations on the NYC dial, combined with the absence of a detailed radio schedule (comparable to those in German newspapers or TV Guide for television here), to identify the American radio policy of specialized around-the-clock narrow-casting. After characterizing the different sorts of programming, he concludes that in an inadvertent way the diverse abundance of NYC radio constitutes a major unplanned achievement of American broadcasting.

3. The elaboration of an interview (in German), also commissioned by WDR, with the distinguished art psychologist Rudolf Arnheim about his pioneering book on Radio: An Art of Sound (1936). From a translation of this interview, and ideas generated from it, Kostelanetz expects to produce a critical reconsideration of that first great theoretical text from the perspective of the present, in contrast to such current critical literature about radio as Mark Ensign Cory’s The Emergence of an Acoustical Art Form (1974), C. H. Sterling and J. M. Kittross’s Stay Tuned (1978), Tony Schwartz’s Media: The Second God (1981), Ian Rodger’s Radio Drama (1982) and Klaus Schoning’s Horspielmacher (1983). This may well be the first critical essay in English on the development of radio criticism.

4. Perspectives of New Music has commissioned Kostelanetz to produce a fifty-page essay about his own “Texts & Proposals for Radio.” Since Perspectives does not pay, we would like to support his writing of this, along with his essay on his “New York City” (in progress since 1982) for publication in both Sites-Architectural Magazine (N.Y.) and an anthology to appear from Ohio State University Press (neither of which pay either). Both essays draw upon his feature “Audio Writing” produced for both SFB & Australian Broadcasting. Kostelanetz remains one of the few Americans writing and publishing extended essays on native radio art (as well as producing radio features about it, exclusively so far for stations abroad, alas). It is anticipated that, since he has published many books before, his essays on American Radio Art will likewise soon appear between covers. (1985)

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Were unable to interest an investor.

—Frank Lloyd Wright on his 1956 proposal for a mile-high skyscraper, in Unbuilt Architecture


This selection would represent a radical reinterpretation of the nature of excellence in American poetry. In contrast to, say, Jerome Rothenberg’s America a Prophecy (1973), which collects a purportedly prophetic tradition, or The New Oxford Book of American Verse (1976), which pretends to reprint everybody important, or The Treasury of American Poetry (Doubleday, 1978), which is an incoherent compendium, “The American Tradition of Poetry” would focus upon those native works which realize technical inventions in the history of poetry. It is my thesis that the principal American tradition in poetry, as in music and in painting, is one of formal innovation in the machinery of the art—a tradition of doing technically what had not been done before, either in Europe or here. Therefore, The American Tradition in Poetry will emphasize the more inventive poems of John Wilson, John Fiske, Edgar Allen Poe, Walt Whitman, Gertrude Stein, Vachel Lindsay, E.E. Cummings, Langston Hughes, Eugene Jolas, Melvin Tolson, Bob Brown, Charles Olson, Jack Kerouac, John Ashbery, John Cage, and Jackson Mac Low, as well as those contemporaries extending this indigenous tradition—in sum, a succession of selections that will, like innovative art itself, surprise as it persuades. The American Tradition in Poetry will also contain a substantial introduction similar to those in other anthologies of mine; this new essay will develop ideas initially presented in critical essays collected in my book The Old Poetries and the New (Univ. of Michigan, 1981). Because the theme of this proposed anthology is so particular, I expect that it will be considerably shorter than the competing anthologies of American poetry (and thus more reasonably priced, especially in paperback) and that it will be particularly successful with students of American literature, not only as the principal book in more advanced courses, but also as an alternate selection in the standard surveys (because it collects poems that are not in the other anthologies). “The American Tradition in Poetry” could be delivered within a year of contracting. (1985)

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In lecturing abroad about American Literature, I find myself frequently characterizing the individual speaking voices of the great American writers, dealing as well as I can with the question of what they sound like. I point out that recordings of them reading aloud demonstrate that in America the accents of the major writers are quite various—there is no preferred or uniform style of literary speaking. Such recordings also fulfill our curiosity about familiar authors, much as literary biographies do, and incidentally add a dimension to our experience of their work, as we can hear how these writers wanted their works to sound, at least to themselves. With these themes in mind, as well as with a sense of my audience as non-American, if not non-English-speaking, I compiled a collection of taped excerpts, drawing upon sources both public and private. My proposal is that these excerpts be distributed into five radio programs, each thirty to forty-five minutes long, each with its own sub-title. These excerpts will be prefaced with my general introductions to the individual writers and specific remarks about the excerpt, both no more than two minutes long. These commentaries are intended to be simple (as the examples are often difficult) and easily translated; the excerpts, all shorter than three minutes in length, should not be translated, however, as hearing them in their original form is the purpose of this series. The five programs deal respectively with the following people:

1. American poets who made their reputations prior to l940 (Eliot, Pound, Frost, W. Williams, Sandburg, Lindsay, Cummings, Millay, Langston Hughes, Stevens, Ogden Nash).

2. American fictioners who made their reputations prior to l940 (Hemingway, Dos Passos, Faulkner, Stein, K. A. Porter, R. P. Warren, S. J. Perelman).

3. Postwar poets (Roethke, Lowell, Berryman, Bishop, Plath, Ginsberg, O’Hara, Rexroth).

4. Postwar fictioners (Mailer, Jones, Ellison, Styron, Heller, Baldwin, Updike, Roth, Vonnegut, Barth, Burroughs, Nabokov, I. B. Singer [in both English and Yiddish]).

5. Playwrights and essayists (A. Miller, T. Williams, Eliot [as playwright], Albee, H. L. Mencken, H. Miller, Dorothy Parker, James Thurber, Capote).

My expectation is that these selections are sufficiently classic to make programs that can be rebroadcast as often as the station wishes. European radio executives interested in sponsoring the “Voices of American Writing” should contact me. (1985)

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For each work of art that becomes physical there are many variations that do not.

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


This proposal for “Media Writing” extends into new territory what Richard Kostelanetz has done over the past decade in audiotape, videotape and holography. Among the territories he would like to explore are Sound Fiction, which is to say stories whose principal means of narrative enhancement would be acoustic, whose ultimate realization appears not in print but on audiotape. (Whatever printed texts there are, instead, become merely the equivalent of a musical score.) This differs from the aim of Black Box, American Audio Prose Library et al., which regard themselves as publishing (actually, republishing) on audiotape a literature that already exists on the page. This also differs from music in its literary base of language and story. One precursor strongly in Kostelanetz’s mind is Naoya Uchimura’s piece for Japanese radio, Marathon (1958), in which, to quote the radio critic Mark Ensign Cory, “The plot is carried by two micro-durational or rhythmic figures: the anapest of [the runner’s] breathing and the iambus of his footsteps. Each can be extremely effective, as in the moment when the steady rhythm of [the runner’s] controlled breathing begins to falter, or when the clean beat of his footsteps becomes uncertain and then is momentarily obscured by a passing competitor.” No one else in America is making sound fiction. Two writers approaching it, in certain ways, are Bliem Kern (N.Y.) and Dennis Williams (A.Z.).

In his work, Kostelanetz is approaching sound fiction from two directions—radio compositions (mostly commissioned by stations abroad) and declamations of his own texts in which he tries to produce on audiotape an aural experience that cannot be done live. On the enclosed retrospective, based upon a shorter program produced for Australian Broadcasting, consider for the first category the excerpts from Invocations, the piece about the sound of the language of prayer in over two dozen tongues (based upon Finnegans Wake). The score that does exist (reprinted in the current issue of Perspectives of New Music) was, in fact, composed after the fact and is, in effect, an incomplete chart for its re-realization. The same authorial procedure informed Kostelanetz’s redoing of Under Milk Wood, in this case about sounds unique to his hometown—New York City, parts of which are also on the enclosed tape. For the second category, consider the excerpt from Seductions, in which sixteen seduction stories are interwoven one sentence at a time, and told in sixteen acoustically different versions of the narrator’s voice. The text for this can be found in his book More Short Fictions (Assembling Press, 1980). Speaking generally, it could be said that in future work Kostelanetz plans to combine the narrative direction of Seductions with the compositional procedures of Invocations.

It is hard to justify this for a “radio” application, because, to be frank, there is no reason to believe sophisticated literary audiotape can be broadcast immediately on American radio, as it now is exists, in any consequential way. Kostelanetz knows, because he has tried for over a decade (and continues to try, most recently with a feature production grant from American Public Radio). While Invocations (1981), for instance, was initially broadcast in its entirety over SFB (Berlin), KRO (Holland), Australian Broadcasting, Yugoslav Radio and, abridged, over Canadian Broadcasting, here it was aired only over WBAI in New York. However, once it became a Folkways record, Invocations could be aired over American radio gratis, in circumstances beyond the author’s control. Over WNYC-FM in New York City, for instance, it has been aired at least twice in the past year. With this principle in mind, we should note that Moses Asch, the founding chief of Folkways, has asked for further Kostelanetz work. Should Folkways decline, his works can be offered to other publishers of audiotape, and then distributed through the American Audio Prose Library, among others. In truth, since American radio stations, both public and private, are not prepared to pay for what they broadcast, the best way to distribute Audio Writing in America is not to petition radio stations directly but, after obtaining sponsorship elsewhere, to issue it on records or tapes that radio stations (and individuals) can then play as they wish.

Most of this new work will be done in the twenty-four-track console of the Electronic Music Studio of Stockholm, where Kostelanetz has worked annually, gratis, since 1981. Kostelanetz has also applied for a renewal of an earlier residency at the Public Access Synthesizer Studio in New York and then for an initial residency at Real Art Ways in Hartford. All these studios, it should be noted, offer only their facilities; there is no financial aid for him or other personnel. Since machinery at each of these studios is unfamiliar to Kostelanetz, he generally must hire at his own expense an engineer to assist him.

Kostelanetz’s recent video has exploited primarily the character-generator, which is the machine that electronically generates letters on a cathode-ray tube. As his own typographer, he has put his stories (mostly Epiphanies) on videoscreens in various visual arrangements, making them visible for lengths of time unrelated to length (which is itself a technique worth exploring); and progressing from a simple character-generator (at Experimental Intermedia in NYC), he recently used a more sophisticated machine, with more typefaces, each in two fonts, at the Experimental TV Laboratory in Owego, N.Y. Kostelanetz’s earlier Video Writing has been internationally exhibited. Stations here and abroad have asked in particular for shorter versions of Epiphanies to broadcast mostly between other programs; but without necessary assistance, Kostelanetz has so far been unable to honor their requests. In future Video Writing, he expects to go beyond the realization of prior texts by typing works directly on the character-generator, and also to explore more sophisticated image-processing of words, as begun in the tape of his poems “Duets” produced at the Experimental TV Laboratory in the fall of 1985. (1985)

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