Year-End Report: 2004

Everyone asks about “progress” on my new house (next to the A-train station at Beach 67th St., Arverne). Little has changed over the past year, in spite my architect repeatedly promising significant movement “next week.” Though the building has been nearly complete physically for some eighteen months, it took him a full year since to obtain clearance to connect water—clearance he promised to get in 2002 but somehow slipped by him. As I write in at the beginning of December, he’s now stuck on obtaining a “No Action” letter from the state attorney general. This in turns depends upon approval of his redivision of my block-long property—approval he should have gotten long ago but apparently neglected. Among the construction mistakes discovered so far is a lack of a sink in the kitchen and cabinets not only in a doorway but those adjacent to my front door are much too low and small for hanging coats. (The height of the library is two feet less than initially planned, because “it couldn’t be done,” he repeated, not explaining that the loss of space had nothing to do with legalities but his plans for further building—work that, given his incompetence so far, will never happen.)

Once I actually occupy the building, I wouldn’t be surprised to find more mistakes, as an architect administratively incompetent is likely to screw up physical building as well. It’s frustrating to deal with someone with whom nothing works, who simply can’t overcome his growing reputation as one of the most dubious architects in New York. Being nice to him is no more successful than being severe, so incompetent has he been. I’ve been reluctant to visit the place, because all I see in the unoccupied ruins is signs of his incompetence advertised large. Cleaning up behind his delay is not among his acquired skills. Had I more money, I would have (should have) hired someone else; but funds were depleted in supporting his fantasies of himself as a builder. A human being with more integrity would have returned all money advanced to him. Given all the incompetence so far, I’m not sanguine about his ever obtaining the Certificate of Occupancy that is necessary before I can legally occupy. Fortunately, the land itself has appreciated so much in value that I have the option of selling it entire, probably for more money that I’ve spent so far. In that case, the architect’s monument to his own incompetence would be destroyed, demonstrating the truth that a beginner should practice only with his own funds, probably on a more modest project. The cost to me in aggravation is beyond measure. What I can count is the cost of supporting two properties while he pretended to be professional; and that’s well over one hundred thousand dollars. My professional income has also declined while my library and archive are buried in unmarked boxes that were packed under his promise to get the CofO long, long ago. Need I add that this menace, this wretch, has never expressed gratitude for my supporting his continued fantasy of himself as an architect.

My conclusion from this unfortunate experience is that no one should ever hire a beginner to build a house. Never. Finishing the job is simply beyond his experience and competence, no matter how slickly he talks and promises; but if a beginner insists and is hired, don’t pay him a cent—not a penny—until the CofO is safely in hand. Why no one ever told me this truth before I began building disappoints me profoundly.

Otherwise, unable to use my annotated library, I’ve mostly been doing creative work. During richly productive residencies at the Institute of Electronic Arts at Alfred University, working mostly with Joo-Mee Paik, I finished randomly accessed DVDs of my VIDEO POEMS and VIDEO FICTIONS that collect syntheses of words (and only words) made during the late 1980s; CONTAGION, a narrative fifty feet long on clear film; STRING TWO, a poem of overlapping English words 120 feet long; REIMAGINING ROCKAWAY POSTCARDS, which are eight Iris prints 22” x 30” of handwritten texts to century-old images; THE EAST VILLAGE, 1970-71, which has twelve prints, likewise Iris and 22” x 30’, enlarging a classic text against the background of a photo from that time; LIKES/DISLIKES, which has words visible from two sides from suspended film; ANTITHESES, which reproduces words of a 1985 hologram of that title, now visible from both sides of suspended film. Thanks to an Alfred undergraduate Matthew Understood, my videotape KINETIC WRITINGS (1988) finally has a soundtrack. Thanks to another Alfred undergrad Alex Saretzky, who also worked with me during the summer, I have a few dozen strips 11” long, 3” high, of a new text titled THIS SENTENCE—strips that can be exhibited.

Otherwise, Koja Press released 35 YEARS OF VISIBLE WRITING, a self-retrospective brilliantly designed by Igor Satanowsky. Aryeh Cohen-Wade, now a senior at Yale, completed AUTOBIOGRAPHIES AT SIXTY in a format 8 1/2” x 11”, and he is currently working up a camera-ready dummy for a book based upon my photos of the Great Jewish Cemetery of Berlin. Elena Karpenko, born in Siberia, now at Hartwick College in upstate New York, completed the production of two books both in limbo for too long: AUTOBIOGRPAHIES AT FIFTY and KADDISH AND OTHER AUDIO WRITINGS. The latter includes two cds of shorter audio compositions. Jennifer Verbit produced a small edition of my ALPHABET with handset type. The Institute of Electronic Arts at Alfred Univ. is planning to publish a limited edition of my NEW YORK CITY ORATORIO, which is the longest version of an audio-art composition done two decades ago. While at Alfred, I remastered all my outstanding videos on the current optimal storage medium of Mini DV, while Andrew Deutsch generously remastered my audio compositions on CD roms. At least my media archive is up to date. My visual art is now represented by a very sympathetic gallery, so far visible only on line as www.minusspace.com, but soon to have a physical space. During the past summer, my work was featured on their website along with three other language artists.

My political criticism appeared irregularly in the monthly Liberty, though it will probably appear no more after its editor returned my elaborate commentary on the 2004 Election that he had accepted. Unfortunately, he didn’t publicize me or anyone else before a larger audience. (This has become a good reason to put together a manuscript of MORE POLITICAL ESSAYS, concluding that phase of my writing.) One favorite article is an appreciation of the New York City beaches in the New York Press: http://www.nypress.com/17/27/news&columns/RichardKostelanetz.cfm. Shorter literary polemics appear from time to time in the American Book Review. All 24 pages of Aryeh Cohen-Wade’s realization of my Two–Element Stories appeared in the initial issue of 103: The Journal of the Image Warehouse. Seventeen of my highly innovative Two-Word Anagramic Stories appeared in John M. Bennett’s Lost and Found Times, which has been for decades now consistently the most avant-garde strictly poetry journal in this country. St. Elizabeth Street and the Whirligig printed other examples of these favorite new texts. A generous selection of my Minimal Audio Plays appeared in the second issue of Call. A kinetic realization of my text can be found at: http://www.albany.edu/~litmag/vol222/kostelanetz/index.html

Among the books of mine currently in progress at smaller presses, hopefully to appear soon, are FILM & VIDEO: ALTERNATIVE VIEWS (Autonomedia), MORE WORDWORKS (Talisman), GHOSTS (Unicorn), MORE OPENINGS & CLOSINGS (Pulley Press), and perhaps some others I forgotten about. Candace Hicks in Athens, TX, is producing an edition of my INFINITIES (stories whose ends turn back into their beginnings) as a box of Mobius strips. As with my architect, perhaps patience has been too much of a virtue for me.

Among my newest manuscripts the most original and consequential is LITERARY CORRESPONDENCE IN THE 21 ST CENTURY, which I hope will be the first collection of my letters conducted with another, unidentified, entirely in email. One theme is the new literary style favored by the new medium; secondary interests include my thoughts on a wealth of issues, some marvelous sharp writing, and autobiographical information unavailable elsewhere. Though I’m currently showing the beginning of the 240,000-word manuscript to book publishers, I suspect that 21 ST CENTURY, as I call it, will begin as a CD-rom, its pages hopefully highly designed by an intern next summer, in a publication medium that will offer the reader the advantage of not requiring an index. (Simply use the computer’s search capability to find something specific.) As one theme of my work so far as been publishing in a wide variety of media (audio, video, holography, etc.), the addition of a CD-rom to my oeuvre would be appropriate. Watch for my announcement of it. Thanks to Josh Carr, my website has new contents, albeit at the same address: www.richardkostelanetz.com.

I'll be showing the new DVDs of my VIDEO POEMS and VIDEO STORIES, whose content is exclusively kinetic words (just edited at the Institute of Electronic Arts at Alfred, NY), on the projection screen at the Bowery Poetry Club, 308 Bowery, just north of Houston, west side of the street, on Sunday 2 January, at 4 pm. until 7 pm. True to their titles, these cameraless syntheses are unlike anything you've seen/read before. As the 99 elements on each of these DVDs can only be randomly accessed, each has no fixed length. The elements simply come one after another. I'll feature the POEMS for the first 90’ and the STORIES for the second 90’. As VIDEO POEMS and VIDEO STORIES have no sound, expect to talk to me, each other, and your cellphone favorites. The tapes are free, as am I, but for food and drink the Bowery Poetry Club will extract its customary charges. Come and celebrate the New Year with me.

I applied for a few academic positions I thought credible—mostly non-tenured, non-departmental name chairs, but never got to an interview. Hard it is to account for universities not wanting someone with individual entries in Contemporary Poets, Contemporary Novelists, Postmodern Fiction, Baker’s Biographical Dictionary of Musicians, A Reader’s Guide to Twentieth-Century Writers, the Merriam-Webster Encyclopedia of Literature, Webster’s Dictionary of American Authors, The HarperCollins Reader’s Encyclopedia of American Literature, and the Encyclopedia Britannica, among other distinguished directories. Elizabeth Sessions, my Most Significant Other for the past five years, relocated to Houston, Texas, where her son Roger has lived and worked since graduating from college, where she hopes life will be easier. Let’s all wish her well.

The other bad experience was my first stay overnight in a hospital in over thirty years. On Christmas day last year, I felt dizzy and thought it vertigo, which I’d had a few years before. However, it didn’t go away on Friday or Saturday. By Sunday, I was falling on the floor. My new friend Deborah Waxenberg came to the rescue and took me by ambulance to St. Vincent’s Hospital, where I was diagnosed with a suddenly bleeding ulcer that had reduced my red blood count to dangerously low levels. I was immediately given transfusions and moved into a semi-private room where I stayed until New Year’s Day, when I returned home. The ulcer was blamed upon the naproxen that I’d been taking now and then for chronic soreness and stiffness in my legs. What makes this explanation dubious to me is the facts that I didn’t take much naproxen and two nights before Christmas I’d swum a mile in a strange pool. To recover from my weakness, I went three times to Puerto Rico, a few days at a time, over the following three months and returned to full strength by May, though my calves are still mysteriously stiff and sometimes sore.

Until further notice, know that the Prince St. PO Box will necessarily be the best permanent address.