Proposal for A BOOK OF KOSTIS: QUOTATIONS FROM CITIZEN RICHARD, designed by the author

Running approximately 200 pages, the book should have passages comparable to the following selections, yet divided into several categories, including Art, Literature, Autobiography, Sociology, Politics). I prefer to develop an original design for such a collection, preferring, for instance, blocks of type in different typefaces and different sizes, perhaps with different widths, to the conventional form of a succession of horizontal lines. One implicit ambition, which will I hope be noticed, is revolutionizing the Look of such compilations. I see no need to identify the original sources of the quotations, as each should stand on its own, apart from any reference.

I'm little interested in what I already know, and not at all interested in what everybody knows.

It now seems clear that three distinct groups of people--generations, if you will--spent most of their twenties in the sixties. The first graduated from college before 1960, the second matriculated afterwards; and the third consists of those between, like myself, who were probably in college at the turning date.

Anyone who was at all idiosyncratic, which is to say conscious, in 1960 can remember, I'm sure, his classmates and/or teachers advising that his waywardness would be a handicap in the "outside world"; yet most of these “nonconformists” discovered, within a few years, that the society outside was far more cordial than the imprisonment of school. These idiosyncracies often turned keys to unanticipated possibilities and discoveries, as well as "education," that continued well into our late twenties. Those of us who took the leap above convention often realized plateaus beyond our wildest dreams--not only could I write a piece of long prose, but I liked it, and it was published, and a book quickly followed, etc.; and the speed at which yet more possibilities were revealed, and then possessed, never ceased to amaze me.

What distinguishes [Twenties in the Sixties, 1979] is the comprehensiveness of its radicalisms--not just in politics and esthetics but literary politics too.

Our views of national destiny and war, bureaucracy and wealth, chastity and education, choice and necessity, etc., were formed by this experience of abundance, increasingly diverging from those of our scarcity-minded elders, and this difference became the root of the much-noticed "generation gap." We assumed that jobs would always be easily available and thus, unconcerned about our "prospects," assumed courageous risks without question or compromise. By mid-decade, most of us found the emerging anti-authoritarian optimism more congenial than not, and identified, however vicariously, with the unemployable hippies, the fans joyously amassed at the great rock festivals, the protestors at Columbia and even Chicago; for it seemed that, reservations notwithstanding,"the kids" represented us, both emotionally and intellectually.

Much of my critical writing confronts the problem of "the new" at a time when the most interesting culture continues to be avant-garde in more ways than one, for a key theme of Twenties in the Sixties, as well as other works of mine, is change--not only in art but thought, not just in subject or "content" but form.

To an extent that would have been inconceivable before 1960, we chose to sample extremes, just to see what might happen; and this riskiness was founded less upon any self-destructiveness than an optimistic faith that whatever we did would somehow "work out." As children of prosperity, we knew that setbacks were temporary and that even "failure," if anticipated and acknowledged, could represent "success." This preference for energy over measure partially accounts for the great shifts in popular taste--away from slick pop music to heavy rock, away from baseball and basketball to football and hockey, away from above-ground movies to the "underground," away from alcohol to drugs and then to amphetamines over hallucinogens, and these increasingly popular dark pasttimes shaped in turn the emerging consciousnes of yet younger generations.

It has also been clear to me that, notwithstanding the necessity of debunking, the prime task of truly contemporary criticism is defining order in the superficial chaos of unprecedented cultural experience.

Shooting film is terribly boring, especially for a writer accustomed to controlling his own time, because you spend most of your day sitting around and waiting for everyone else to get his thing organized. I don't ever want to do that again.

It's practically impossible for a serious writer [in America] to set fixed prices on his work, because magazines pay such varying rates. So I've hit upon this principle: "From each according to his means," which is to say that if theperiodical can pay, I'd like as much as everyone else. If they can't, I canusually be conned into taking nothing more than a few contributor's copies. I estimate that most of my magazine publishing has been gratis--especially of my creative work. Even when I get paid, the money is rarely worth the time and effort--by standards of the U.S. minimum wage; and my anthologies have not been profitable either. The real rewards and pleasures--and even the vanities--of serious writing have little, if anything, to do with money.

I'm not really "free-lance," if I can be picky, because my services are not for hire. I rarely do anything on an editor's suggestion--even journalism--in part because it takes more time to research an unfamiliar subject and then think about it profoundly, but mostly because the ideas of another person invite compromise, less of my integrity, than of my initial purposes. Almost everything I've written--from reviews through essays and books--was done on my own initiative.

As for overarching ideas, I think you'll find a recurring concern with doing what has not been done before--as a critic and a historian, and perhaps as a poet and fiction writer too; and this ideal would echo a predominant theme of my critical writing. I also try not to do any job that someone else can do better, and if I'm asked to do a writing or editing project, my first questionis whether or not it really belongs, so to speak, to someone else. And if it does, I'll offer it to him. I've given away all sorts of assignments, including several I originally initiated.

What we call "absurd literature" embodies a very specific literary convention: a series of absurd--that is, nonsensical or ridiculous--events that suggest the ultimate absurdity, or meaninglessness, of human existence. At the end of Ionesco's The Chairs, a particularly neat model of the convention, a hired lecturer addresses a nonexistent audience in an indecipherable tongue. This is the absurd surface. Since the lecturer's message is supposed to represent the final wisdom of a ninety-five-year-old couple, the meaningless message becomes an effective symbol for metaphysical void.

The double paradox is that even anti-art inevitably reveals the influence of previous arts, as well as creates esthetic examples that shape future art. Perhaps because the ideas informing Dada were in essence quite simple, although original and unfamiliar to both art historians and most artists, its impact upon functioning creative intelligences was liable to be both quicker and more subliminal than the complex thought of, say, Wittgenstein's philosophy or contemporary physics; thus, I suspect that the Dada spirit has probably infiltrated all contemporary minds whose sensibility were susceptible, slipping, for instance, into the fiction of writers only dimly aware of the original work.

On second thought, however, this particular formulation of unfettered possibility ["there really exist no limits upon the kinds of fiction that can be put between two covers"] now strikes me as needlessly conservative, if not compromised, in one crucial respect; for if limits exist not to be respected but exceeded, why should fictions, even those created out of words, necessarily be printed on paper of uniform size and bound between covers? And why should a writer piously accept the convention that all his words be printed in type of the same size and style and then laid in evenly measured and modulated greylines? Why should a work of imagination necessarily have a discernible beginning and an equally definite end? Why could not a narrative be framed on a continuous sheet of paper wound, say, between two rollers printed not perpendicularly, like the Torah, but in lines parallel to the spindles' shafts? Could not a writer create a room rull of words cunningly chosen, expressively designed, resonantly arranged, and artfully draped, that would evoke the coherence of both enviromental art and literature? (Maybe such an environmental fiction could be mass-produced or "published" on screens that the purchasing "reader" could then circulate to his taste around his own home.)

Like most prolific writers, I have more outlines and drafts in my files than I could possibly finish, and I feel an intense and steady internal pressure toget it all down and out. Perhaps because there is so much I could write, I simply can't afford to start and then finish anything that does not fulfill a personal commitment and perhaps a sense of cultural necessity. My major problem now is getting enough publishers to support the projects I want to do most.