The Poetics of Re-use

A discussion space and materials base for the reading/talk, "The Poetics of Re-use," with Brian Howe and Buck Downs, as part of the In Your Ear reading series, curated by Adam Good and Cathy Eisenhower.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Little List

Things that can be re-used:

Materials: Images, Words, Texts, Sounds, Albums, Found Objects, etc.
Processes: Rhyme, Speaking, Line-breaking, Spell-checking, Google-searching, etc
Forms: (as containers of processes and materials): Poems, Sonnets, Novels, Essays, Interviews, Academies, etc

(obviously there will be plenty of slippage between these: the Exquisite Corpse game is both a process and a form, and, when the output or content of any one particular game is re-used as a material, it is a material.)

I don't mean to suggest that these are locked-down categories, but I find it helpful in my explorations to think along these distinction-lines; basically, this helps me remain aware of the context of the work (material + process + form) in question.

A poem (form) re-uses a quotation from a song (material) via placement on the page, resonance with other elements (and other processes), very differently from how an academic essay (form) might use the same quotation. This re-use is in turn different from how the quotation (material) might be used in a Saturday Night Live parody (form) or a conversation (form?process?material?).

My main interest in re-use, then, ultimately stems from a kind of fascination with dynamic atomism, "the beauty of embedded possibility," to re-use the words of Arlene Stamp (originally referring to her artwork based on fractals). The fact that any re-used element (any element, really) points to an "always beyond," an "always outside," and carries with it a certain residue and energy of its point(s) of origin(s). To say that things can be re-used is to point out their complete contingency and their tendency to be other. Their contexts and forms are little homes, for awhile. They have come from elsewhere and will return there.

So, Brian's statement about his F7 work, "this process felt very mystical to me, something like divination," parallels very closely my own feelings about engaging with source materials in various ways. That there is a boundless energy at play in the combinations and spark*gaps that occur when you interact with anything openly, especially if you can focus this play in some way(s) around a process or collection of processes. In Brian's case, the F7 process, in Cage's, the use of the I Ching, in Buck's "Hopper," being able to see to see large and strange patterns emerge by re-using one's own material. In some of my own explorations, reading through various books as if they were divinatory texts.

As Buck points out, learning to write ultimately amounts to copying what has been written and absorbing the various ways in which writing occurs. (And then creating extentions based on a wide variety of other influences.) Writing, internalized as a process, becomes a sort of sprite guiding one's interaction with the world. In effect, looking at anything is to re-use it according to various guides internal and external. My first really clear indication of this process was seeing Buck read from In Memory: D. Thompson., in which he walked through the Congressional Cemetary making rubbings of words on the headstones, "proceeding to discover each next word as the site and [his] ability to perceive it would disclose." Hearing this work revealed to me not just a textual strategy for the creation of poems, but also a way of looking at any textual material in the world as a field to move and play in, to "discover [new combinations] as sites and perceptual abilities allow." In other words, whenever I look at any text, some part of my looking is goverened by this experience.

A poetics of re-use might posit itself simply as an awarenss of how processes guide perception into form(s), endlessly and endlessly.


  • At 5:26 PM, Blogger buckd_dc said…

    >>(And then creating extentions based on a wide variety of other influences.) Writing, internalized as a process, becomes a sort of sprite guiding one's interaction with the world.>>

    I read something like this and I despair. It doesn't seem that folks can bear the reality of their total lack of orginality, the completely recycled nature of everything, and again, the second law of thermodynamics, without invoking sprites and other fantastic creatures.

    But let's make a simpler, shorter list than the one that begins this post, so that we can end on a positive note:

    Things that can't be re-used:

  • At 10:20 PM, Blogger Adam said…

    Let me fill in the missing provisional definition of writing from the quote that Buck pulled from my post:

    "Writing, a dynamic process of re-uses re-using themselves and whatever they lay their hands on becomes a sort of sprite guiding one's interaction with the world."

    My use of "sprite" wasn't meant to sidestep, via mystification or fantasy, the "completely recycled nature of everything," as Buck puts it. We're actually in complete agreement on this point. I am not trying to run away from re-use; rather, I am interested in a sort of hyper-awareness -- in Cage's terms, "close attention to close attention" -- of HOW and WHY things are used and re-used, both externally (as material artifact) and internally (as process).... And then, what can be done with this awareness...

    I wrote about Buck's In Memory D Thompson in an attempt to describe this awareness of HOW a specific part of my own perceptual/writing processes in a sense just re-uses Buck's work (which is also, to follow Buck's line of thought, itself just a re-use).

    My vision, my experience of anything, is filtered through prismatic glasses; each pane of the prism is a process, picked up, re-used from somewhere. I am interested in understanding the make-up of this prism. Buck's work has been a guide, as have many, many others, a pane in this and adapted, and here, so I thought, clearly acknowledged as such.

    I'm sorry if Buck interprets my total fascination with process and its re-use as an inability "to bear the reality of [a] total lack of originality."

    There are many things I worry about, and many things I can't bear, but that certainly ain't one of them.

    But let's make a more explicit definition so that we can end on a positive note:

    A poetics of re-use might posit itself simply as a re-used awareness of how re-used processes guide re-used perception into re-used form(s), endlessly and endlessly re-used.

  • At 10:34 AM, Blogger buckd_dc said…

    A central point of a poetics is to describe a relation of poesis to the world. So a poetics of re-use that insists on only pinballing between awareness, perception, and form would have to be finally incomplete or worse. As such, it will always have to defer to imaginary third parties ("a guide") to explain its effects.

    A custodianship of the world, total dependency on others, and a failure to complete the work are three of the characteristics of the relation of poesis to the world.


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