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


Our Strongest Sounds: Audio Art in North America

To Reproduce Nach Weissensee in English, Among Other Languages

First American Broadcast of Two Programs Initially Produced for German Radio:

Screenings of A Berlin Lost, a Prize-Winning Film

Production Residency for Holography with Language

The Great American Person of Avant-Garde Letters: Gertrude Stein

Installations/Concerts of New York City

A Collaboration with the Composer Paul Lansky

A Compositional “Paris” Comparable to New York City

Residency in East Berlin for the Purpose of Learning German

Audio Art: “Fencing”

An Exhibition of “Literary Holography”

An Extended Radio Piece of/About James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake

A Book on Literary Granting in America

Book: “An ABC of Contemporary Reading”

Another Residency in Holography

Periodical Publication of “Shorter Stories”

“Berlinerisch”: A Multilingual Audio Composition

Multitrack Slide Accompaniments for Concerts/Installations of Audiotapes

Periodical Publication of “More Openings & Closings”

An Interrelated Series of Videotapes Based Upon Audiotapes of Sacred Texts

An Extended Article About the Berlin Wall

An Audio Composition “Buenos Aires” Similar to My New York City

An Original Installation Combining Three Extant Elements About New York City

Book Anthology: “The Libertarian Tradition: American Anarchist Thought”

A Collection of Essays on “The New Poetries and Some Old”

One Dozen Book-Art Books Long in Progress

A Critical Book on “Special Sounds: The Art of Radio in North America”

Collaboration Between Noah Creshevsky (Music) & Richard Kostelanetz (Text)

A Book of Essays “On Innovative Art(ist)s”

An Autobiographical Videotape About “Writing in The Technological Age”

Radio Productions

A Film About “The Nadir of The City: Berlin, April 1945”

A Book of Essays “Home and Away: The Divergent Traveler”

An Audio Realization of “Lovings”

An Audiotape Composition of and About the Sound of New York City Speech

Teaching Seminar Proposals

Camera-Ready Copy for A Book About the Great Jewish Cemetery of Berlin

Public Presentations

A Book On “The Avant-Garde in the 1980s”

An Anthology of “High-Tech Poetry”

The Completion of “A Special Time,” an Audio Composition About the 1960s

The architectural philosopher Colin Rowe has suggested that conceptual architecture is “the presence of absence. . . something that quite simply is not there. Its specifications are there, but nothing more.” (Net Magazine, 1975).

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


The principal purpose of this series of radio programs is introducing American audiences to the native Audio Art that, its excellence notwithstanding, is largely unfamiliar. A secondary purpose is gathering into a single context and narrative the intelligence and experience of earlier radio features that were initially prepared for broadcast by public stations in Germany, Sweden and Australia (and, for one index of success, have been rebroadcast). Since these are world-class presentations about American Audio Art, wouldn’t it be appropriate to produce them for American public radio as well? (We shouldn’t be, or allow ourselves to look, bush-league.) The unifying factors will be (1) the theme of native audio excellence; (2) the critical intelligence of the author/narrator; (3) opening and closing logos.

Whenever a subject in the following list is divided into two thirty-minute programs, that indicates that the original was over sixty minutes long. This history notwithstanding, rest assured that all will be rewritten and narrated as though one literate American were speaking to others and that the choice of examples will be redone with American listeners in mind.

Tentative List of the Thirteen Programs

1. An introduction identifying my subject as the best American Audio Art (as distinct from radio journalism on one side and music on the other) and then presenting, in narrative with examples, the unfamiliar thesis that historically the best American radio drama has not been literary (on the British and European models) but vernacular, as epitomized by radio comedy. I show how the principal producers of radio comedy discovered the unique dramatic capabilities of the audio medium. Taking the familiar example of the tumbling closet in Fibber McGee and Molly’s domestic comedy, we suggest that, in addition to being a great joke worth repeating, this comic scene succeeds in part because it goes on so long. However, since no typical household closet has enough stuff to fall for several seconds, the joke also succeeds precisely because it is heard, not viewed—because radio forbids us to see. (It is not for nothing that such jokes did not survive on television.) We then go onto other classic radio sound effects that need not be seen, including ironic ones, such as Jack Benny’s Maxwell, whose success depends partially upon the audience’s recognition that the putative car doesn’t quite sound like a car. From here we present rather sophisticated self-reflexive jokes, such as Jack Benny’s parody of Hemingway’s “Snows of Kilimanjaro,” which becomes a vehicle for showcasing the virtuosity of Mel Blanc until Benny forecasts the sound of the alligator, hears silence and then congratulates himself for imagining a sound Blanc cannot do. We also examine the principle of radio’s capacity for dramatic surprise with the famous Jack Benny gag about “your money or your life,” incidentally illustrating both Benny’s genius for pregnant silences and Marshall McLuhan’s perception that to the blind all things are sudden. The material in both this program and the next was initially prepared in 1982 for Westdeutscher Rundfunk and subsequently rebroadcast on Sudwestfunk and Sveriges Radio. Both also draw upon a 1982 grant for radio criticism awarded by the New York State Council on the Arts.

2. This program will focus upon the second great discovery of the pioneering audio comedians that voice alone could wholly determine the audience’s perception of character. After an appreciation of the extraordinary talents of Freeman Gosden and Charles Correll (who performed with aural veracity all the characters in the early versions of Amos ‘n Andy), we will go into ironic variations upon this capability, such as the denizens of Fred Allen’s alley and Fanny Brice’s Baby Snooks. In this program too belongs an appreciation of the best verbal humor, such as the recurring misunderstandings of Burns and Allen and the double entendres of Abbott and Costello. (This last point was, alas, slighted in the programs prepared for European audiences, because so much depends upon intimate familiarity with the English language.)

3. Our initial thesis notwithstanding, here we survey the best examples of literary American radio drama during its short-lived golden age, 1938-46, with excerpts from the work of Archibald MacLeish (Fall of the City), Orson Welles, Norman Corwin and others. Our principal concerns are the aural presentation of poetic language and the use of radio’s expository conventions, such as the newscast, for dramatic purposes.

4. Since American radio art declined, while first-rate works disappeared from our airwaves, in the decades after WWII, we leap forward to the late sixties and look first not to the U.S. but to Canada, which has a stronger tradition of supporting radio art, and focus upon Glenn Gould’s trilogy about isolation in Canada—The Idea of North (1967), The Latecomers (1969) and Quiet in the Land (1973). (These remain, in our opinion, the greatest works of Audio Art ever produced in North America.) We show how Gould used the new technology of multitrack tape to compose radio scenes from materials gathered from disparate sources, rather than realizing a premeditated script, incidentally putting into the same acoustic space sounds that are not normally heard together. This program and the next draw upon a feature initially prepared in 1984 for Westdeutscher Rundfunk.

5. This features Gould’s other radio masterpieces—incomparable portraits of master musicians: Stokowski (1970), Schoenberg (1974) and Richard Straus (1979), all of which combine spoken voice with a counterpoint of illustrative music. As far as we can tell, these last three pieces are totally unknown in the U.S.

6. Returning south of the border, we follow a major American artist who has for nearly a half-century done consequential work in and around radio, John Cage, beginning with his Imaginary Landscape # 1 (1939) and proceeding through Imaginary Landscape # 4 for twelve radios to Williams Mix (1953), his pioneering tape collage. Since Cage, unlike Gould, is still with us, our commentary will include excerpts from a recent interview with him.

7. This will be a critical introduction to Cage’s extraordinary, prize-winning recent pieces for German radio—Roaratorio (1979), Alphabet (1982), Muoyce (1983), HMCIEX (1984)—which are, alas, also unknown here. The text for this draws upon a 1984 grant for radio criticism from the New York State Council on the Arts.

8. and 9. A two-part survey of American language art that coheres in terms of sound, rather than syntax and semantics, and thus must be heard to be “read,” with brief examples from Charles Amirkhanian, Bliem Kern, Jim Theobald, Toby Lurie, Beth Anderson, Jackson Mac Low, Jerome Rothenberg, Norman Henry Pritchard II, Tom Johnson, Charlie Morrow et al. This and the next draw upon programs of different lengths initially prepared for Australian Broadcasting, RAI (Italy) and Sender Freies Berlin (in addition to research done on 1976 and 1978 grants from the National Endowment for the Arts).

10. The Audio Art of Charles Dodge, including an introduction to computer-

assisted speech resynthesis and what he calls electronic radio drama, with excerpts from The Days of Our Lives, his production of Samuel Beckett’s Cascando and Any Resemblance Is Purely Coincidental (his dramatization of a mighty tenor’s frustrated attempt to find an appropriate accompaniment to his voice). This draws upon an interview-feature prepared in 1984 for Australian Broadcasting.

11. The Audio Art of Doris Hays, emphasizing excerpts from her classic montage of Southern Voices, her polylingual Celebration of No and her more recent interwoven symposium of interviews from women’s peace camps. This draws upon a separate interview-feature prepared, also in 1984, for Australian Broadcasting.

12. Either a survey of current activity in American Audio Art, or another portrait of a single American audio artist. (This and #3 will be the only programs that are wholly fresh.)

13. Reconsidering the recent fate of audio comedy in America, we notice that since the mid-fifties (and the illustrative, unfortunate career of Stan Freberg) the very best work has appeared first on records (to be rebroadcast on radio, in contexts outside the authors’ control, in contrast to the classic radio comedy of our initial programs, which, paradoxically, now survives mostly on disc reprints). For examples, we plan to feature record comedy that acknowledges the characteristic sound and circumstances of radio, such as Peter Schickele’s portrayal of two earnest sports announcers describing Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. The current situation of audio comedy in relation to radio and record, we conclude, exemplifies that of contemporary native Audio Art in general (such as the best works of Dodge and Hays already noticed). While acknowledging current limitations, we will close with a plea for more production, within the context of radio, of strong native Audio Art. This concluding program draws upon another feature we are presently preparing for Westdeutscher Rundfunk. (1985)

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Nach Weissensee is a sixty-five-minute radio feature about the Great Jewish Cemetery of Berlin as the principal surviving relic of prewar Berlin. The program is structured as a composed symposium of authentic ex-Berliners speaking about the cemetery, which with 110,000 graves is the largest of its kind between Warsaw and America, and the culture represented there. This German-language feature was initially produced for RIAS, the American-owned station in West Berlin, by the Berlin filmmaker Martin Koerber (who also made a film about the cemetery in collaboration with Kostelanetz), the Berlin audio artist Michael Maassen (who is also an actor in the Schaubuhne) and the American audio artist Richard Kostelanetz. Well-reviewed in the Berlin press, Nach Weissensee has since been accepted for rebroadcast elsewhere in the German radio system. Of this radio feature, the eminent art psychologist Rudolf Arnheim (Berlin, 1904) wrote them, “I want to tell you right away how deeply moving an experience it was. I was impressed by the eloquence of the speakers, by the authenticity of their memories, and the extraordinary variety of the approaches. These are exactly the people I knew in Berlin, perhaps I knew some of them personally, and therefore I felt very personally addressed. The tape is a document of the first order.” Given such success, Kostelanetz and Koerber would like to reproduce Nach Weissensee in English, Dutch, French, Hebrew, Yiddish and Spanish not by translating the original German version but by the more authentic procedure of interviewing ex-Berliners presently fluent in those other languages and from those interviews composing fresh radio features with roughly similar structures and themes. As most of the original German speakers were interviewed in New York, we already have enough taped materials to produce an English version here. It is for assistance in preparing the other versions, most of which would first be broadcast here, that we appeal now. They would later be distributed to other stations here and abroad. The tapes prepared for these radio programs may also be used in presentations/installations to accompany the showing of thousands of slides taken in the cemetery today. (1985)

[Only some of this proposal was funded.]

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On the map of your empire, O Great Kahn, there must be room both for the big, stone Fedora and the little Fedoras in glass globes. Not because they are all equally real, but because all are only assumptions. The one contains what is accepted as necessary when it is not yet so; the others, what is imagined as possible and, a moment later, is possible no longer.

—Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities (1972)


1. The Gospels (1982), 120 minutes long, is a continuous fugue of the first four books of the New Testament, which, we remember, tell the same story in four different ways. Here four speakers—two British and two American—are electronically mixed to perform as a string quartet might, for one or another speaker becomes dominant as his or her lines become more meaningful or more poetic. It could be said that this is the Fifth Gospel, a Gospel that could not exist until the age of audiotape, the Passion not of Matthew and Mark and Luke and John, but of Matthew-Mark-Luke-John, which we should now consider the Ur-Gospel from which the others are descended. The Gospels was initially commissioned as the English warm-up for a German version, Die Evangelien, that was broadcast over Westdeutscher Rundfunk in 1982. Parts of The Gospels have been aired over Australian Broadcasting and many local American stations (as an episode in Richard Kostelanetz’s Audio Writing), while the whole was broadcast over WBAI (New York) in its “Morning Music” show, continuously mixed in live time with an interview with the composer and solicitous telephone calls. What is proposed for American distribution is remixing the original four-track tape to bring it closer to the composer’s intentions, and also adding occasional voice-over comments with the composer discussing his purposes and giving appropriate professional credits.

2. Invocations (1981) is a sixty-minute radio piece about the sound, the quality and the content of the language of prayer. Sixty ministers, speaking prayers in over two dozen languages, were recorded in West Berlin. These tapes were then mixed on a twenty-four-track machine into duets, quintets, successive solos and choruses into a sustained speech work whose structural model is J. S. Bach’s St. Matthew Passion. Ecumenical in spirit, the piece brings together into the same acoustical space prayers that are not normally heard together, just as James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake brings into a single frame languages that are not commonly read together. The original Invocations opened with the Lord’s Prayer in German; that version presently available here on the Folkways record opens with prayers in Hebrew and Syriac. What is offered now is the first American broadcast of the version beginning with prayers in English. The original tape will also be remixed to give more definition to certain passages in its second half and to incorporate appropriate professional credits within its sixty minutes.

May I propose the national distribution of both these pieces as “Holiday Specials.” Invocations will go out early in December, for broadcast during the holiday season; The Gospels, a few weeks before Easter, ideally for broadcast on Easter morning. First airings by affiliated stations will be gratis; rights for subsequent broadcasts are negotiable. Mailings will precede each transmission over the satellite; promotional broadcasts (for preview use by member stations) will precede the feed of each piece. There is no other way, short of distributing free records and cassettes, to introduce alternative radio art to American listeners living outside the sophisticated cities. Some may think this not worth doing—that the innocent should remain blessedly innocent; I think otherwise. (1985)

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Martin Koerber and I are pleased to announce the completion of A Berlin Lost, our twenty-one-minute, 16 mm. documentary film about the Great Jewish Cemetery of Berlin, Weissensee, as the principal surviving symbol of Berlin’s greatest years (1860-1940). In this subtle visual history, the cemetery and its evocative gravestones become an archaeological window into a Berlin that, alas, no longer exists. On the sound track is the authentic testimony, now in English, of ex-Berliners remembering the cemetery and the world represented there.

A Berlin Lost is an authentic reproduction of our earlier film Ein verlorenes Berlin (1984), which has been shown at festivals at Berlin, Munich and Oberhausen; but since the gravestones on the film’s visual track already provide so much to read, we chose not to subtitle the German film (or allow the inauthenticities of overdubbing), but, instead, to reproduce it with a wholly new English sound track composed from fresh interviews with ex-Berliners. Not only because the sound tracks differ in content, but also because the imagery begs to be reseen, our recommendation is that both versions ideally be screened in sequence. (For viewing the German version, we can provide printed translations of its sound track into English or Spanish.) We have also made fresh versions in Swedish and French (both available with printed English translations) and expect to produce sound tracks in Spanish and Hebrew (hopefully with printed English translations).

We think A Berlin Lost would especially interest ex-Berliners and their descendants, many of whom know about the cemetery but have never seen it (in part because it is now in East Berlin), as well as those generally interested in European Jewish culture and the life of great cities. This English film has already been screened at international festivals in Edinburgh and Melbourne. Accepted by FILMEX (Los Angeles) for its next presentations, it also toured with the 1986 Jewish Film Festival and won a 1986 award at the Ann Arbor Film Festival, later touring under its auspices. Either of us can accompany the film(s), answering questions about it and Weissensee today. Institutions interested in screening our work(s), in sponsoring our accompanying presentations or in auditing 3/4” U-Matic or 1/2” VHS videotapes, should write or call either of us. (1985)

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Grants should function, as I’ve said elsewhere, to make happen what would not otherwise happen. That’s certainly been true for my work recently, especially if you add residencies at video and holographic studios, which represent a kind of grant, if facilities and technicians are offered to you free. I don’t see how grants “co-opt” innovation, to use your term, unless you think that applicants withhold or disguise innovative ambitions to suite the mediocre tastes of those cultural powerhouses mentioned before. What can be said for sure that a lack of grants can destroy, or prevent, innovation almost as ruthlessly as censorship can.

—R.K., in an interview (1990)


To produce another hologram whose entire visual content would be words, that would exploit the unique capabilities of holography and that would hopefully utilize flat black-and-white techniques (especially since what bothers me most about my initial hologram, produced several years ago, is the hued rainbow). In principle, I believe there are only two colors worthy of Art—black and white; all other colors are worthy only of illustrations).

I have two ideas and two general biases: one idea involves creating, within a 360 degree integral, a field of visually palindromic words (e.g., MOM, WOW) that would spin around over and through each other. The second idea involves a triptych of parallel arrayed, horizontally aligned three-part overlapping words, all of whose center words would be six to eight letters long, such as ALCO/HOLOGRAM/PANT, TU/MULTIPLEX/ICON, LOG/JAMBOREE/FER, NITRO/GENITAL/KATIVE, OINTM/ENTHRALL/UVIAL, BE/GATEFOLD/ER, etc. Beyond that, in working with language in media, especially in residencies in sophisticated installations, my first general bias is to examine the most advanced techniques (those the host technicians want most to develop) and then to figure out how best to fill them with interesting language. My second general desire is to make a hologram with more comedy than the medium has previously witnessed. (1985)

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This tentative table of contents focuses upon the most experimental works, in support of the thesis implicit in its title, and in contrast to earlier Stein anthologies that tended to emphasize Toklas and Melanctha (and which this at once supplements and succeeds). Our theme is that these extreme writings are more relevant to current concerns; and if you accept them, in contrast to the more accessible Stein featured in, say, the Modern Library selection, then Stein becomes, as the title says, “The Great American Person of Avant-Garde Letters.” This book will differ from The Yale Gertrude Stein (which I edited and introduced) in drawing entirely upon the larger corpus of works published during her lifetime (rather than after). It will also have a more general, elementary introduction. All these selections are, as far as I can establish, presently in the public domain.

Introduction: The Reinventor of English, by Richard Kostelanetz (approx. 30 pp.)

Prose from Stein’s A Book (1926)

Portrait of Constance Fletcher (from her Geography & Plays, until otherwise noted)



Sentences and Paragraphs


Counting Her Dresses

Next. Life and Letters of Marcel Duchamp


A Family of Perhaps Three

Mallorcan Stories


A Collection

Many Many Women (from GMP)

At Present (from Operas & Plays)


A Movie

They Weighed Weighed-Layed

Old and Old

A Bonquet. Their Wills

Objects Lie on a Table

Capital Capitals

Allen Tanner (from Useful Knowledge)

Are There Six or Another Question

An Instant Answer or a Hundred Prominent Men

Three Leagues


Lend a Hand or Four Religions

A Patriotic Leading

Business in Baltimore

Wherein Iowa Differs from Kansas and Indiana

An Acquaintance with Description (the entire 1929 book of that title, published initially by Laura Riding and Robert Graves)

A Bibliography (from transition in 1929)

This material runs approximately 416 pages in the copies I have and could be less or more. The list is structured to identify sources of original publication, rather than the sequence for the final book. Publishers interested in considering the introduction or sample selections are advised to contact me. (1985) [This happened, more than fifteen years later.]

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In every branch of learning and in every center of research, some persons are found capable of converting a thoughtful piece of curiosity into a project so that it will appear ideal—or, as it said, “a natural”—for foundation support. Other people, also able but without this knack, must have their projects “processed,” and still others learn the trick. The consequence is a strong urge in many a man to stultify himself at the expense of what used to be called intellectual honesty. The scholar or scientist salves his conscience with the thought that he will turn the proceeds to good use. He hopes to do “his own work” behind the shelter of phrases denoting expected attitudes; to do fundamental research though proposing foundational research.

—Jacques Barzun, The House of Intellect (1957)


New York City (in progress since 1983) is an extended audiotape composed from hours of field recordings of sounds that are particular to New York City: subways of various kinds, cacophonous garbage trucks, dense crowds in small spaces, an abundance of answering machines, the din on the floor of the Commodities Exchange, other languages spoken with bits of English, peculiar aural juxtapositions of city and sea that can be found along the shoreline, the polylingual radio spectrum, the echoes of canyon-like streets, sirens familiar to every television viewer, among many others. Rather than simply presenting these sounds in the tradition of audio documentaries, I tried to create, during thirty days of intensive work at the Electronic Music Studio of Stockholm, an audio experience that is at once a presentation of New York and a musical composition in the tradition of Charles Ives, Edgard Varèse and John Cage. My initial plan, curiously, was to write an audio chamber symphony comparable to Dylan Thomas’s Under Milk Wood (l953), an affectionate portrait of the author’s hometown; but this approach eventually struck me as clearly insufficient for this new age of audiotape and multitracking. It would be more appropriate, I decided, for me to collect sounds, including voices, that are characteristic of the city in which I was born and raised, where I have lived my entire life, and from these to compose on audiotape my own Under Milk Wood that proceeds wholly as itself, without introduction or other commentary. Another esthetic model in my mind at the beginning was, of course, the poetry of Walt Whitman, with its encompassing sense of the unprecedented experience of this city, and I often thought about a certain 1920s photograph by the Dutch artist Paul Citroen. Entitled variously Metropolis or The City, it is a vertically arrayed montage composed mostly of images with vertical buildings; but rather than setting these buildings against a skyline (and then revealing primary nature), Citroen stacked the buildings atop one another, filling the rectangular space from bottom to top, thereby creating the image of urban life as a comprehensive entity, much as my own composition would be wholly about this second man-made Nature. Typically for me now, I began with a literary concept and a literary model, but both my means and ends turned out to be indigenous to media other than print. Westdeutscher Rundfunk initially commissioned my New York City as part of a series of four sixty-minute programs on the world’s great cities (along with Pierre Henry’s Paris and Alfred Döblin’s historic Berlin Alexanderplatz). Nonetheless, since I am from time to time asked to give concerts (and object to public performances of audiotapes alone), it occurred to me, as a sometime maker of visual art and photography, to produce thousands of slides of images that were likewise particular to New York City, and to project these images through a brace of synchronized slide projectors to fill up the audience’s space visually, much as the sound on my tape fills up the acoustic space. As several passages I made for the original WDR version turned out to have too many subtleties for radio broadcast in Germany, it seemed appropriate to restore them to this American concert version that would then be two hours long, and thus an evening-length work. Later it occurred to me that if this fusion of sight and sound were successful, my New York City could even become a continuous installation in either a museum or a public setting (and in the future perhaps a historic document about the City as it sounded and looked in the early 1980s). (1985)

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Paul Lansky is a distinguished musician, a professor of music at Princeton, who has established himself over the past fifteen years as one of the principal American composers of computer music. His works are available on CRI, Nonesuch and Columbia-Odyssey records. He is a former member of the Dorian Wind Quintet (French horn) and a current member of the editorial board of Perspectives of New Music. He has received a Bearns Prize, the ISCM-League of Composers Electronic Music Award, the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters Composers Award, an award from the Koussevitzky Foundation, and a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. Among his extraordinary techniques for speech composition is “all-pole linear prediction, in which the original source material (a recording of a single reading of the poem) is analyzed in small ‘frames,’ each 1/112th of a second, and the information gained allows reconstruction in which pitch, rhythm and timbre may be controlled almost at will.”

Richard Kostelanetz is an experimental writer and broadcaster who has developed an interest in writing texts appropriate to the unique styles of contemporary composers. For Charles Dodge, he made He Met Her in the Park, which was translated into Swedish to fulfill a Dodge commission from Swedish Radio and subsequently aired as Motte Henne i Parken over Swedish radio and in concerts. A version with the original English text was later realized by Dodge at the Center for Computer Music at Brooklyn College to fulfill a commission from Voices (Everett Frost-Faith Wilding), which had received commissioning funds from the NEA. Voices expects to broadcast He Met Her in the Park, along with a Kostelanetz-Dodge conversation, as part of their series of four programs of Audio Art. It is expected that both He Met Her in the Park and Motte Henne i Parken will eventually appear on two sides of a long-playing record. Otherwise, Kostelanetz remains an unaffiliated writer/artist.

Kostelanetz and Lansky began a correspondence about collaboration early in 1985. When Kostelanetz heard (through the New York City composer Joseph V. DiMeo) that Lansky had developed a computer-assisted technique for apparently altering the body quality of a voice, without destroying its individual identity, Kostelanetz offered his text “Wasting,” which portrays through a first-person narrator the changes in height and weight during the life of an unusual human being. This was submitted to Lansky, who accepted it as suiting his current designs, and then asked Kostelanetz to record the text in his own voice. In part because of the challenge of creating so many unique acoustic settings of essentially the same phrases, Lansky is involving his Princeton graduate students in designing a multitude of appropriate solutions. If “Wasting” succeeds, Kostelanetz and Lansky expect to be involved in other collaborations as author and composer. (1985)

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The composition, during an extended residency in Paris (under the US/France Exchange Fellowship program), of an evening-length tape of “music concrete” of and about the unique sounds of Paris, similar to the earlier composition, likewise evening-length, initially commissioned by Westdeutscher Rundfunk, of and about sounds unique to New York City. Once field recordings in Paris are made, probably in collaboration with Radio France, with which I have worked before, they will be mixed not through an analogue tape system used for New York City but though a more sophisticated, acoustically superior digital system either at IRCAM, where I have contacts, or at the Electronic Music Studio of Stockholm, where I have worked several times before and have, for all practical purposes, a standing invitation. (1985)

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People talk about criminals being the result of their environment, but they seldom speak about artists being victims of their environment, though in fact they are.

—Philip Glass, Music by Philip Glass (1987)


May I propose spending two months in East Berlin, ideally May-June 1987, studying German intensively. In my spare time, I plan to continue my research, hopefully with growing linguistic competence, into the Great Jewish Cemetery of Weissensee, East Berlin. In my judgment, this graveyard ranks among the most extraordinary visual-verbal historical artifacts known to me. To quote myself in an earlier essay, “One reason perhaps why the cemetery is such an evocative artifact now is that it remains unfamiliar to Berliners in both the East and the West, each predisposed to forget about it for different reasons, and unfamiliar as well, as I’ve discovered, to many prominent scholars of the period.” What I incidentally want to do during my stay in East Berlin is continue photographing the cemetery, with slides toward an exhibition/installation and black-and-white images toward a projected book. The best reason for doing this in May-June is that the cemetery stays open later during those months, when light sufficient for photography extends into the evening.

The paradox of my linguistic history is that in working so much in German, for German audiences, I never really learned to speak or read it. Instead, I learned many German words and, perhaps more important, how to think from the German point of view, as shown in several features written and produced for German radio, mostly about the singular qualities of American radio culture. Given all this work I have been doing in German, my inability to speak it has become, in truth, a sort of standing joke among my colleagues, not just there but here as well. My own calculation is that I can learn it better in East Berlin than I did in West, if only because distractions will be fewer; and then, unlike before, language-learning will become my principal mission. Given how much German I already know and sense, a competence in reading and speaking should come quickly, and it would be useful for further work, not only on the cemetery, but in German media, surely in the West and perhaps, once I live there, in the East as well. (1985)

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An extended composition of and about the sound of fencing as the most acoustically resonant sport. Recording matches from a variety of acoustic perspectives, I want to make a radio piece that would fuse my earlier interest in compositions ostensibly about the sound of their subjects (Invocations, New York City, “Baseball” in progress) with a newer notion of creating fictional narratives exclusively with sound apart from speech. The resulting program will probably have neither introduction nor narration; as it will not need translation, it will be available for broadcast, as is, around the world. (1985)

* * *


Richard Kostelanetz has produced two holograms which differ from other holography in that their entire visual content is language. The first, On Holography (1978), is a revolving cylinder containing five syntactically circular statements about holography itself. One technical detail that makes this film hologram puzzling is that the five lines appear to revolve in unison, even though they are of demonstrably different lengths. By itself, On Holography has previously been exhibited in group shows at New York’s Museum of Holography and elsewhere; it was also included in Richard Kostelanetz’s traveling retrospective, Wordsand (1978-). The cylinder is 16 1/2” in diameter, 9” high and rests on a revolving stand that is itself 17” high. Accompanying it is an audiotape of the same words in continuous loops; but while this audio complement can aid comprehension, it need not be played constantly, if at all. The second hologram, Antitheses (1985), is a two-sided framed glass, 10” x 16”, hung in space, that contains opposing fields of complementary words, one side suggesting warmth, the other cold, with antithetical words in typographic pairs; and in each field, the words fall into four planes projecting forward from the plate, optimally to points two feet in front of the plate (itself a current state-of-the-art achievement). Although this pure hologram is ideally laser-viewable, it can be displayed successfully with a halogen (white) lamp, requiring at least ten feet of viewing space on each side; it is presently installed in a structure of short poles, chains and Plexiglas mirrors that is easily transportable. This will be exhibited at the Museum of Holography in 1987. “Literary Holography” will be a small exhibition, easily installed, that would inhabit a darkened space of roughly four hundred square feet. Possible sponsors (museums, galleries, libraries) seriously wishing to consider photographs or slides of the two extant holograms, as well as an extended five-thousand-word essay about them, are advised to contact Kostelanetz. These letters will accompany grant applications for initial expenses of crating, catalogue production and perhaps the purchase/rental of a laser. (1985)

* * *


Since Joyce’s classic is composed of words from many languages, the initial idea is to have the text read by superb readers native to various languages, either in the original version or in “translations” published in their languages; and these readings in various accents will be interwoven into an aurally seamless rendition that will represent an international acoustic interpretation of the Wake’s unique style. As I now envision it, for most of the work’s duration, only one or a few of the many readers will be audible at any time; they will fade in and out of one another. At certain climaxes, many voices will join together. For convenience, it would be best to have all the participating readers recite the complete “Anna Livia Plurabelle” section, which runs twenty pages in the book and thus, in this aural format, would take perhaps an hour. As Joyce himself recorded part of this text, it would, of course, be good to incorporate his reading, if it can be made available, into the final mix. I hope that participating radio stations in England, Canada, America, Germany, Holland, France, Australia, Italy, Sweden, Denmark, Israel, Spain, etc. will record their own best readers. These solo tapes will probably be mixed at the Electro-Acoustic Music Studio of Stockholm, where I have worked before, perhaps using its VAX computer system. In the history of my own work, this proposed piece descends from The Eight Nights of Hanukah (CBC, 1983), in which laymen native to two dozen different languages (and accents) are heard reciting the same Hebrew prayer, and Invocations, which reveals through sixty ministers speaking twenty-four languages the unique sound of the language of prayer. In this proposed Wake I expect to discover the international sound of a text so multilingual it cannot be feasibly translated—a text whose aural eloquence has universal, almost musical appeal. Since this project cannot be completed overnight (and the work of analyzing the solo readings will take at least a year), I hope now to marshal sufficient support to have the solo tapes in hand by 1987 and the work complete by early 1989, when, remember, we should celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the Wake’s initial publication. Producers at stations wishing to collaborate in this program of literature/radio drama/speech-music (or to hear previous pieces, or to initiate a correspondence) are invited to contact me. (1986)

* * *

Around leading personalities, it is true, judgments collect and create a reputation independent of the paper file. But this comes late in the day, usually when it is no longer needed; and reputation is hard to establish after middle life, especially if the person is not a native and yet already on the scene. I remember a foreign scholar, whose works were well known and whose residence in this country for some ten years had made him many distinguished admirers. He wanted after his retirement to finish a three-volume work in an important branch of philosophy. The combined efforts of a dozen or more high-placed American scholars were unavailing to obtain for this man the supplement to his pension which would have given him three or four years of peace of mind to finish his work. Every foundation was interested; innumerable letters were filed. But when it came to the disbursement of twelve thousand dollars, half a century’s alienation from intellectual man interposed its veto.

—Jacques Barzun, The House of Intellect (1957)


My projected book on literary granting in America, in progress for nearly a decade, attempts to understand, in a historical and critical way, the new world of publicly funded support of literature. Even though government funding of the arts has blossomed from nearly nil to over $200 million within the past twenty years, there has not been much systematic critical examination, or even elementary demystification, at least in public print. This manuscript has an introduction, an abridgment of which is enclosed, and then long (but dated) chapters on the literature programs at the National Endowment for the Arts and the largest state arts council (New York), in addition to critiques of literary funding at the National Endowment for the Humanities and the former principal subcontractor of NEA’s literary funding, the Coordinating Council of Literary Magazines. This manuscript has been written by someone who has not only applied for grants from these organizations (and received support from most of them) but also served as a grants panelist; for one assumption is that the critic of granting is not likely to know what actually happened—is not likely to understand either detail or nuance—unless he or she has applied and judged, asking questions all along the way. People who regularly consult me know that the processes of funding for the arts are no more mysterious than art itself; they can be understood.

My critical method depends largely upon the analysis of public evidence, beginning with annual reports and including applications and internal documents, rather than interview and rumor, and then upon illustrative contrasts, not only because the examination of one agency or department often illuminates another, but also because comparisons are entwined with my ultimate theme: literary funding in the United States is not a monolithic operation, dominated by a single “establishment.” In fact, these agencies differ from one another, and even within a particular agency individual departments can operate quite differently; and a change in leadership can often bring drastic changes in granting policies. It can also be said that I scrupulously avoid confusing politics with literary politics and granting policies (e.g., the principal effect of Ronald Reagan’s regime, for instance, has not been a favoring of politically conservative artists, as feared, but budget tightening that favors those who have previously succeeded, regardless of persuasion, to the disadvantage of newcomers).

My second theme is that these literature programs fail (and succeed) in perceptibly different ways. The problems at the literature program at the New York State Council on the Arts, for example, are not those of the literature program at the National Endowment for the Arts, which in turn sometimes has problems not evident at NYSCA. Some problems endemic at NYSCA-Literature, in turn, are not present in other NYSCA departments, which in turn sometimes have problems not known to its literature department. Even though I have found blatant deficiencies of all sorts, some more serious than others, my conclusion is not that governmental cultural funding is inevitably corrupt but quite the opposite: Unless a corruption is evident in all of them, it need not be present in any of them.

A manuscript was completed in 1981; however, the small commercial publisher contracting it the year before had folded by early 1982. As I had meanwhile received the first of several stipends to work in Europe, this “grants book” languished. Chapters appeared in ACM, Smoke Signals, Contact II, Soho Arts Weekley, Home Planet News, among other magazines. Constant queries from colleagues (who have come to regard me as an authority on the particularities of various funders), along with completion of that European work, prompts me to return to the subject. That earlier manuscript needs updating, as well as revision; its evidence and issues need to be reexamined, undistracted by remunerative needs. No one known to me is examining these agencies as thoroughly and critically; and perhaps because the results of such original research will inevitably be controversial, it is not likely that anyone else will. (Professional invulnerability is not common now.) May the resulting book advance current understanding of American literary philanthropy as much as the first half of my earlier book reportedly advanced our sense of native literary politics. (1986)

* * *


It began as an extended critical essay, conceived and written as an update to Ezra Pound’s classic ABC. Aphoristic in style, general in pitch, it intends to define precisely and vividly certain innovative, remarkable characteristics of contemporary experimental writing—a literature that is considerably different from the “new writing” that Pound had in mind several decades ago. Parts of this essay in progress have appeared in literary magazines and anthologies over the past decade (e.g., NER/BLQ and Donald Hall’s Claims for Poetry). Earlier versions of the whole have appeared in the periodicals Precisely and Poetics Today, along with my anthology Esthetics Contemporary (1978); and these have frequently been acknowledged in writing by others.

For the definitive book-length version, I expect to revise the entire text once again, now on my word processor for final publication, reconsidering each sentence, mostly with respect to recent writing, and probably adding new sections. I long ago learned that my very best essays, especially about literature, are those rewritten over several years (e.g., the introductions to Twelve from the Sixtes [on innovations in short fiction], The Yale Gertrude Stein, The New American Arts, Possibilities of Poetry). However, the final ABC book will differ from the essay in this crucial conceptual respect: while my text runs continuously on the right-hand (odd-numbered) pages, on the left-hand (even-numbered) pages will continuously appear epigraphs, examples and other relevant material as a kind of extended counterpoint to my text. As the recipient of awards and fellowships for book-art and book-design, I will design the final manuscript, which will run at least two hundred pages, probably preparing camera-ready copy. I’d like to think that my ABC would be particularly valuable not only to students of contemporary literature but to aspiring writers, and that it might well be used in sophisticated courses in these areas. Given its avant-garde thrust, may it perhaps be read for as long as Pound’s book has been read. (1986)

* * *


On one hand, I know my material is language. On the other, I want to discover in residencies what might be possible with those technologies, sometimes abetted by the technician, made available to me and to realize within these possibilities a language structure unique to that medium (or impossible in any other). Since I’ve already done a film hologram and a transmission hologram, this time I should like to make a reflection hologram.

One conceptual idea in my mind now, given the description of material available in your laboratory, would be an image broken apart into smaller pieces, probably square or rectangular in shape; so that the viewer would discover through different perspectives upon language the holographic truth about each part containing the whole. Another theme (exemplified in my recent hologram Antitheses, 1985) worth pursuing in another way would be that of forcing the viewer to move his or her eyes, from side to side as well as up and down, in order to see words initially visible only as indecipherable lines or words hidden behind foreground words—to utilize structures of verbal-visual revelation best realized in holography (though not so unique to it). I also look forward to discovering, albeit with anxiety, what might be possible for me now in holography working, unlike before, alone (mostly). Since I now have in my studio considerably more audio equipment than before, I might also create a complementary audiotape comparable to the one produced for On Holography (1978). (1986)

* * *


Each of these sentences is meant to be a complete autonomous fiction, without any intentional connection to any other story in the manuscript. Thus, editors are invited to select as many as they wish, and to publish those selections in any order they wish, ideally separating one story from the others through extra space (as here), hairlines, different typefaces or some other design device(s). (Inventive design will be rewarded, surely in heaven, perhaps on earth.) (1986)

* * *

Something similar occurs whenever marginal peoples come into a historical or ethnographic space that has been defined by the Western imagination.

—James Clifford, The Predicament of Culture (1988)


In the course of making our prize-winning film(s) about the great Jewish cemetery of Berlin-Weissensee as the principal surviving reflection of pre-War Berlin [titles listed], Martin Koerber and I have interviewed on audiotape (with an Uher 4200, or a Sony D-6, accompanied by first-rate microphones) elderly Berliners speaking about pre-WWII life in German, English, French and Swedish, and we will interview soon in Hebrew and Spanish. Since the footage we shot at the cemetery is silent, we selected from these audiotapes off-camera testimony to produce different twenty-one-minute films in each of those languages. (We did not overdub or use subtitled translations. Instead, we reproduced the film in each language, using authentic testimony by Berliners speaking each language.) From the German tapes alone we joined Michael Maassen in producing a seventy-minute radio feature, Nach Weissensee, initially aired in 1974 on RIAS (West Berlin).

What we now propose to do is compose more unusual, experimental multitrack audiotapes that would incorporate interviews in all these languages into a grand mix not only about prewar Berlin but about the ur-sound of Berliners speaking. The work would have the linguistic density of my composition about the sound of the language of prayer, Invocations, thus combining our initial documentary purposes with imaginative-acoustic values. We could construct a hypothetical score now, but think that inadvisable, as we have not yet gathered all the testimony and, in truth, want to experiment with various mixes before putting together the whole, which is how I customarily work with speech and sound on compositions fundamentally about the unique acoustic qualities of their subjects (e.g., New York City and Baseball: Americas’ Game). On one hand, for instance, we want to present people saying complementary things about Berlin in different languages, from different points in the stereo spectrum; on the other hand, we want to explore semantic and sonic counterpoint.

We could produce one tape of our “Berlinerisch” or, with sufficient time and production budget, compose different polyglot versions, each emphasizing one or another of the available languages, so that in one multilingual tape French predominates, in another German predominates, in a third Swedish predominates, etc., without eliminating the presence of five other tongues. (The technical capability of “mixing down” from multitracked material makes this feasible.) As these tapes will all be twenty minutes long, they could also be shown with our film as a compositionally more sophisticated alternative to the four (plus two) sound tracks already supported by Inter Nationes.

It would be appropriate to complete this audio “Berlinerisch” for the 750th anniversary of Berlin in 1987, perhaps as a new contribution to WDR’s Metropolis series, and for broadcast around the world at that time, initially by stations previously airing Kostelanetz’s audio art. In the course of doing the original interviews, we obtained signed permission from the interviewees. Enclosed, as samples of testimony, are the sound tracks of the English and German films. (1986)

* * *


For the past decade, Richard Kostelanetz has composed complex extended audiotapes integrating speech and sound, including Invocations (60 minutes, 1981, NEA-funded; 1984) and New York City (87 minutes, 1983; 60 minutes & 140 minutes, 1984), that have been broadcast around the world. Invited to give presentations and museum installations of these works (and objecting in principle to live public concerts of tape alone), Kostelanetz has developed for the latter tape, entirely on his own, a limited complementary slide accompaniment of only three hundred images. (This has already been presented at venues in Belgium, Germany, Mexico and Puerto Rico, in addition to the U.S. The most common criticism is that the visual component hasn minutest yet equaled the acoustic.)

What is proposed here is funding Kostelanetz to prepare the two thousand-plus slides necessary for a multitrack visual component as rich and complicated as his audio New York City, and a thousand additional slides to accompany similarly his other major audiotape, Invocations. It is expected that these slides will initially be used in the concerts and “readings” of his work that Kostelanetz as an artist/writer/composer is frequently invited to give around the world. They may also be used, with more sophisticated projection techniques, in installations.

Simply, the artist will try to find an abundance of images, everywhere in his visual experience, that accompany his audiotapes. Remembering acoustic episodes, he will seek out visual equivalences; other times, the visual element will evolve thematic counterpoints. This could be compared to the filmmaking process of preparing a visual track to a sound track that already exists (most notably in Joseph Strick’s production of James Joyce’s Ulysses); but since the artist is initially interested in enhancing his live presentations, filling up the performance space with several simultaneous and continuous projections, much as his multitrack audiotape can fill the space acoustically, slides would be the more appropriate (and more economical) visual medium. The slides themselves will be both individual images, like those in the sample, and photographic sequences like those in his book, Reincarnations (1981), and his book-length fictional “Recall,” parts of which have appeared in several magazines. Ideally, several tracks of imagery will be as rich and complicated as his multitrack audiotapes. Though the work of photography could be assigned to someone else, Kostelanetz thinks it important that, at least for concerts of his work, he, as a multimedia artist, be responsible for the visual accompaniment. To do it right he needs funding, because just as it isn’t worth doing unless it can be done right, so he shouldn’t be continuing his live New York City presentation in its present inferior form.

It is possible that this work will lead to similar visual enhancements of other extended audio tapes of his, including Relationships (1983) and Americas’ Game (1986, NEA-funded) and, beyond that, perhaps to the creation of new performance works that from their beginning would be for both multitrack slides and multitrack audiotape—presentational pieces that, in his case, would extend and combine his work, for over a dozen years now, in visual fiction and acoustic narrative, which is to say, as he frequently does, for literature other than printed pages. No other electro-acoustic composer known to him is working in this way (though more should, while his friend Reynold Weidenaar is setting a strong example for video complements to his tape compositions). (1986)

* * *

In sleep every dog dreams of food, and I, a fisherman, dream of fish.

—Theocritus, Idylls (c. 270 B.)


These single-sentence stories are meant to be, alternately, the opening sentences or closing sentences in otherwise nonexistent fictions. In this manuscript, openings are in normal type, closings are in boldface. They should be similarly differentiated in print with, say, the openings in italic type and the closings in roman type, or the openings on the left-hand pages of two-page spreads and the closings on the right-hand pages. (Inventive design is encouraged.) As these fictions are autonomous, not all stories need be used, and they need not be used in the order presented here, as no opening is necessarily connected to any closing. This text supplements, without duplication, the “Openings & Closings” written a decade ago and like its predecessor could also become the stuff of a book.

* * *


including Invocations (funded by NEA-Media in 1981, 60 minutes), The Gospels (also NEA-backed, 1982, 120 minutes), Die Evangelien (commissioned by Westdeutscher Rundfunk, 1983, 60 minutes), The Eight Nights of Hanukah (commissioned by the C.B, 1983, 5:30), The Gospels Abridged (1986, 60 minutes). My wish is to explore the creation of kinetic imagery indigenous to video and yet appropriate to the sacred texts (abstract, rather than anthropomorphic, because of the proscription against graven images), and to assemble the pieces in hifi stereo videotapes running from six hours in continuous length, thanks to the capability of 1/2” technology, down to shorter forms more appropriate for television broadcast, initially by stations here and abroad that have previously aired my work. Since the tapes themselves were produced in sophisticated electronic music studios, their videos should be hi-fi stereo. In my opinion, they would best be viewed, especially in exhibitions, on the first-rate video projection system, such as the Kloss 100 or new Kloss 1000. A supplementary plan is to make eight separate realizations of Praying to the Lord for eight small-screen monitors.

Out of the realization that concert performances of audiotape alone were not sufficient, I became interested in adding visual elements to my sound compositions, initially of slides for New York City (in presentations at Pro Musica Nuova in Bremen and the University of Puerto Rico). Since I’ve made films and videotapes apart from these audiotapes, it seemed appropriate to produce visual tracks directly for these tapes, working initially in video, but later in film, with the elements observing similar esthetic principles. These proposed works would also extend the position, established most prominently in our prize-winning polylingual films about prewar Berlin, about the value of nonsync sound in the production of both films and videotapes. Incidentally, the next films I would like to do would involve composing more representational visual tracks to New York City and Americas’ Game (1986, NEA-funded), sound tracks to U. S. military aerial footage of Berlin in 1945 and, if appropriate rights can be obtained, a video synthesis to James Joyce’s historic recording of passages from Finnegans Wake. (1987)

* * *


Though I’ve written about Berlin before, I have an idea for a piece I’ve not done in the past (and haven’t seen from anyone else). That would be an elaborate discussion of Der Mauer, which is the local name for the Berlin Wall; it would at minimum touch upon the following topics:

1. Its origins, evolution and reasons for being, from both Western and Eastern perspectives. (Remember that the East claims it was constructed to prevent an invasion from the West. That accounts for why the uniformed soldiers in the guard towers are constantly training their binoculars on the West.)

2. What the Wall looks like, from both sides, with barbed wire and then open space on the Eastern side and graffiti on the Western side. (I have marvelous photographs of the latter.) In a recent Insight, you should know, was a photograph captioned “East Berliners Walking Beside the Wall,” but that would be impossible. East Berliners can’t get anywhere near their side of the Wall.

3. Where it goes (and why), including its passing through the middle of a lake or under an elevated subway. Here I would describe Steinstucken, which is an enclave a few miles outside West Berlin but legally tied to it. Once physically isolated from West Berlin, it is now connected by a road surrounded by high walls on both sides.

4. How to pass through it, both legally and illegally, from both West to East and East to West. This would include a summary of the procedures for three categories of Western visitors—West Berliners, West Germanys and “andere staten”—as well as the East German rules on different categories of their citizens traveling West. Here I would describe the Museum at Checkpoint Charlie that documents some of the more elaborate escapes.

5. How it is experienced, with testimony from both sides. My sense is that West Berlin has been rebuilt to eliminate experience of the Wall. I know from having lived there for nearly a year (in snatches) that you must be reminded of the Wall’s existence. Most West Berliners go about their daily business without thinking about it and in general are scarcely affected by it, except for certain subtle anomalies—in midsummer the city’s streets are filled with people, because nobody in West Berlin is ever invited to spend a boring weekend at a country home.

6. The mechanics of maintaining the Wall. Since it is on East German property, they from time to time send over two guys with whitewash who clean off the graffiti in the presence of two armed East soldiers, all of whom return to the East. Also, not long ago, East policemen came through to arrest and take back a West Berlin graffiti artist, and I heard that since he was captured defacing East German property on East German territory there was nothing West Berlin could do about rescuing him.

7. I would like to do something with Heidelbergerstrasse in Neukolln, which is one of the few places where West Berliners and East Berliners live in sight of each other and, indeed, hang out on their windowsills talking to each other over the East German protection space.

8. The foolishness of Ronald Reagan’s demand to “tear down the Wall.” This gets us into legal differences on how each regards the other. To the West, East Germany is a lost province. To the East, they are separate countries, now and forever. Therefore, a telephone call from West to East is billed at the same rate as a call within West Berlin. By contrast, a call from East to West is billed as “international.” Therefore as well, East Germans emigrating to West Germany are entitled to employment and welfare, without discrimination. Were the Wall to come down tomorrow, there would be a flood of East Germans expecting jobs and thus the probability of massive unemployment in the West!

I would expect this piece to be at least three thousand words long, preferably five. Drawing upon my experience of Berlin, in addition to friends living in both the West and the East, I want to write a rich picture of a unique situation whose ramifications and implications can hardly be imagined until you are there. Should you like to commission, please let me hear from you. (1987)

* * *

I’m so involved in trying to get things done, working or trying to move things away from the clogged situation that exists now that I’m not really involved with that issue.

—Robert Morris (1971), interviewed by Lucy R. Lippard, Six Years (1973)


What I hope to do during my Argentine Fulbright is compose an extended audiotape of and about the sound of Buenos Aires similar to the one of and about New York City (1984). This contributes to a series of extended audiotape compositions of and about the sound of its subject—the language of prayer in Invocations (60 minutes, 1981), baseball in Americas’ Game (60 minutes, 1986), the Jewish Diaspora in “Kaddish” (in progress, on commission from Westdeutscher Rundfunk).

This project would involve taking my own microphones and recording machines around Buenos Aires to tape sounds that are as unique to that city as those in my NYC are unique to my hometown, and from these Buenos Aires sounds to make an equally elaborate audiotape composition, at my own expense, on my own time, probably at studios elsewhere. (The most likely places are the Electronic Music Studio of Stockholm and the Center for Computer Music at Brooklyn College, both of which have awarded me residencies in the past.) I would draw upon contacts made in the initial visit to Buenos Aires this past June, as well as the advice of Francisco Kroepfel, the director of a Buenos Aires electronic music studio, who has been officially commissioned to compose a Buenos Aires in the same Westdeutscher Rundfunk series that commissioned my NYC. I expect that my portrait would fundamentally differ not only from his but from my earlier work in that this time I would be approaching the city as an outsider. That last fact also makes the proposed project conceptually more interesting to me. The “Buenos Aires” tape would become available for broadcast and for concerts and, like earlier works of mine, for release on disc or cassette. I would also probably write an extended essay about the work, as is my custom, and thus about Buenos Aires; in that sense, the project extends my earlier interest (also evident in the films about Berlin) in the culture of cities. My title is tentative; the material, when complete, might suggest another. (1987)

* * *


The first would be a 90-minute audiocassette composed of and about sounds unique to New York City. It draws upon a 60-minute work commissioned in 1983 by Westdeutscher Rundfunk for its “Metropolis” series. This “International Version” of my New York City was broadcast the following year, rebroadcast over public radio elsewhere around the world, and subsequently included in the Audio Art section of Documenta 8 (1987). Approximately thirty minutes of excerpts from it ran, in alternation with another tape, as a continuous sound track during an exhibition devoted to 42nd Street at the Whitney Museum at Philip Morris in 1984.

What I propose to do for the Brooklyn Bridge Anchorage is compose, during my next residency at the Electro-Acoustic Music Stuidio of Stockholm (May 1988), a 90-minute hi-fi (metal tape) stereo American version, including new elements, some based upon the sound of the Brooklyn Bridge. Back at the Anchorage, this tape would be run continuously from a cassette player on the premises, its sound channeled to two loudspeakers installed on opposite walls (not opposite ends) of the most southwest vault—a space so resonant acoustically that I figure two speakers would be sufficient. My principal reason for selecting that vault, among the available spaces, is that it has not only the greatest acoustic resonance but also the largest amount of ambient N.Y. noise, creating the preconditions for an aleatory “mixing” of my composition of natural sounds with not only echoes of itself but the real “outside” stuff, so to speak. This vault is also sufficiently distant from the other vaults not to disturb them.

A second element for the Anchorage installation would be two sequences of 240 slides of photographic images unique to N.Y., each projected continuously (but non-synchronously), one sequence above the other, onto a large cloth, taller than it is wide, on the west wall of the vault. These were prepared as a visual accompaniment for concerts of the tape and already have been shown several times outside NYC.

A third element, made specifically for the Anchorage installation, would be a continuous projection onto the east wall of slides of eighty images from “Recall,” which has twenty-image and forty-image sequences of systematic recompositions of a single classic photograph of the Brooklyn Bridge. Parts of this last work have appeared in cultural magazines, but never before has it been exhibited in New York City. (1987)

* * *


When a colleague told me that there were no anthologies of anarchist-libertarian thought currently in print, it seemed opportune to propose to do one that I’ve been thinking about for years, an anthology that would differ from those available before, and be perhaps more relevant now, precisely by (1) focusing wholly upon American thinkers and (2) combining proponents of the libertarianism (“right”) with anarchism (“left”). Remembering Peter Kropotkin’s comment that Josiah Warren’s brand of anarchism seemed peculiar to America, I would try to establish in my extended introduction the Americanness of the selections and of the mix. Otherwise, I envision a book at least 320 pages long, and among the historical contributors would be Henry David Thoreau, Josiah Warren, Benjamin R. Tucker, Stephen Pearl Andrews, Adin Ballou, Lysander Spooner, Albert Jay Nock and Emma Goldman. From contemporaries I would expect to select choice works by Dwight Macdonald (“The Root Is Man”), Kenneth Rexroth, Paul Goodman (“The Black Flag of Anarchism”), Karl Hess (“The Death of Politics”), John Cage, Robert Nozick, Thomas Sowell, Ayn Rand, Thomas Szasz, Murray Rothbard, Dorothy Day, and Murray Bookchin (“Post-Scarcity Anarchism”). The book would close with a bibliography of further readings. In structure and polemical thrust, “The Libertarian Tradition” would resemble the anthologies of futuristic social thought (Beyond Left & Right, Social Speculations, Human Alternatives, The Edge of Adaptation) that I did for commercial publishers over a dozen years ago. If only because we are reaching in America now the edge of widespread change in our ways of thinking about politics, I’d like to believe that 1988 would be a propitious time to publish “The Libertarian Tradition.” (1987)

* * *


This would be a direct sequel to The Old Poetries and the New (Univ. of Michigan, 1981), which was by far the most radical contribution to Donald Hall’s series “Poets on Poetry,” and also a supplement to The Old Fictions and the New (McFarland, 1987). The proposed book would collect essays of mine on poetry, most of them written in the past decade—essays that, but for a few exceptions, have not appeared in any other books published under my name. It would begin with extended comprehensive profiles of two major North American poetry theorists, Northrop Frye and Kenneth Burke. Next would come a short appreciation of Marianne Moore (as a precursor), a laudatory review of Grant Webster’s masterful book on American criticism (The Republic of Letters) and two devastating reviews of conservative poetries, exemplified by the academics collected in Stephen Berg’s anthology Singular Voices and then by Joseph Brodsky. A final piece in the opening section would be my long retrospective consideration of anthologies and anthologizing. The second part would begin with a short general introduction to “Avant-Garde Poetry in America Now,” distinguishing those who would purify the materials of poetry from those who would mix it with concerns and materials from the other arts. Along the first theme would be my introduction to Harry Polkinhorn’s Anaesthesia and my extended interview with John Cage about his Finnegans Wake project. Next would come “The Literature of SoHo,” a reconsideration of text-sound in North America (extending the much-reprinted essay in the earlier volume), and “Literary Videotapes,” in addition to the texts of two symposia moderated by me: one on visual poetry, the other on sound poetry. The final section would have statements about my own poetry, including the prefaces to Turfs, etc. and “Duets, Trios and Choruses” and the manifestos “Why Audio Drama Now” and “Literary Holography.” I’d like to think that these essays establish not only the most substantial radical foundation for regarding American poetry today but sharp understanding of specific issues. Contracting it soon would no doubt inspire further writing and rewriting. (1987) [This appeared a few years later.]

* * *

Always leave something to wish for; otherwise you will be miserable from your very happiness.

—Baltasar Gracian, The Art of Worldly Wisdom (ca. 1647)


Support would go toward the completion, design and production (all by the artist, working by himself) in modest editions of several book-art books long in progress, including, among others:

1. Two more books of constructivist short fictions (composed of line drawings that metamorphose in systemic sequence).

2. A constructivist novel with 392 images in systemic sequence, to be entitled “Symmetries,” to be printed in a format 4” high x 14” wide.

3. A novel composed of interwoven constructivist sequences, titled “Intermix.”

4. A concluding collection of poems and fictions composed entirely of numbers.

5. “Epiphanies,” which are single-sentence stories meant to be the climax moments in otherwise nonexistent stories and would be published in a spacious format of only a few to a page.

6. “More Openings & Closings,” which are either the opening sentences of otherwise nonexistent fictions or the closing sentences and which would thus be a sequel to the earlier book of the same title.

7. “Shorter Stories,” which are single-sentence stories different from the others already described in that they are meant to be read as complete stories.

8. “Minimal Fictions,” which are stories no more than three words in length.

9. “Strings,” which are extended linguistic structures composed of overlapping words, designed to be published on continuous paper, such as adding machine tape.

10. “Portraits from Memory,” a sequence of 192 visual poems.

11. “Recall,” several sequences of a systemically recomposed photograph of the Brooklyn Bridge, most of which have previously appeared in art and literary magazines.

What distinguishes my own book-art oeuvre, I’d like to think, is the variety of materials (words, numbers and photographs as well as lines) and the resulting variety of formats. (1987)

* * *


There have been several histories of radio in America, but what distinguishes this book, in progress for most of the decade, is an emphasis upon artistic achievement by Americans, from the 1920s to the present. “Special Sounds” will have an introduction, yet unwritten, about issues and problems in radio criticism, in part to praise such distinguished books as Rudolf Arnheim’s Radio: An Art of Sound (1937) but also to lament the absence of the kind of extended considerations we’ve come to associate with a mature art. Otherwise, the chapters will be drawn from talks initially done as features for European radio, some of which have appeared in print here in literary magazines:

1. The American Tradition of Radio Drama, which suggests that in contrast to Europe our best radio theater is vernacular (e.g., radio comedy).

2. Audio Comedy in America Today, which argues that since 1952 the best radio art, including comedy, appeared first on record;

3. New York City Radio, which explains narrow-casting and appreciates variety;

4. Glenn Gould as a Radio Artist, which introduces the compositions of speech and sound that the great Canadian pianist produced from 1967 to his death;

5. John Cage as Horspielmacher, which traces his involvements with audiotapes and radio from Williams Mix through the famous Roaratorio;

6. American Sounds in Germany, which introduces the extraordinary, and extraordinarily successful, radio produced by Americans working in the 1980s for German stations;

7. Tony Schwartz and One-Minute Audio Art, which elaborates the thesis, mentioned elsewhere, that the best art produced nowadays directly for radio, rather than record, appears in abbreviated forms (i.e., commercials);

8. Orson Welles as an Audio Artist, emphasizing his development prior to War of the Worlds and the acoustic bases of his two earliest full-length films;

9. Norman Corwin, the “Poet Laureate” of radio, emphasizing programs he wrote and produced in the early 1940s;

10. The funding of quality radio in America, which explains to Europeans how radio art is produced here by stations lacking funds;

11. Texts and Proposals for Radio, which is a survey of my own work.

The essays appeared here in magazines ranging from the New York Times to North American Review. Any book publisher wishing to know more should contact the author. (1987)

* * *

I existed through the tough winter months of my profession as a physician only for that. So that scribbling in the dark, leaving behind on my desk, often past midnight, the sheets to be filed away later, at the end of the year I had assembled a fairly bulky manuscript.

—William Carlos Williams, Kora in Hell: Improvisations (1920)


Noan Creshevsky is a composer, now associate professor of music at CUNY’s Brooklyn College, who has worked creatively with texts for over a decade. Among the recent acknowledgments of his significance has been a personal entry in The New Grove Dictionary of Music in the United States, a copy of which is enclosed, as a kind of resume. Enclosed also is a copy of the score of his recent work, Crosstalk, which is based on a text by John Cage. Creshevsky’s radical notion here is that the literary text provides not just the source but the principal score for exclusively musical interpretation. As Creshevsky advises, “Syllables and words appearing in the parts indicate precisely synchronous rhythmic and inflective instrumental sounds. In rehearsal, sentences should first be read in the style and tempo selected by the group. Players then match sounds to the syllables and words appearing in his/her part. No words are heard in [final] performance; they are a ‘ghost text’ for rehearsal purposes only.” He continues, “The eventual subtraction of text neither detracts from the players’ familiarity with the stories’ contents, nor with their continuing obligation to reproduce sounds which remain, rhythmically at least, faithful to the original text. Among [the performers’] principal aims will be the wish to demonstrate the versatility and beauty of their instruments in conjunction with their own skill and ingenuity as performers.”

Richard Kostelanetz has produced experimental fictions and poetry for nearly two decades now. This work has been included in many anthologies, among them the Norton Introduction to Literature (1973) and The Treasury of American Poetry (1978), and acknowledged as well in standard histories of American literature. One of his continuing interests is providing unconventional texts for experimental composers, including so far Charles Dodge, Paul Lansky, Bruce Kushnick, Francis Schwartz and Philip Glass; and the results of these collaborations have been broadcast around the world. Here he regards his contribution as not only providing the text most suitable to the composer’s designs, but also collaborating on the work’s realization and then its distribution, to radio stations, on records and in concerts, which will probably include the display visually, via slides, of the “ghost text” acknowledged in Creshevsky’s plan.

What is proposed is supporting their collaborative realization of a new audio work, based perhaps upon a new Kostelanetz text written especially for the collaboration, in which the stylistic tastes and artistic backgrounds of each will have a determining effect. (1986)

* * *


Autobiographical Introduction: Writing Among Artists (to come)

HISTORIES: The Arts in America (from The New American Arts, 1965)

Visual Arts and Contemporary Music (from Music of Today, 1967)

Avant-Garde (1966) (Twenties in the Sixties, 1979)

American Architecture, 1945-65 (Bennington Review, 1978)

American Painting in the 1960s (North American Review, 1970)

American Sculpture in the 1960s (Studies in the Twentieth Century, 1971)

The New Arts and Their Scenes (Arts in Society, 1970)

The Arts in 1968, 1969, 1971, 1972 (Reader’s Digest Almanacs, 1969-73)

Mixed-Means Theater (Contemporary Dramatists, 1977)

Print-Out on the New Art (Kenyon Review, 1968)

The Cast of American Painting (Denver Quarterly, 1969)

INDIVIDUALS: Precursors of Polyartistry (Arts in Society, 1968)

Moholy-Nagy: The Risk and Necessity of Artistic Adventurism (Salmagundi, 1969)

Moholy-Nagy Reconsidered (American Book Review, 1986)

Merce Cunningham (Michigan Quarterly Review, 1974)

George Rhoads (New York Times Magazine, 1987)

Don Celender (New York Arts Journal, 1980)

Andy Warhol (New Art Examiner, 1988)

The Anarchist Art of the Polyartist (Wesleyan University, 1988)

Art Autobiography (Leonardo, 1986)

POSITIONS: The Artistic Explosion (The Book of Predictions, 1980)

Artists’ Selfbooks (Ballet Review, 1969)

“Artists’ Books” (Art-Rite, 1976-77)

Books by Artists (American Book Review, 1983)

Book-Art (Artists’ Books, 1985)

The Opiate of the Intellectuals (Art and Artists, 1986)

On Holography (New Orleans Review, 1978)

Literary Holography (Holoblad, 1985)

Architectural Criticism? (Commonweal, 1967)

The Arts Biz (New Art Examiner, 1988)

All will be revised (but not updated) for inclusion here. None need expensive illustrations. Publishers desiring further information, or interested in considering sample chapters, are advised to contact the author. (1987)

* * *


Having done a traveling retrospective exhibition for university galleries and also written illustrated retrospectives about my writing in several media for magazines like Leonardo, in addition to producing a survey on audiotape about my “Audio Writing” for broadcast around the world and both writing and narrating a video introduction to sound poetry and visual poetry for CBS Camera Three (1974), I’ve thought much and long about the use of media in portraying innovative literary evolution. Since my own “writing” by now includes not only poetry, fiction and experimental prose for print, but the use of language in silkscreened prints and canvases for gallery exhibitions and then in book-art books, in audiotape compositions, videotapes, films and even holograms, it would be appropriate for me to compose a self-retrospective for videotape, not only for broadcast over public television stations, but for private viewing in libraries and similar venues. Whereas the previous retrospectives have been organized around my explorations, the new one would focus upon my involvement with a succession of technologies for inscribing language, beginning with the pencil (which is more useful than pricking one’s finger for making marks on paper) and progressing through the typewriter, the electronic typewriter, the word processor, large format paper (for silk-screened prints) and then the new technologies of audiotape, videotape, film and holography. Tracing the evolution of my use of language in these media, I will describe the problems posed by each, identifying advantages and disadvantages, while showing examples along the way. (I may use the work of others, in addition to my own.) Since my work involves both image and sound, and includes time-based media, it seems obvious that the most propitious medium for documenting all this would be one inch videotape; and since my arts include video production, I would produce this myself. Not unlike others involved with radical innovation in writing, I’ve always been my own best popularizer.

Since my creative work itself represents such a drastic departure from what other “writers” are doing (and has been commonly regarded as unique in this way, for well over a decade now), this documentary should be similarly different from other literary documentation on film or videotape; and since it will be done by the artist himself, I will be free to eschew all concessions to convention. The first departure will be an emphasis upon the work, and the history and sensibility behind it, even to the point of excluding the author/artist from appearing full-face on the screen. There is no convention of documentary filmmaking I despise more than the talking head (because it confuses work with personality and lends itself to the making of untenable and egotistical claims); and since this film is controlled by me, I can assure in advance, not just the artist but everyone else, that that will not happen. Instead, there will be an emphasis upon creative process and upon perception. One model in my own mind is the portrayal of “cut-up writing” in Howard Bookner’s recent Burroughs. Though I will hire a professional videographer, whose ideas for filming I intend to respect, I will write the film and do the narration, in addition to recording colleagues talking about the work. (They’re likely to be more specific and critical with me than they would be in addressing a fawning filmmaker!) Need I say that I know of no precedent for this, neither conceptually nor stylistically; and that fact alone should earn it attention. Given the amount and variety of work to be covered, “Writing in the Technological Age” should be 57 minutes long. Since most of the visual track would be made apart from the sound, it would be easy to overdub for television abroad. As most of work will involve only two professionals, and travel will be minimal, my estimate for a total budget would be less than fifty thousand dollars; the project should take at least six months to complete. (1987)

* * *

Men never cling to their dreams with such tenacity as at the moment when they are losing faith in them, and know it, but do not dare yet to confess it to themselves.

—William Graham Sumner, The Banquet of Life (1887)


1. “The Olympics of Sports Talk”: The original idea for Invocations was to record an international collection of sports announcers: to discover whether they could be heard to sound alike, notwithstanding differences in language—whether there is a sound unique to the profession and that kind of communication. That hypothesis fell away in favor of ministers articulating sound indigenous to the language of prayer. Nonetheless, the original idea is still a good one; and given the success of Invocations (broadcast around the world, available here on record), it would be opportune to return to it for the Olympic year of 1988. Westdeutscher Rundfunk has expressed interest in sponsoring this; but since other commissions from WDR are unfinished, a grant from the NEA would have the practical advantage of getting them on the stick over this. (A precedent for this would be their support of The Gospels/Die Evangelien, in response to NEA funding in 1982.) “The Olympics of Sports Talk” would probably be produced at the twenty-four-track analogue installation of the Electro-Acoustic Music Studio of Stockholm, where Invocations was made. Like its predecessor, which has so many languages it need not be “translated” into any of them, this is designed to be broadcast, as is, around the world.

2. An extended, yet untitled composition of and about the sounds unique to various sports, including basketball (with its squeaky shoes), fencing, squash, hockey, etc. Recording competitive matches from a variety of acoustic perspectives, I want to make radio art that would fuse my earlier interest in compositions ostensibly about the sound of their subjects (Invocations, New York City, Baseball: Americas’ Game) with a newer notion of creating fictions exclusively with sound (apart from narrative speech). The resulting multitrack compositions, probably an hour long in sum, will have neither introduction nor narration; as they too will not need translation, they too will be available for broadcast, as is, around the world.

3. The reproduction of definitive sixty-minute English versions of five major features about radio/audio art initially produced for German radio: (a) “The American Tradition of Radio Drama,” first done for the Horspiel department of Westdeutscher Rundfunk in 1982 (and rebroadcast elsewhere in Germany), argues (with choice examples) that the best radio drama produced in this country has not been literary, on the European model, but vernacular, and then that the master radio comedians discovered the unique dramatic possibilities of radio. (This is the precursor to “Audio Comedy in America Today,” done under an earlier NEA grant, and rebroadcast in Germany by WDR.) Since I’ve gotten better at producing such features in the past five years (and smarter about my subject as well), this should be considerably better than the German original and may hopefully become a persuasive reason for reproducing it. (b) “Rudolf Arnheim on Radio,” reproducing in our original English an interview initially broadcast in German for WDR-Hörspiel (under an earlier NEA grant), about the prominent esthetician-psychologist’s pioneering book, Radio: An Art of Sound (1937). (c) “A Portrait of New York City Radio,” initially written for the features department of Sender Freies Berlin, focuses upon what distinguishes American radio from European, beginning with the abundance of stations across the dial and, also in contrast to Europe, the absence of a published comprehensive radio schedule analogous to TV Guide. (d) “The Audio Art of Orson Welles,” which will first trace his radio career as it leads up to War of the Worlds (1938) and then define the developments that presage his films, not only The Magnificent Ambersons, which, don’t forget, began as a 1939 radio play, but Citizen Kane, whose sound track is so evocative it was recently issued here on record. (e) “Tony Schwartz’s One-Minute Radio Art,” initially done in a rough form for German overdubbing by WDR (1987), features the best work of one of our most prolific and distinguished independent producers of commercials, interviewing him about his extraordinary career and rich ideas. As I have realized in Europe a unique career of producing features about the very best American radio art, doesn’t everyone think it would be nice to make them available for broadcast here? So far the intelligence behind these features has appeared in English mostly in (silent) magazine articles!

4. The production of wholly fresh radio features about (a) “John Cage as a Radio Artist,” based upon a critical essay written on a grant from NYSCA Media Services and an interview to appear soon in The Musical Quarterly. This feature would draw not only upon the interview but upon copies of Cage’s radio pieces obtained directly from their principal producer—the Hörspiel department of WDR. (Most are not yet publicly available.) This will be a sequel to “Glenn Gould as a Radio Artist,” likewise a commentary with examples, which was produced under a previous NEA grant and already rebroadcast in Germany, Austria and Australia. (b) “The Funding of Quality Radio in America,” which stems from repeated attempts to explain to colleagues in European radio the American way of support (and nonsupport). There, stations produce and subsidize quality radio. Here, as most commercial stations recycle records, while public stations have limited production budgets and facilities, quality audio is mostly produced outside radio contexts, with funds obtained from sources other than radio stations (NEA, private foundations with special interests, etc.) and then largely distributed gratis. Further contrasts are developed, always with European examples in mind. Supplementing the commentary will be examples of quality radio and interviews with those involved. If category #3 here is for reproduction in English of what already has been done in other languages, this section requests support for the production of English-language masters that, as in the prior example of the Glenn Gould feature, would facilitate subsequent reproduction into other languages. My work in European and American radio should ideally run along a two-way street free of potholes and other barriers. Needless to say perhaps, what I’ve been patiently working up for the past decade, program by program, is a series, for broadcast here as well as abroad, about “The Art of Radio in North America” that would differ from previous surveys in emphasizing our highest artistic achievements.

What is requested, please, is sufficient support to complete all, rather than some, of these proposals, most of which represent extensions of earlier successful work, some of which have been “in progress” for years (and years, alas). I hope there will be no need to offer them again, for in 1989 I would like to begin a new phase with an elaborate composition for the fiftieth anniversary of the initial publication of James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake. (1987)

* * *


The method of my previous prize-winning documentary, A Berlin Lost (made in collaboration with Martin Koerber in 1984), was to film a visual representation of a city’s greatest years, in this case the Jewish cemetery of Berlin-Weissensee, and then compose a sound track about the life represented in the footage. Since the interviewees, all Berliners, never appear on-screen, we were able to produce fresh sound-tracks, wholly composed of authentic testimony, in German, French, Spanish, Swedish and Hebrew, as well as English. For a sequel about the nadir of a city, again Berlin, I wish to take the extraordinary evocative aerial footage that American airmen shot of Berlin in April 1945, showing, unlike no other footage known to me, a modern city in ruins. To this footage, which is available in both color and black-and-white from the U.S. government merely for the cost of copying, I may add footage and/or stills gathered from other sources and/or enhanced by optical processing. (I would avoid footage showing people, for they look like normal people, while Berlin at that time scarcely resembles any city we know.) Once the visual track is composed, I shall interview surviving Berliners about this brief period, after the bombing but just before the arrival of the Allied forces. Since these interviewees never appear on-screen, here, as in the previous film, authentic testimony can be gathered in any language that Berliners speak—German, English, Russian, French, etc. Thus alternate films can be made wholly in those languages, with a minimal of subtitling or overdubbing. In the course of making A Berlin Lost, I heard several interviewees speak of this period in terms that were not only stark but unfamiliar to me, testifying as they did to human ingenuity in the face of devastation; and when I saw the aerial footage, I realized that the combination of the two would make of this unique historical moment a film that would not only echo its predecessor (in such stylistic characteristics as nonsync sound) but would be valuable in itself. The film proposed here would probably run between twenty and forty minutes; ideally, in tours it would be shown with the other. Since the moment portrayed was over forty years ago, it would be good to do it soon. (1988)

* * *


HOME: Living in Manhattan (1969) (Twenties in the Sixties, 1979)

The Harlem I Knew (Congress Bi-Weekly, 1966)

New York in Fiction (Columbia University Forum, 1966)

The East Village, 1969-70 (I Articulations, 1974)

SoHo: Mecca of Advanced Taste (1986)

Keeping Afloat in New York (Menu, 1982)

HOME AWAY FROM HOME: Letter from Berlin (Bennington Review, 1982)

A New Yorker’s Berlin (in many places; in its definitive manuscript form, 1988)

The Berlin Literary Scene (North American Review, 1984)

The Other (East) Berlin (House & Garden, 1987)

The Great Jewish Cemetery of Berlin (New York Times, 1987)

Working in German Radio (New York Times, 1981; Exquisite Corpse, 1988)

How To Live Like a New Yorker in Berlin (1988)

Fussball (1988)

AWAY: Calexico: America’s Berlin (Boston Review, 1989)

The Quietude of Stockholm (MD, 1987)

Austin, Texas (1977)

The unity comes from style and sensibility, both of which I take to be different from the normal run of travel journalism—at once more adventurous and exploratory and yet more skeptical of common claims. Publishers wishing to consider the manuscript should contact the author. (1988)

* * *

Our wishes lengthen as our sun declines.

—Edward Young, Night Thoughts (1742)


“Lovings” is a collection of independent single-sentence stories about the variousness of love; parts have appeared in many literary magazines and the whole text will eventually appear as a book. Though the stories are meant to be appreciated separately, reading the entire text creates an aura of intense erotic experience. To achieve this last effect on audiotape, let me propose that the stories be read by several voices in a multitrack studio in the following manner. One story is recorded in a tape-delay system that allows for immediate echo, so that this first story is repeated continuously until its decay. Once this first story is heard for a second time, that becomes the cue for a second story to be read into the same tape-delay system, its echo decaying on a separate track of the multitrack. Once this second story is heard for the second time, a third story is read to echo on a third track. This painstaking system is continued for however many stories will be read, using as many tracks as are available. As the single-sentence stories tend to run between six and ten seconds; the realization of a hundred of them will take from twenty to thirty-four minutes. I should like to do as many as would produce a tape lasting nearly one hour. In the mixdown (to either two-track for record or eight-track for theatrical performance), there would be an attempt to separate successive voices across the stereo spectrum. It is also possible (if, say, this was composed in a foreign country where English-speaking readers were scarce) that all the voices would be mine. My sense of the experience of the piece is that new stories would be heard against a continuously recomposing background bed of previous stories and thus, that though the stories be different, the tone would be continuously and intensely erotic. (1988)

* * *


People commonly speak of a New York accent, but those of us more familiar with the sound of my hometown know there are many accents indigenous to N.Y., each reflective of different ethnic groups, different boroughs, different social classes and different years of birth. For this audiotape composition I plan to record at least one hundred native New Yorkers who have lived here most of their lives, saying, “I was born in New York City in [year]” and then adding where their parents came from, in what neighborhoods they grew up, perhaps where they went to schools, etc. My expectation is that from these field recordings I will compose a piece of speech-music that will begin as a sequence of solos, ordered not only for chronological exposition and sociological intelligence but for sonic values. I imagine that voices will quickly come up over one another (as New Yorkers are wont to do) from different parts of the stereo spectrum; but before long, they will be heard speaking in duets, electronically mixed and stereophonically arrayed, and then trios, quartets and quintets, as I hope to find in choral arrangements a New York City sound that would not be so audible in one voice alone. There is no need to use any acoustic processing or any sounds other than native voices. I envision a multitrack piece that would be at least thirty and perhaps sixty minutes long. “I Was Born in New York City” will hopefully take its place beside other extended audiotapes of mine that were composed of and about the sound of a certain subjects—baseball (1986), New York City (1984), the Jewish Diaspora (1983) and the language of prayer (1981)—and if this new piece turns out as well as its predecessors, it should be permanently installed in the waiting room of, say, Grand Central Station, welcoming visitors to the kind of speaking they can expect to hear in New York City. I would need a few months to consider the raw tapes and perhaps forty hours in multitrack studio to compose it. (1988)

* * *

One of the gravest responsibilities of the modern State that it has not maintained (but could it do so?) a class of men exempt from civic duties, men whose sole function is to maintain nonpractical values.

—Julian Benda, Betrayal of the Intellectuals (1927)


1. A year-long seminar in the “Production of a Book,” which would include not only the writing (or equivalent production) of a book-length manuscript but copyediting, design and production, by any means available to the student, of a camera-ready dummy. Since I believe that, once you think in terms of doing a book, certain problems are common, this course would be open to those wishing to produce book-length manuscripts of poetry as well as fiction, visual books (of photographs or related drawings) as well as nonfiction. Participants would make copies of works in progress available to one another for criticism and comment throughout the course of the year. (Now that I’ve produced some books, I wish I had myself taken such a course as an undergraduate.)

2. A one-semester (preferably spring) seminar in the Production of “Major Art Projects,” open to practitioners of all arts, including writing, where the requirement is simply the creation of major artwork, representing the sum of all the student has learned, plus intensive labor. The emphasis will be on learning how to think like a professional artist rather than mastering the strategies of a discipline. I believe that though the techniques of the various arts may differ, the production of art involves common problems and that working alongside people in arts other than your own has two advantages—an increase in general intelligence about art and a decrease in feelings of specific competition. Readings and other research will be individually prescribed to suit the needs of each student.

3. A one-semester (preferably fall) seminar in “Experimental Writing,” which would require students to produce work with reference to literature that is radically unlike anything they or I have seen before. This is designed to stretch imaginations, forcing students to produce work well beyond what they have done, or thought they could do, when they began the course. Readings will include anthologies edited by me: Imaged Words & Worded Images (1970), Future’s Fictions (1971), Breakthrough Fictioneers (1973), Essaying Essays (1975), Scenarios (1980), Text-Sound Texts (1980) and The Avant-Garde Tradition in Literature (1982), which will function as catalogues of recent innovations that need no longer be done.

4. A one-semester seminar in the writing of “Arts Criticism,” with an emphasis upon writing and thus open to critical aspirants of all arts. Different though the arts are, I find that, once you become familiar with one and develop esthetic principles, the problems of writing criticism are fundamentally similar. Students will be required to write different kinds of essays (monographs as well as reviews), with different approaches (description as well as opinion), making copies for one another to criticize, not only as editors but as colleagues; work will conclude with each student writing an extended critical essay. Here too readings for students will be recommended individually.

5. A one-semester seminar in the “Write of Arting,” which would be for practitioners of all arts, requiring esthetic self-definition through the writing of manifestoes, program notes, autobiographical summaries, proposals, etc. Readings will include appropriate writings of artists who have written about their own work with especial perspicacity, such as John Cage, L. Moholy-

Nagy, Ad Reinhardt, Paul Klee, Henry James and Merce Cunningham, with further selections designed to suit the individual ambitions of each student.

These are meant to supplement (rather than compete with) courses already given; no other university known to me has them (and nobody else could give them). None of them need a detailed syllabus; all of them require a large amount of individual work. (1988)

* * *


The designs of gravestones, if read closely, can be seen as reflective of changes in collective self-perception and society. The graveyard I chose is the great Jewish cemetery of Berlin-Weissensee, founded in 1880, with over 110,000 memorials. In 1984, a West Berlin colleague and I produced a film, Ein Verlorenes Berlin, that regards this cemetery today as the principal surviving evocation of the city’s greatest years (1860-1940), and its sound track has since been wholly recomposed with authentic testimony in English, French, Swedish, Spanish and Hebrew. In this public place, which I take to be an exemplary modern urban folk artifact, the visual-verbal designs of the grand mausoleums from the late nineteenth century reveal group attitudes about Berlin and Germany that differ from those reflected in the more circumspect stones with modern typography of the 1920s, while the visual-verbal demeanor of post-WWII memorials reveals other attitudes. What I propose now is producing a book-length camera-ready dummy of photographs and texts; for while the film is good and true in regarding the cemetery as representing a lost city, it also suffers from that medium’s limitations in presenting information and interpretation. Whereas R. Etlin’s pioneering book about eighteenth-century Parisian graveyards, The Architecture of Death (1984, with support from NEA-Design) focuses upon cemetery floor plans, my emphasis will be on gravestones. My assumption is that once this dummy is available, my essay in design communication could be easily published (and printed) and thus advance understanding of gravestone/cemetery visages, not only abroad but here in the U.S., perhaps influencing future gravestone articulations.

Your program staff has not only a photocopy of my general introduction to the cemetery, as published in the New York Times, but a videotape copy of the English version of our award-winning film, A Berlin Lost (1984), which has already been screened in such major international festivals as Berlin, Edinburgh, Melbourne, Oberhausen and should be viewed as a film introduction to my subject (as the film is less about design as such than the artifact as a surviving visual-verbal representation of a past society). May I advise panelists, in viewing the film, to regard closely such specific design details as the changes in gravestone architecture from turn-of-the-century mausoleums to more modest stones and in typography from Teutonic gothic to international sans serif, and then similarly chronological developments not only in the choice of visual symbols and stones but in characteristic inscriptions (and surrounding vegetation, some of it by now unintentional), as well as such significances as the high German character of the WWI cemetery and the use of Hebrew in place of German; for these issues will be more closely examined in my proposed book. One design detail better done with photographs than film would portray stones whose two sides have different languages, with German on the face and Hebrew on the back, and then sometimes different names as well—for instance, “Adolf” on the German face, and “Abraham” on the Hebrew backside. (Also notice in one shot a pathway whose tall trees implicitly indicate that this cemetery escaped the WWII bombardment that devastated so much else in Berlin.)

Two more facts that must be made clear is that Weissensee was a cemetery for the whole Jewish community, unlike here (and elsewhere) where most cemeteries customarily belong only to a particular congregation; and that because this communal graveyard, founded in 1880, now has over 110,000 graves, it represents a whole city of Jewish life with an historical coherence and cultural generality that is epistemologically distinctive, if not distinguished. That accounts for why the biologist Gunther Stent at the end of the film compares Weissensee with Ankor Wat: “a kind of funerary city. . . . It’s giving the impression that I was visiting the site of some lost civilization that had existed in some distant past, and that by looking at all these things probably that would be the way to reconstruct the civilization that is no more.”

In the proposed book, I expect to emphasize and interpret these details of design, in addition to drawing upon the my own black-and-white photographs and color transparencies. Following Richard A. Etling’s lead, I will also look for Weissensee’s original floor plans, for I want to examine all dimensions of design within this single major cemetery. Satisfactory though the film is as an introduction, the design subject of the funerary representation of a city demands a book. To facilitate further research and photography in Berlin, I have applied for a two-month renewal (which I understand to be automatic) of my earlier twelve-month stipend from the DAAD Berliner Kunstlerprogramm, which will also subsidize round-trip transportation there. Thus, the funds requested with this application are wholly for an American citizen working here in English. For this work, as well as the film before it, I have the cooperation of the Jewish community of East Berlin, which controls Weissensee.

Two other scholarly models to consider are Allen I. Ludwig’s book about Puritan iconography, Graven Images (1966) and Dickran and Ann Tashjian’s book about the art of early New England stone carving, Memorials for Children of Change (1971). Otherwise, since the critical literature on gravestone design is scarcely abundant, there is good reason to believe my book will be considered pioneering. Among its readers I initially see those seriously interested in three subjects: Berlin, Jewish culture of Central Europe and the evolution of design in modern urban graveyards. Beyond them will be those interested in graveyards elsewhere and in the culture of great cities. Among its subsidiary benefits might be greater future attention to issues and possibilities in the truly neglected area of gravestone design (which is rarely distinguished nowadays). In my own mind, let me add, the film especially, and the cemetery implicitly, is about a place that was once like my hometown, New York City, which is to say that both the cemetery, along with representations of its designs, reflect the makings of a great metropolis. (1988)

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May I tell you about several presentations that I am doing nowadays:

l. A provocative, illuminating lecture on “Literary Granting in America,” focusing not upon the achievements that are familiar to us all, but upon such recurring problems as jury rigging, class exclusions, rule breaking, unfair competitions, etc. Aiming initially to demystify, I typically compare in detail the history and procedures of one agency, such as the National Endowment for the Arts, with another, such as the New York State Council in the Arts (which is especially scandal-ridden). After the talk I will gladly answer questions and listen to stories, at least to place individual incidents in larger contexts, perhaps to advise. This lecture draws upon articles published in various places over the past few years and upon a forthcoming book, “The Grants Fix.”

2. “John Cage and Moholy-Nagy as Polyartists,” with slides and audiotape. As the descriptive title implies, this will demonstrate how works in various arts reflect common esthetic principles particular to each major figure.

3. “Home Movies Reconsidered: An Experiment in Autobiography,” a live performance with silent VHS audiotape in which I comment critically on family home movies and upon larger issues of autohistoriography.

4. “Innovative Literature in America Today,” likewise with slides and audiotape, focusing not only upon visual and aural literature but upon radical departures in language style and literary structure.

5. “Writing Extended,” also with slides and audiotape, but in this case a comprehensive survey of my own work in poetry, fiction, audiotape, videotape, photography, holography, and film.

6. “Audio Writing,” an introduction to my own work just with audiotape, with many short examples and live commentary. Longer works of my audio art available for concerts include Invocations (in twenty languages, for sixty minutes); The Gospels (in English, one hundred minutes, or in German as Die Evangelien, 60 minutes); New York City, which comes in three lengths—one 60 minutes international version, the second a 140 minutes American version, and the third an 87 minutes first draft, all composed of sounds particular to my hometown, which can be played in conjunction with an elaborate slide presentation involving hundreds of comparable New York City images. These works are particularly effective in sequence and in daytime venues. During visits, I can introduce each of these tapes and answer questions about them.

7. “Video Writing,” in which I present my video compositions, mostly based upon texts of mine, that exploit such capabilities unique to video as the character-generator.

8. “The Radio Art of Glenn Gould,” my introduction, with audiotape, to the remarkably unknown “docudramas” produced by the great Canadian musician.

9. A Berlin Lost/Ein Verlorenes Berlin/Berlin Perdu/Ett Forlorat Berlin, our four twenty-one-minute films with different sound tracks (respectively in English, German, French, Swedish) of authentic testimony about the Great Jewish cemetery of Berlin as the principal surviving relic of prewar Berlin and its greatest years. These are best shown in sequence, as the imagery begs to be reseen. I can provide printed English translations for the last three, as well as a Spanish translation of the German only, and when I show the films myself, answer questions about the cemetery and these stylistically unusual documentaries. The films themselves are available for screening without me; videotape copies also exist in 3/4 inch and 1/2 inch VHS formats.

10. “Epiphanies,” which is the collective title for a multimedia work of single-sentence stories whose text is available for an exhibition or theatrical presentation and on a film, a videotape, an audiotape, parts or all of which can be used in either a single presentation, a series or an installation.

11. “Numbers: Poems & Stories”: My most popular show, with slides and commentary, of my art composed entirely of numerals—given in over fifty places over the past decade.

12. “Visual Poetry & Visual Fiction”: Another traditional slide show, with voice-over narration, of my own early exploratory work—likewise given over fifty times.

13. “Gertrude Stein as the Great American Person of Avant-Garde Letters”: The only utterly straight lecture, with neither slides nor tapes, that I can be persuaded to give.

I am in general willing to visit classes, particularly if I can discuss works I have done or am doing. For all concerned, a series of presentations, stretching over a few consecutive days, is worth more than just a single shot. My fees can be characterized as midrange and, of course, become less per day for extended stays; but bear in mind that just as some artist/writers teach so that they can do other things for nothing, the firmest base of my sporadic income, as well as exhaustive charity, is touring. Past sponsors of over two hundred presentations have included art museums, alternative spaces, cultural centers and university departments of literature, art, music, speech, media, intermedia, American studies and combinations of them, as well as student organizations. (1988)

* * *


The book would have three sections: the first reprinting essays about others, the second theoretical statements, and the third considerations of my own work. In the first section would be my essays on John Cage as a Radio Artist (from Iowa Review), the interview with John Cage about his Finnegans Wake writings (from Tri-Quarterly), Glenn Gould as a Radio Artist (from Boulevard), the profile of the sculptor George Rhoads (Smithsonian), Merce Cunningham-John Cage (from the Brooklyn Academy catalogue for Fall 1986), the profile of Kenneth Burke (from New York Times Book Review), Don Celender (a major book artist, from New York Arts Journal), the Special Sound of German Radio (New York Times), “Literary Videotapes” (forthcoming in American Book Review), “The Literature of Soho” (from Shantih), “Avant-Grade Poetry Now” (from American Book Review), “John Martin” (the publisher, from the Times Book Review), “The Opiate of the Intellectuals” (about the appreciation of sports, from Artworkers News), among others. The second section would have “The Artistic Explosion” from Wallechensky’s The Book of Predictions and three manifestos—“Literary Video,” “Why Audio Drama Now,” “Book Art” (all widely reprinted, but here in their definitive forms), etc. Section three would have “Texts & Proposals for Radio,” “Literary Holography,” “Keeping Afloat in New York,” and perhaps my retrospective on anthologies (from Contact II). I can paste up a sample, should anyone like to see it; and I can also promise to rewrite from scratch, delivering the manuscript on discs to facilitate accurate and cheaper typesetting, if a publisher prefers. This book should attract everyone interested in the more advanced developments in contemporary arts, initially literature, but also including intermedia. None of them has appeared in any previous books of mine published here. There should be an introduction, a wholly fresh essay, about the 1980s as different from the 1970s and 1960s. (1988)

* * *


Eduardo Kac, my colleague in Holopoetry, as he calls it, writes from Brazil that he would like us to do together an international anthology of “High-Tech Poetry,” which is to say a book of and about poetry made through (and not about) technologies made available within the past quarter century (video, holography, computer; but not audiotape). This book could include photos, descriptive texts and anything else that can be printed, in addition to, short of media examples, addresses where discs or videotapes or whatever can be obtained. It could also include theoretical essays and manifestos. The bias is toward poetry discovering what can be written directly for these media, realizing their unique capabilities, rather than simply reproducing what was originally on the page. The plan is to publish the polylingual book in both Brazil and the U.S., printing there (which is much cheaper), so that an English-language publisher wishing to collaborate with a Brazilian should contact me. Writers wishing to submit appropriate English-language material of any kind should send it directly to me; in other languages to Eduardo Kac. Then please be patient; not unlike other unprecedented things, this may well take a while to happen. (1988)

* * *

His life is the life of the artist, one disappointment after another.

—Olive Cowell on her son Henry, quoted in Nicolas Slonimsky, Perfect Pitch (1988)


When a novelist friend, a few years ago, challenged me to write a novel, I thought first of the 1960s, not as a chronological period but as a cultural concept, and of writing a panoramic novel, roughly in the manner of Dos Passos, about the experiences of a variety of people at that time. However, once I made notes about narratives to include in my novel, I began to hear voices telling particular stories; and since I have recently been producing so much radio, I decided it would be best for me to work initially with authentic voices.

My initial themes were two: the 1960s was a special time as other decades were not, and then that it was special in more ways than we commonly remember or understand. While I did not want to neglect the political protest commonly associated with the period, my principal interest was episodes of “anonymous history,” to use Sigfried Giedion’s phrase—dimensions of experience that are now invisible or forgotten, even though, in this case, they occurred only two decades ago. So in selecting participants to interview, I looked first of all for individuals who had either personal experience or expert knowledge of some specialness in this period. Thus, I have a pharmacology professor talk about the last age of drug optimism, during which, in his most prominent example, Valium sales peaked at seventy-five million prescriptions, only to become by now half of what they were; a math professor to remember the rise and fall of the “new math”; the manager of an investment fund to talk about the stock market boom of the middle sixties and then about how, because of values predominant in the period, he felt more comfortable not displaying his wealth, again unlike now; a fashion writer to talk about the radical changes in female dress and the current persistence of these changes. And so on.

In selecting interviewees, I also looked for another quality—voices so distinctive that they need not be reintroduced. This was necessary because I wanted not to make a conventional radio feature, with an announcer (probably a celebrity) identifying speakers and making connections, but an informal symposium in which the remarks of various individuals would be interwoven as though they were participating in a continuous conversation. My assumptions were that the speakers would establish their authority not through an announcer’s identification of their current positions (or even their names) but through the authenticity of their articulated memories and perceptions, and then that this authority could be extended, in a listener’s mind, to their subsequent appearances on the tape. I also wanted to let sophisticated listeners, like those of public radio stations here, make their own connections from the testimonies.

For the pilot of “A Special Time,” I personally conducted over three dozen interviews, initially with old friends, and then with new friends, such acquaintance accounting for why the speakers sound as though they are talking to someone familiar. These interviews were necessarily transcribed, because one disadvantage in editing audiotape, unlike film, is that there is nothing to see. Since words seen are easier to organize than words heard, the tapes had to be transcribed. Studying these transcriptions, I decided which passages to excerpt for the opening sixty-minute feature and then in which order those excerpts should go. My aim was to compose an associational flow, as though each new participant were extending what had previously been said, and then to introduce many of the topics that would be developed in individual hour-long programs later in the series. Many speakers were edited to sound clearer, more fluent and more interesting than they actually were; so that this testimonial from an early listener is partially an implicit tribute to our artifice: “There are a lot of people on this tape I wish I knew.”

Once in a private eight-track studio, I decided to distribute these participants over the stereo spectrum; and since six separate tracks were available to me for speech, there were, so to speak, six seats from which they would speak: on a metaphorical clock at 9:30, 10:30, 11:30, 12:30, 1:30, and 2:30. In the remaining two tracks of multitrack tape, I placed music and historic sounds mostly from the period as a kind of counterpoint that could be acoustic or thematic or both. Most of these background sounds extend over at least two monologues, bridging the natural pauses between successive speakers. Since moments when music and speech pause together were rare, we had to mix in live time the eight tracks of sound down to the more accessible two tracks of a stereotape. All in all, we worked over thirty hours in this multitrack studio simply to produce the rough draft of an illusion of a fluent hour-long conversation accompanied by appropriate background sounds.

Though I already have enough testimony on tape to compose several more hour-long conversations on individual topics such as politics, manners, values, enterprise, culture, learning-research and the Vietnam War, I expect to do yet more interviews, mainly during my tours as a visiting artist/lecturer, hopefully discovering yet more “hidden history.” The plan is initially to remix the pilot, eliminating imperfections, and then produce either a dozen more hour-long programs or a single program several hours long (ideally for a special comparable to say, the twenty-fifth anniversary of the JFK assassination and then for release on a single hi-fi videocassette). One element I enjoy about this project is reawakening my training in American history (M.A., Columbia University) and earlier curiosity about innovative historiography, now all at the service of my more recent interests in the artful organization of speech and sound.

Need I say there is evidence all around us of continuing interest in the 60s as the most significant of recent decades, as reflected in many areas of our culture: movies, popular music, fiction, clothing, and political debate. The critical and popular success of the “Vietnam” series on public television illustrates the continuing appetite for analysis and recall of this period in American life. Nonetheless, there have been no comprehensive oral histories of the decade since Walter Cronkite’s contemporaneous updating of Edward R. Murrow’s decade-by-decade Hear It Now, a three-record set (CBS) of narrated news clips that by contemporary standards seems stylistically primitive. That is the vacuum that “A Special Time” aims to fill. (1988)