Monday, September 3, 2007

excerpt from Things I Don't Know

"Some Things I Don't Know: Reflections on Process in Politics and Literature" was a talk I gave at the Kootenay School of Writing in Vancouver on May 13, 2007. The piece features a series of associatively-connected paragraphs written between November 2006 and May 2007.


I tend to consider process-oriented writing differently than texts created through more conventional methods of authorship. Without getting into all the judgments involved in deciding what’s “better,”if it remains true that when we're looking at process-oriented work, we know it's process-oriented work, then that means we continue to see that work as categorically different and so are likely to consider it by different standards. Much though not all processual work tends to highlight concept and performativity more than close attention to line by line reading (though of course conventional writing is still a kind of performance). Is that difference a problem? Sometimes I think yes, sometimes no. Depends on what you've gone to the work for. As Roland Barthes would note, none of us ever read every line of a text anyway. But how does it change our habits of reading that with many process-oriented texts, we know there's no real point even in trying to read every line? In a certain scenario, we would begin to decide that any given line of a text doesn't really matter that much—which of course is only true, in some sense, and unfortunately inattentive in another. We would dip into the text here and there, picking out lines and moments of interest, without assuming that its totality was relevant except as concept. But does such a notion do away with problematic Modernist dependence on totality or simply encourage readers to care less about the specifics of a text and more about its conceptual framework and aura?

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