Previously Unpublished, Sometimes Incomplete Entries Drafted for a Third Edition of my Dictionary of the Avant-Gardes (1992, 1999)

Since a third edition has not yet been contracted (and may never be), it seems appropriate now to offer some new entries that I’ve drafted since the second edition was completed. As before, my aims have included the introduction of unfamiliar names and radical reinterpretation of familiar subjects. Perhaps publication of these sketches now will inspire a publisher to commission a third book; a minimum, they are entries that should have been appeared in earlier editions. Corrections and criticisms are, as always, appreciated at

Signed copies of the second hardback edition, a big book, are available at $35 + $5 postage directly from the author; for the first paperback edition, now scarce, $12. + $3.

ABRAMOVIC, Marina (1946). Born in Belgrade just after the War, she attended the Academy of Fine Arts in Belgrade before beginning a career mostly of stunning performances and installations. Initially she explored themes of pain and duration, especially on herself. In Rhythm 0 (1974, in Naples), she invited spectators to use on her a range of instruments including knives. Moving to Amsterdam in 1975, she met Uwe Laysiepen, known as Ulay, and in their thirteen years together they did many prominent performances, including Relation in Space (1976), where they crash their naked bodies into each other for an hour. They concluded their collaboration with The Lovers: Walk on the Great Wall (1988), where they started at opposite ends of the Chinese landmark, once crossing the Gobi desert and the other treacherous mountain tops, until meeting on a bridge on the Shaanxi Province. After they split, she returned to solo performances, including Biography (1992-96), a theatrical retrospective of 25 years of previous performances. In Cleaning the Mirror (1995, New York), clad in the long white shift, in a dank and dark basement, she scrubbed obsessively at large cow bones, removing bloody refuse that soiled her dress, creating, in RoseLee Goldberg’s judgment, “a metaphor for ethnic cleansing in Bosnia [that was] an unforgettable image of grief for her times.” At the Venice Biennale in 1997, she received an award called the “Golden Lion.”


Balkan Baroque, 1995.


Goldberg, RoseLee. Performance: Live Art Since 1960. N.Y.: Abrams, 1998.

ANARCHIST ART (1960s). Anarchists have made art, often portraying other anarchists. A classic example is John Henry Mackay’s The Anarchists (1872), which was written in German by an author born in Scotland who was living in London. Anarchists also appear in Henry James’s The Princess Casamasima (1886). However, as anarchism presumes an open, nonhierarchical society, so a truly anarchist art should have an open, nonhierarchical form or portray open, nonhierarchical. In my experience, the epitome was John Cage’s HPSCHD (1969), which gets its own entry here. Other examples include Clayton Patterson’s Tompkins Square Riot (1988), The Living Theatre’s Paradise Now (1968), and Lee Baxandall’s Potsy (1963). Indicatively, a recent academic book on Film and the Anarchist Imagination (1999) scarcely understands this concept.

Kostelanetz, Richard. “Anarchist Art,” Political Essays. Brooklyn, NY: Autonomedia, 1999.

Porton, Richard. Film and the Anarchist Imagination. New York: Verso, 1999.

ASPEN (1965-71). Incidentally the name of a Colorado ski resort, the five-letter word had more presence in the 1960s art world as the name of the most distinguished polyart periodical. Its publisher was Phyllis Johnson, a Johnson, a former editor at Advertising Age and Women’s Wear Daily so heroically self-effacing that she is not remembered as well as her contributors. The customary epithet “magazine” would be insufficient, as later issues were collections with looseleaf sheets, while another came in a box, usually undated. For instance, issue #8, guest edited by Dan Graham and guest designed by George Maciunas, had a characteristic cover by Jo Baer, a one-page score by Philip Glass, texts by Robert Morris, David Antin, Yvonne Rainer, La Monte Young, Jackson Mac Low, Edward Ruscha, in sum creating an avant-garde museum in progress.

Issue “5+6,” likewise undated, was both edited and designed by Brian O’Doherty and dedicated to Stephane Mallarmé. Among the contents of the box were cardboards with which one could build a sculpture by Tony Smith, a booklet with poems by Michel Butor and Dan Graham, another booklet by texts by Sol LeWitt, Tony Smith, Morton Feldman, and O’Doherty, and five plastic 7” records. One disc contains a Samuel Beckett text read by the actor Jack MacGowran and William Burroughs and Alain Robbe-Grillet texts read by their authors. A second disc had the percussionist Max Neuhaus’s realizations of scores by Cage and Feldman. A third contained manifestoes by Merce Cunningham and Naum Gabo read by their authors. A fourth had creative texts by Marcel Duchamp and Richard Huelsenbeck read by their authors. The fifth record was an interview with Merce Cunningham. Were that not enough, the box also included a reel of 8 mm. films by Hans Richter, L. Moholy-Nagy, Stan VanDerBeek, and Robert Rauschenberg. If anyone is publishing anything polyartisticly comparable today, I don’t know about it.

Needless to say perhaps, none of the publishers of periodical reprints for libraries have ever duplicated Aspen. It is not for nothing that copies are scarce, even in used-book markets.

AUDEN, W. H. (1907-1983). The more an adventurous writer writes, the more likely it is that some his publishing might be really good. Similarly, the more an adventurous well-supported modern writer publishes, the more possible it is that some will be avant-garde. What was true for Edmund Wilson was also applicable to W. H. Auden whose more avant-garde work appears not in his fluent portentous verse, which influenced at least two generations of mediocre poets, but in some of his ancillary writing forgotten by even his more fervent admirers and, alas, misrepresented even by his most loyal publisher. Letters from Iceland (1937), written in collaboration with his fellow British poet Louis MacNeice, is not a continuous travelogue but a marvelous, multi-faceted pastiche of two kinds of verse (one to each author), reportage, spirited personal letters (apparently addressed to real people), and some verbatim documents about their exploration of an Atlantic island on the fringe of western Europe. After comments on Icelandic politics, society, and literature (though oddly omitting the incredible outdoor steam pools, perhaps because the young men didn’t swim) comes their most stunning conceit of a joint “Last Will and Testament,” whose well-turned lines incidentally shows that these aspiring writers knew familiarly many of their most prominent contemporaries. One additional element unusual in any poet’s book is the poet’s own photographs, in this case Auden’s, reflecting his recent prior experience writing unusually poetic soundtracks for British documentary films. Not only are Auden’s pictures distinguished in sum, but they make an invaluable contribution to the whole that incidentally precedes the American classic of photographs + texts—James Agee and Walker Evans’ Let Us Not Praise Famous Men (1939). It is unfortunate that Auden’s photographs weren’t included in the 1967 Faber reprint of Letters from Iceland that was reissued again in 1985. In the latter edition, indeed, nothing is said about the Auden photographs other than to credit him with the image of a horse’s back half on the book’s cover. Whereas the words-only reprint of Letters is commonly available, the superior complete original was scarce until posthumously reprinted in the initial volume of Auden’s Prose and Travel Books in Verse (1996). Another favorite Auden text for me is his brilliant chart of literary romanticism (c. 1942), which I rescued from his executor, the Columbia English professor Edward Mendelson for my anthology Essaying Essays (1975). [REPRINT IT HERE if possible.] Oddly, Auden dropped his more avant-garde esthetic interests (as well as an earlier taste for pop music and new architecture) upon immigrating to America in the late 1930s, whereas other Europeans often discovered in the USA kinds of alternative culture unavailable back home. How come? My sense is that Auden became in America a favorite of a class of people, lumpen academics, whose British peers had already rejected him as too avant-garde. Insecure in his personal life by turns Christian and gay, Auden accepted too much direction from his enthusiasts.

AUDIOVIDEOTAPES (c. 1980). This is my coinage for video art in which the image accompanies highly articulate sound, usually because the soundtrack is composed before the image and/or the video artist also works in audio art or music composition. The master here is Reynold Weidenaar, who indeed took degrees in music composition before turning to video, whose best videotapes incorporate his own electronic compositions. This procedure of sound preceding image is scarcely new. Some classic cartoons were produced this way--it’s hard to imagine how Walt Disney’s Fantasia could have been made otherwise. Orson Welles, who made classic radio before he produced films, reportedly recorded the soundtrack of his Citizen Kane before he shot any footage, finding sound a surer guide to narrative art before he shot any pictures.


Weidenaar, Reynold. Love of Line, of Light, and Shadow: The Brooklyn Bridge, 1982.

Welles, Orson. Citizen Kane, 1940.


Carringer, Robert. The Making of Citizen Kane (1986). Revised ed. Berkeley, CA: University of California, 1996.

Kostelanetz, Richard. “Orson Welles as Acoustic Filmmaker.” In Film & Video. Brooklyn, NY: Autonomedia, 2005.

BAER, Jo (7 August 1929; b. Josephine Gail Klienberg). The classic Baer paintings from the 1960s are canvases nearly entirely white. The only violations are a thin border mostly in black. Inside of it is another rectangle of even lesser width in another color, such as green, blue, lavender, red, and orange. This addition of a color between the black and the white became the signature of Bear’s paintings. If the eye concentrates upon the dominant white of the painting, as one customarily looks, the frame colors begin to shimmer not only with respect to the dominant field but to each other. The British art critic D. C. Barrett has identified the influence of the literary minimalism, scarcely appreciated by visual artists, of Samuel Beckett. “It might be said that Baer did for painting what Beckett did for drama, that is, pare everything down to an absolute minimum, so exiguous that with one more stroke there would be nothing left.” When grouped together, these canvases become even more impressive. One development in her work in the late 1960s was wrapping the black edges of the canvas around the stretcher bars. Barrett adds that “by the end of the 1970s the curve had become dominant and Jo Baer’s painting underwent a radical change. From being starkly and geometrically abstract, it become figurative, sensual and, at times, erotic; from being ordered and closely knit, it became fragmented: drawings of anatomical pars, predominantly, human and animal buttocks, studies of seated nudes, etc.” A legendarily handsome woman in her prime, Baer never had the career that was forecast for her for reasons still unclear. Don’t be surprised if sometime in the future she is portrayed as a kind of art-world tragedy--too beautiful to be feminist, too scrupulous in her esthetics to be popular and then too deviant in her later work to gain respect, too predisposed to messy personal entanglements, etc. Her son Josh B. (1955) has been an art dealer in New York.

Catalogs: Haskell, Barbara. Jo Baer. N.Y.: Whitney Museum, 1975.

BARSAMIAN, Gregory (1953). A student of nineteenth-century European philosophy and later a devotee of the dream analysis popularized by Carl Jung, Barsamian is also skilled with machines. Discovering the nineteenth-century zoetrope, which was a wide rotating cylinder whose insides had a succession of images verging on film animation, he decided to produce a similar effect with contemporary technology. In Putti (1991), cherubs suspended overhead become helicopters. In Leafing on a Leach, hands turning the pages of a book are complimented by a two-dimensional animation of a text questioning self-knowledge and a figure of a man beating his head against a wall, all in an endless cycle. Not unlike other technological sculptors, he spends most of his time making works for places never seen by his colleagues and critics. Since no catalogue of his work exists, he wisely produced successively a videotape and then a website that are far more effective at representing kineticism.

BARTHELME, Donald (1931-89). His principal under-recognized achievement was publishing in The New Yorker, a magazine favored by advertisers of big-ticket merchandise, moderately deviant fictions severely critical of life dependent upon such worldly goods. “The Temptation of St. Anthony,” for instance, portrays the historical exemplar marooned in suburbia, confronting temptations familiar to New Yorker readers. In their original context, besides glossy ads for the likes of Rolls-Royces and Rolexes, these Barthelme satires were subversive and delightful, not only enhancing his work but making the venerable magazine seem self-confidently benevolent. However, once collected in books to appear on their own, Barthelme’s stories seem less radical, if not prosaic, readers fresh to them often wondering what any fuss was about. Whereas regular appearance in the slick pages of The New Yorker makes some writers seem weaker than they are, such as John Updike and James Thurber, the mass-magazine context gave to Barthelme an edge that later evaporated. The great misfortune is that the best experience of his fiction is available now not in his own books but DVDs of the complete New Yorker (2005).

Barthelme, Donald. Forty Stories. New York: Penguin, 1989.

------. Sixty Stories. New York: Penguin, 1993.

Barthelme, Helen Moore. Donald Barthelme: The Genesis of a Cool Sound. College Station, TX: Texas A&M, 2001.

BARTHES, Roland (1925-1980). A various and mercurial writer, he published pioneering essays not only defining radical developments in Alain Robbe-Grillet (*), among others advanced figures, but discriminating in popular culture. The best of these were collected in Mythologies (1975). He wrote an inventive autobiography, Roland Barthes by Roland Barthes (1975) in part to acknowledge and mock at once his various literary selves. Regarding his philosophical development, may I quote The Routledge Critical Dictionary of Postmodern Thought (1999): “In the successive phases of his career [R.B.] appears before us as the Marxist literary critic, elegantly slowing the bourgeois dragon; as a semiologist, carefully revealing the meanings latent in the artifacts of popular culture; as a structuralist, intent on a ‘scientific’ analysis of human society; and as a playful post-structuralist, celebrating the quasi-sexual pleasures of the text.” Whether he touched so many fashionable bases out of evolution or opportunism is a good question that cannot be answered here. My own feeling is that his writing is more accessible and thus more sympathetic than verbiage customarily grouped under those essentially French rubrics.

Barthes, Roland. Roland Barthes. New York: Hill & Wang, 1977.

BARTÓK, Belá (25 March 1881-26 September 1945). A kind of Hungarian Charles Ives, he studied music only in his own country and drew upon its folk music for a modern style uniquely identifiable mostly through highly developed modal harmonies, irregular meters, and percussive qualities. Initially renowned as a young pianist, he wrote virtuoso pieces for himself. In 1904, he began transcribing Hungarian folk songs that became such a crucial influence upon his later compositions, beginning with the first of his String Quartets, which remain among the most successful sequences for that instrumental grouping in modern music. Later assimilating the continental influences of his contemporaries Igor Stravinsky and Arnold Schoenberg, he produced in the early 1920s two violin sonatas reflecting their complexity. Among his more frequently performed works are Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta (1936) and Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion (1937). Indicatively, few composers ever wrote so well for the xylophone. To my mind, perhaps the most extraordinary single piece is his Sonata for Unaccompanied Violin (1944), twenty minutes in length, incidentally demonstrating, much as J.S Bach’s compositions for solo strings, that some of the greatest solo instrumental music has come from writers skilled at counterpoint. This Sonata was written in New York to which he has immigrated in 1940, just before his early death from Leukemia. Unlike Schoenberg and Stravinsky, who had also immigrated to America, he found his new country unsympathetic and died in penury in New York.

BERKELEY, Busby (b. William Berkeley Enos, 1895-1976). Certainly among the most original Hollywood filmmakers during the 1930s, he utilized dozens of dancers to produce masterpieces of geometry in motion, often complimenting female eroticism, in a succession of films from 42 nd Street (1933) through The Gang’s All Here (1943), which opens with “one of cinema’s most breathtaking traveling shots” (David Thomson). My favorite testimonial to Berkeley’s highest style comes from Cecile Starr (1921), herself an avant-garde filmmaker and historian: “circling displays of faces, one after another, in extreme close-up, circling around us; well-shaped bodies posed or parading in skin-tight costumes, moving in precise formations filmed from the front, side, and back angles and then miraculously seen from above, bodies and heads seeming to dissolve into out-of-this-world configurations.” For masterpieces of abstract art created with human performers, consider the section in Footlight Parade (1933) commonly called “By a Waterfall,” in which one hundred woman dancers in rubber swimsuits perform on five levels on revolving circular platforms, and “Dames” section of the 1934 film with the same name. Doubts though I have about Hollywood films in general, Berkeley demonstrated what was possible not if it wanted to produce excellence, which cannot be initiated by executives above, but if it let inspired directors create what had not been done before.

Starr, Cecile. “Busby Berkeley and America’s Pioneer Abstract Filmmakers,” in Bruce Posner, ed., Unseen Cinema. New York: Anthology Film Archives, 2005.

BIDLO, Mike (1953). Whereas Elaine Sturtevant produced unique clean and clear replicas of select master paintings, Bidlo in the 1980s made glibly executed productions of many modern masterpieces, usually at original scale, but deficient in visual quality. Especially in his one-person exhibitions, which were stronger than any individual works, Bidlo realized irony and humor through an abundance of crummy replicas. Picasso, Brancusi, Man Ray, Morandi, Kandinsky, Leger, and even his near-contemporary Julian Schnabel were are redone. Verbally witty as well, Bidlo retitled his replica of Picasso’s Desmoiselles d'Avignon as “She Works Hard for the Money,” which is the title of an American pop song from the early eighties. Sometimes Bidlo gives him imitations generic names such as “not-Leger” or “not-XYZ.” In a 1982 installation at PS 1 Gallery, Bidlo redid Jackson Pollock’s monumentally obnoxious move of pissing into Peggy Guggenheim’s fireplace. No less committed to his subject to high modern art a decade later, Bidlo in 1993 filled a SoHo gallery with 5000 drawings, most of them decidedly amateur in draftsmanship, of Marcel Duchamp’s urinal, or at least a pissoir that his title, The Fountain Drawings, alluded to Duchamp. Defeated apparently by his own prolific productivity, he may have run out of viable subjects by the 21 st century.

BORGLUM, Gutzon (1867-1941, b. John G. B.). Born in Idaho, he studied in Paris along with his brother Solon Hannibal B. (1868-1922), both becoming sculptors. Whereas the latter favored animals, Borglum made his name with outdoor civic memorials, beginning with The Wars of America (1925-25) in Newark, NJ, culminating with the colossal heads of presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt for Mount Rushmore (1927-41) in South Dakota. This is monument on the scale of Simon Rodia’s Watts Towers. Kitschiness notwithstanding, these heads are at once grotesque and awesome, even in reproduction, and are remembered if only for grandiose distinction. A feisty colleague, Borglum resigned from the group that had organized the sculpture section of the Armory Show, before leaving New York. He worked with politicians, among other types customarily avoided by Artists, and overcome daunting obstacles that would have defeated a less determined colleague. His family must have loved him, as most of the initial books about his career were written by his descendants.


Casey, Robert, and Mary Borglum. Give the Man Room: The Story of Gutzon Borglum. Indianapolis, IN: Bobbs-Merrill, 1952.

Borglum, Lincoln. Mount Rushmore: The Story Behind the Scenery. Las Vegas, NV: KC, 1977.

Carter, Robin Borglum. Gutzon Borglum: His Life and Work. Austin, TX: Eakin Press, 1998.

Zeitner, June Culp, and Lincoln Borglum. Unfinished Dream: Mount Rushmore. Aberdeen, SD: North Plains Press, 1976.

Larner, Jesse. Mount Rushmore: An Icon Reconsidered. NY: Thunder’s Mouth, 2002.

Taliaferro, John. Great White Fathers. New York: Public Affairs, 2003.

BITZER, Billy (b. Johann Gottlof Wilhelm B., 21 April 1872-1944). The first great cameraman of American film, he photographed news scenes around the turn of the century, joining a company that became known as Biograph. In 1908, he joined D. W. Griffith, then the premier American director, to photograph all of his films until 1924, including not only shorts but the masterpieces The Birth of a Nation (1915) and Intolerance (1916). Out of this collaboration came technical innovations, commonly credited to Bitzer, of the close-up, the fade, soft focus, the iris shot (coupled with the elimination of sharp corners in the film frame), the use of a dolly for a tracking shot, and gauze to suggest a mist. His professional life collapsed in the 1920s, as did Griffith’s, as American filmmaking became a larger, corporate business. In the 1930s, the newly established film department at the Museum of Modern Art commissioned him to document his distinguished career—an achievement that might have otherwise been forgotten.


Bitzer, Billy. His Story: The Autobiography of Biograph’s Master Cameraman. New York: Farrar, Straus, 1973.

BOLOTOWSKY, Ilya (1 July 1907-22 November 1881). Born in Russia, he came to American as a teenager and attended the National Academy of Design. Influenced by the biomorphic abstraction of Joan Miro in the 1930s, he made in 1936 for the Williamsburg Housing Project in New York City one of the first abstract murals. (It was in the 1990s on loan to the Brooklyn Museum.) Meeting Piet Mondrian when the latter immigrated to New York in the early 1940s, Bolotowsky turned to geometric abstraction after WWII, favoring yet more rigorous horizontal/vertical fields typically limited to primary colors, sometimes in varying shades. By 1950 Bolotowsky introduced circular and diamond-shaped canvases followed by ovals and other unusual rectangles. In the 1960s, he began to make elegant sculptures that had straight sides and were painted with his signature colors. The orderly progress of his career was ended prematurely with his fall down an elevator shaft. (His son Andrew B. [1949] became a distinguished American flutist, accomplished in avant-garde as well as traditional musics.)

Murals: Williamsburg Housing Project, Brooklyn, 1936.

Cinema I, New York, NY, 1963.


Scarlet Diamond, 1969.

Large Vertical, 1951-59.

Scrulpture: Metal Column B, 1966.

Outdoor Sculpture:

Column 24, Salt Lake City, 1981.

Exhibition Catalogs:

Ilya Bolotowsky. N.Y.: Guggenheim, 1974.

BRANT, Henry (1912-). Born in Montreal of American parents, Brandt went south with his family in 1929 and studied privately, as few did, with George Antheil. Radical from his compositional beginnings, he produced in 1933 Angels and Devils, still regarded as remarkable, because, true to its subtitle (“for a Merry Murmuration of Innumerable Flutes”), it sets a solo flute against an infinite number of background flutes. Another early piece, 5 & 10 Cent Store Music (1932), is explicitly scored for “Violin, Piano, and Kitchen Utensils,” just as Machinations (1970) requires “flageolet, double ocarina, ceramic flute, sell harp, and what have you.” In addition to discovering unusual timbres through massing a single instrument or included unconventional sound sources, Brandt also distributed musicians, often generous in number, over wide spaces both inside large halls and outdoors.

BROWN, Robert Delford (1930). Trained initially in visual art, imaginative beyond belief, he worked in several media, including performance and photography, prints and book art, sculptures and tapestries. Tall, slim and handsome, he hooked up with a wealthy divorcee who supported his work generously, building for him from 1968 to 1970 a palatial studio within a former New York City public library, rechristening their space on W. 13 th Street, near 8 th Avenue, “The Great Building Crack-Up,” the birthplace of The First National Church of the Exquisite Panic, Inc., aka “Funkapaganism,” which stood as a kind of conceptual art based upon the marvelous Yiddish epithet Farblundjet (here Frenchified as “Pharblongence”), which means confused, really confused. Not only was the façade alone sure to attract attention from passersby, but the expansive interior set an early example for ambitious downtown Manhattan artists wanting not only immense interior space but a private gallery with its own entrance to the street.

In the mid-1960s, Delford Brown staged prophetic performances inconceivable to anyone else at the time, including one in 1964 in a refrigerated locked with loads of meat in the meat-packing district west of Greenwich Village. Thanks to a press agent, the performance attracted not only publicity-responsive people but newspaper reviewers, one of whom wrote: “You could tell it was an [art-world] opening by the stylish clothes the wives of the meat market men were wearing. There was also that restrained, slightly formal tone that one associates with such events.”

Were that not audacious enough, he published in 1967 Hanging, an illustrated chapbook about the effects of hanging on a body; he made “Liver Prints” with actual blood of liver. He had a nurse draw his blood and a Chinese cook fry it before he ate it. He produced “Vulva Prints” made from his wife’s menstrual blood. He published a late modernist Ulysses in which his name replaces that of James Joyce in an anthology of reviews of the classic modernist Ulysses. And so on. “In the sixties,” he once told an interviewer, “I had the idea of having a chair of shops called ‘Fake Girl,' which would cater to transvestites and sell hair remover, extreme make-up, high heels and dresses in large sizes, falsies, and wigs—a one-stop shop. I tried to trademark the name, but the U.S. Copyright Office turned me down.” The extravagance with which he worked and imagined made him the American analogue of the wealthy Frenchman Raymond Roussel.

While his work was influential, initially upon the performance artists associated with Vienna Actionism in the late 1960s, and then upon later artists predisposed to “cutting edge” subject matter, Delford Brown fell between the cracks of art fashions, largely disappearing from art view, especially after his wife died. Much of his recent work involves children, fellow members of Alcoholics Anonymous, and others not normally classified as artists.


BRUNO, Guido (1884-1942; b. Curt Kisch). Among genuine avant-garde artists often wander exploiters who think there are fortunes to be made and are invariably disappointed. An historical American example was Guido Bruno, a self-promoter in Greenwich Village before World War I. From a garret near Washington Square (and the lower Fifth Avenue bus terminal) he published magazines whose titles invariably included his first name: Bruno’s Beohemia, Bruno’s Review of Life, Love, and Literature; Bruno’s Monthly; Bruno’s Weekly; Bruno’s Scrapbook; Bruno’s Review of Two worlds; Greenwich Village Edited by Guido Bruno in His Garret on Washington Square. One of his publications got him arrested, in addition to earning him notoriety. “At the hearing,” writes Andrew Field, “Guido Bruno triumphantly waved a letter of support from George Bernard Shaw before the judge.” Bruno staged a play that strongly advocated birth-control at a time when such sentiments could land one in jail. His motives notwithstanding, Bruno published the initial books of Hart Crane and Djuna Barnes, among others. (And he becomes the model for Felix Volkbein in Barnes’s Nightwood.) There have been others like him around the world, invariably doing some valuable work amid their bluster. Though much of what they do is forgettable, they are not forgotten.

Interpretation: Andrew Field. Djuna: The Formidable Miss Barnes. 2nd ed. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1985.

BRYHER (1894-1983; b. Annie Winifred Ellerman). The sole daughter of a British financier reputed to be the wealthiest Englishman outside the royal family, she took a single name to conceal her identity as an heiress. She supported many publications, including the pioneering British film journal Close-Up (1927-33) and Contact Editions, which published the more advanced books of Gertrude Stein and Mina Loy, among others. One source has credited her with supporting for various times Dorothy Richardson, Djuna Barnes, and H.D. (aka Hilda Doolittle), with whom Bryer had an extended intimate relationship. After publishing books of criticism of film and literature, she wrote, later in her life, likewise under her pseudonym, several historical novels and two volumes of autobiography. Her principal rival for enlightened British patronage was Nancy Cunard (1896-1965), whose father’s fortune was likewise based in shipping, whose Hours Press published early books by Samuel Beckett and Laura Riding, among others. Perhaps one of the principal tragedies of American literature has been a lack of comparable enlightened private patronage.


Bryher. Amy Lowell: An Appreciation. 1918.


Bryher. The Fourteenth of October, 1951.

The Players’ Boy, 1953.

The Coin of Carthage, 1963.

Two Novels: Development & Two Selves. Ed. JoAnne Winning. Madison, WI: Univ. of Wisconsin, 2000.


The Heart to Artemis, 1962.

Days of Mars, 1972.


Ford, Hugh, ed. Nancy Cunard: Brave Poet, Indomitable Rebel. Philadelphia, PA: Chilton, 1968.

Marek, Jane E. Woman Editing Modernism. Lexington, KY: Univ. Press of Kentucky, 1995.

BURCKHARDT, Rudy (1914-1999). A Swiss who came to New York in the mid-1930s with the dance critic Edwin Denby, he quickly befriended many likewise young New York artists who became the subject of his photographs. Thanks to his foresight in saving negatives, he became the principal photographic chronicler of people in whom the larger world progressively took a greater interest—Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, et al.--incidentally providing invaluable historical records, sometimes documenting images that subsequently disappeared. Often on assignment from art magazines in the 1950s, he produced classic portraits of artists at work, or at least thinking about their works. On the side, Burckhardt made short films, sometimes in collaboration with more established figures, such as Joseph Cornell. Perhaps because the sum of his activities exceeded individual works, the best introduction to Burckhardt is the book Talking Pictures (1994), a superficially casual large-format volume, over 200 pages long, that has Burckhardt’s images successively on right-hand pages and relevant passages from Simon Pettet’s interview on left-hand pages.

Burckhardt, Rudy, & Simon Pettet. Talking Pictures. Boston: Zoland, 1994.

BURLIUK, David (9 July 1882-15 January 1967). His father managed an estate that became a meeting place for young artists and poets in the first decade of the last century. They took the name Hylaea after the ancient name for the locality. Among them were Khlebnikov, Kruchensykh, and Mayakovsky, all to become prominent Futurist poets. He compiled and published the important pamphlet (?) A Slap in the Face of Public Taste (Date?). In 1914, he edited Gazeta futuristov (Newspaper of the Futurists). Moving to Japan in 1920, he settled in New York in 1922, in time to welcome Mayakovsky for a sole American visit. Burliuk settled in Eastern Long Island around 1930, surviving as an independent artist, but very much a retired star in exile, publishing with his wife an occasional journal titled Color and Rhyme (1930-1966). His brother Vladimir (1886-1917) contributed to many of the same pre-Revolutionary exhibition before dying in battle near Salonika, Greece. Despite the growing interest in Russian Futurism in the post-Soviet era, their individual contributions aren’t fully recognized.


Dreier, Katherine. Burliuk. N.Y.: Wittenborn, 1944.

CARILLO, Julián (b. J. C.-Trujillo, 28 Jan 1875--9 Sept. 1965). The greatest avant-garde Mexican composer, a near contemporary of Charles Ives, he discovered as early as 1985 that on his violin, the instrument he mastered, the existence of a tone between the traditional notes of G and A on the fourth string of his violin. This “13 th sound,” as he called it, opened the possibility of microtonality to him, as he subsequently worked with as many as 96 tones to an octave. Carillo rethought such compositional staples as rhythm, notation, and textures. Respected in his home country, perhaps because of musical education in Europe, he became, while young, a professor of composition in the National Conservatory and then a kind of Inspector-General for Music in Mexico City. After a year as director of the National Conservatory, he emigrated in 1914 to New York City, where he organized an American Symphony Orchestra to compete with the New York Philharmonic. Invited by return to Mexico in 1918, he soon became head of the National Conservatory until his early retirement in 1924 to concentrate fulltime on his own work. His principal patron was the American conductor Leopold Stokowski, initially with the Philadelphia Orchestra, prompting him to compose with both tones and semitones for a full orchestra. In 1930, he organized an Orquestra Sonido 13 that toured throughout Mexico, sometimes conducted by Stokowski. Carillo also patented a scheme for fifteen pianos variously tuned. Eventually built, these were exhibited at the 1958 Brussels World’s Fair. Such radical compositional principles notwithstanding, some of this microtonal music sounds mellifluous to tonally biased ears. Unlike other avant-garde artists who die too young, sometimes because of professional neglect, Carillo lived long enough to collect deserved honors, including a 1962 commission from Stokowski, who premiered his Concertino for 1/2-tone piano with orchestra in Houston.

CARLSON, Chester (8 February 1906-19 September 1968). As a teenager he worked for a printer and even acquired a printing press. Taking a degree in physics from Cal Tech, he joined the Bell Telephone laboratories, which was for decades a hothouse for significant modern inventions incidentally employed in art (computer music, transistors, information theory, etc.). Taking a law degree, Carlson later ran the patent department of another, smaller electronics firm. In his spare time, in the late 1930s, he developed a dry method of direct image production that moved technically beyond wet processes of photography. By 1944 Carlson consigned the development of this invention to the Battelle Memorial Institute, which in turn sold the invention to the Haloid Company, which later called itself Xerox.

Artists in the 1960s exploited Xerox copying for its imperfections, typically making copies of copies until marks indigenous to the copying process obliterated an original image. The introduction of color copying increased the possibilities. By the 1990s, copies in both black & white and color were so clear and clean they were superficially indistinguishable from the originals. This technical advance meant that Xerography could replace offset technology in the production of books and other “printed” materials.

For a while the Xerox company insisted in that word be spelled with a capital letter, even when used as a verb; but once competitors developed equally accurate technology, the preferred epithet became photocopy. From the historical point of view, Carlson’s principal error was not naming the process after himself. Had he enough foresight to do so, Carlson would now be a verb, much as Google is.


Owen, David. Copies in Seconds. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2005.

CASTLE, James (24 September 1899-24 October 1977). Born deaf in southwestern Idaho, he resisted education for the disabled, preferring instead to draw on miscellaneous paper. As his family was urged to forbid him art supplies until he could speak or at least use sign language, young Castle retreated daily into the forest or the second story of a family ice house; he made ink from stove soot and saliva and pens from sharpened twigs, in addition to thread and yarn for binding his images into unique books. Though his family later offered him professional art supplies, he preferred his improvised materials, creating over fifty years hundreds of objects we would now identify as epitomizing “the codex form.” Since he never used titles, they are currently known by images on their covers, epitomizing Outsider Art at its most innocent and yet intelligent.

Some of Castle’s sequential pictures tell stories as visual narratives or in sophisticated associational ways. He used words and numbers in eccentric ways, even redoing calendars so that months may have only two weeks, a week ten days, and a year almost 400 days. He occasionally incorporated images and papers found in the family trash, reinventing modernist collage in his isolation. Tom Trusky, a University of Idaho professor, writes that Castle “relentlessly explores and exploits possibilities of tee codex format, frequently altering and expanding the definition of what a book is in profound and witty ways.” Aside from trips to visit relatives in eastern Oregon perhaps 75 miles away, he lived in Idaho and never learned to speak. After his death, his relatives found caches of work that he had hidden away on family property. Twenty-five years later, institutions outside Idaho sponsored exhibitions of his work.

Trusky, Tom. Reputedly Illiterate: The Art Books of James Castle . New York: AIGA National Design Center, 2000.

COLTRANE, John (1926-66). Working out of a jazz tradition, he assimilated an interest, more typical of modernist classical music, in alternative tonalities, beginning with a close study in the 1950s of Nicolas Slonimsky’s Thesaurus of Scales and Melodic Patterns (1947), which is a brilliant compendium of how else the notes of a standard piano keyboard might be played. As John Schott wrote, “Its exhaustive treatment of octave divisions and symmetrical interval patterns was also a goad in his [Coltrane’s] quest for a tonal system that would supplant traditional tonality.” Initially recognized as an accomplished saxophonist, Coltrane created long melodic lines that reflected the modernist “emancipation of dissonance,” in Arnold Schoenberg’s phrase. However, Coltrane was also interested in innovative aggregate relationships, which is to say chords, but again with a taste for atonality. One recurring theme of his improvisations was symmetry. In his classic appreciation of Coltrane’s complexity, Schott reprints a diagram drawn by Coltrane in 1960. REPRINT

Schott explains: “The diagram juxtaposes the two whole-tone collections five times around the perimeters of a circle. Lines are drawn connecting each tone to its tritone across the circle, bisecting the circle thirty times. Every fifth tone is enclosed is a box to show the circle of fifths. Each member of the circle of fifths is also enclosed with its upper and lower neighbors in two ovals,” etc. While acknowledging the metaphysical implications of the diagram’s configuration, Schott’s theme is that Coltrane wanted to realize within an improvisatory context the intensity of overlapping interconnections typical of serial composition.

Schott, John. “We Are Revealing a Hand That Will Later Reveal Us.” In John Zorn, ed., Arcana. New York: Granary, 2000.

DELANY, Samuel R. (1942). Since he has been a prolific and prominent author of science fiction that represents an advance within that genre but has less influence on literature in general, his more avant-garde activities have involved criticism, which he often casts as rewritten interviews, in which he often sympathetically elucidates the most extreme developments in fiction; and co-editing a mass-paperback periodical Quark/ (1970-72) that connected science fiction to avant-garde writing, publishing among other radical texts James Keilty’s “The People of Prashad” which includes a radical language of alternative signs. Delany’s novel Hogg (1994) is an extraordinary fictional memoir of prepubescent homosexual experience that took years to get into print and then another decade into a more definitive reprint.

Delany, Samuel R. Hogg (1994). Normal, IL: Black Ice/FC 2, 2004.

------.About Writing. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan Univ., 2005.

DENBY, Edwin (1903-1983). He was, by common consent, the most intelligent dance critic in America before 1950, contributing long essays to the most distinguished cultural periodicals, such as Modern Music from 1936 to 1943, and then, from 1942 to 1945, reviews to the New York Herald-Tribune, which, thanks to Virgil Thomson’s leadership, had the most sophisticated reviews ever available in any American newspaper. His first collection of essays, simply and yet classically titled Looking at the Dance (1949), revealed for at least one generation in America the possibilities of dance writing based on a luminous prose style:

A leap is a whole story with a beginning, a middle, and an end. If you want to try it, here are some of the simplest directions for this kind of soaring flight. It begins with a knee bend, knees burned out, feet turned out, and heels pressed down, to get a surer grip and a smoother flow in the leg action. The bend does down softly (“as if the body were being sucked to the floor”) with a slight accelerando. The thrust upward, the stretch of the legs, is faster than the bend was.

Additionally, Denby’s perceptions were often stunningly original:

Orson Welles is the greatest dance director in our theater. He is also the only producer who gives us scenery which is a delight to look at—the only scenery that sets the size of an actor in a dramatic proportion to the frame of the set.

Looking small, Denby also saw big, identifying early (in 1947) a distinctively American style in ballet:

The charming figures, the long legs of American girls, are a part of that new American flavor. In any kind of dancing a bunch of young Americans do together, they are likely to show a steadier and keener sense of bearing and a clearer carriage of the body than Europeans would, and they are apt to wear a more sober and noncommittal look than European Latins or Slavs.

As Denby developed sometime in the 1950s a so-called “writer’s block,” his few publications gained a weight of oracular pronouncements. Even truculent editors would print anything he gave them, The New York Times, for instance, publishing his praise of Robert Wilson as early as 1973. I remember attending post-concert parties that would come to a halt whenever the whispy, soft-spoken, grey-haired man said anything, so awesome was his personal authority in the dance community. Denby also published poems, to less universal acclaim. Even decades later, dance aficionados often debate whether anyone since has written as well about dance.

Denby, Edwin. Dance Writings & Poetry. Ed. Robert Cornfeld. New Haven, CT: Yale University, 2004.

DONAUESCHINGEN FESTIVAL (1921). It began as an annual summer festival of new music under the patronage of Prince Max Egon zu Fürstenberg. Early festivals featured auspiciously the first performances of Paul Hindemith’s Kammermusik No. 1 (1922) and Anton von Webern’s Trakl songs, Op. 14 (1924). The festival moved in 1927 to Baden-Baden, where the premieres included Kurt Weill’s Mahagonny “Songspiel,” Paul Hindemith’s Hin und Zurück and Darius Milhaud’s L’enlèvement d’Europe (all in 1927) and the Hindemith-Weill collaboration of a piece about the Charles Lindbergh flight. A 1930 festival in Berlin terminated the first series.

In 1950, some aficionados remembering the earlier festival revived it as an October weekend sponsored by Sudwestfunk (Southwest German radio). Here it initially became the platform where new works by Karlheinz Stockhausen in particular were introduced to their European colleagues. Appearance at Donaueschingen conferred publicity and some prestige, but no degrees, the clumsiness of its name notwithstanding.

The biographical history of contemporary music is filled with stories of influential appearances by John Cage or Morton Feldman, among others, at the festival, or of one composer first meeting another who subsequently became a close professional colleague. Perhaps because of other festivals created partly on its model, Donaueschingen has lost its earlier cachet.

DORFMAN, David (1955?). A short, chunky energetic dancer, whose original moves stem partly from a physique untypical for dance, he has become an innovative choreographer whose dancers can perform unique ensemble moves both synchronously and non-synchronously. The evening-length work that introduced his dance to me, See Level (2002), was continually surprising, even in the choreographer’s own solos apart from his group. Professionally adventurous and personally generous, he has also done choreographic “outreach,” as he calls is, with athletes and corporate employees. The notes accompanying his performances promise “lecture demonstrations . . . for groups such as Rotary, Kiwanis, senior homes, and local athletic teams. These events can be held in a local gymnasium. It is also possible to structure a short program that can take place as part of a local athletic event, for instance at half-time of a football or basketball game.” No less a fan of sports than dance, I approve of such desegregation.

EL HANANI, Jacob (1947). Born Jewish in Casablanca, he immigrated to Israel as a child and then studied in Paris before coming to New York, where he has lived since 1972. Reflecting the Hebrew as well as Moslem prescription against graven images, as well as the traditions common to both cultures of microscopic writing, he has since the early 1970s made by his own hand drawings composed of tiny, delicate dots and lines. As ink on timeless paper, his drawings suggest both patterns and fields that appear visibly to recede and emerge, if not rhythmically undulate, in the tradition of Optical Art. For Alphabet Grid (2002), he repeats the Hebrew alphabet from end to end in a tight grid. In Letters (2002), by contrast, Hebrew calligraphy is scattered across the page to evoke intrinsic optical rhythms. One constraint observed in his highly constrained art is that only the same kind of mark can be used in a single piece, which is to say that every mark must be similar in size.

FERLINGETTI, Lawrence (24 March 1919- ). A poet, painter, playwright, novelist, publisher, he redefined the concept of Person (or Man) of Letters, and thus established a new standard for the future, by adding bookseller, establishing in San Francisco the most consequential retailer of books unavailable in the chain stores. His store, called City Lights, has survived for decades at the same location as incidentally a meeting place for America’s literary avant-garde. Becoming a prominent local citizen thereby, Ferlinghetti also persuaded his city to rename certain streets after writers who lived there, implicitly evoking the minor American writer James Jones’s encomium for Paris’s cultural sophistication—they name streets after Writers there. Ferlinghetti’s own poetry was popular in its time, much of it apparently written for declamation before sympathetic audiences, his “political” poetry especially exploiting the majority sentiments of his audiences. His more experimental short plays, called “Routines,” were by contrast less successful in the cultural marketplace.

FOREGROUNDING (1920s). Along with Defamiliarization, this is a key concept in the radical esthetics of Russian formalism, identifying the emphasizing or making visible of a literary element customarily secondary. Examples include works that are primarily about qualities unique to language, such as a tongue-twister, “Peter Piper picked a pack of pickled peppers,” which is not about agriculture but the plosive sound of the letter P. Acknowledging its relevance to all the arts, an unidentified slave behind The Oxford Companion to Twentieth-Century Literature in English writes:

Rhyme foregrounds the possibilities of echoes in language, of classes and consonances between sound and meaning; jokes foreground the role of play in interpretation; a plot full of coincidences reveals and foregrounds the controlling hand of the author. What is foregrounded--either by the writer or by the reader--is usually what was previously thought to be absent, or only a background element, or a technical support system. A film, for example, might foreground the placing of the camera; a painting may foreground the painter’s own presence in his or her work [of, in a better example, color alone in monochromic canvases].

What makes foregrounding avant-garde is the generally unprecedented emphasis upon elements indigenous to an artistic medium.


Stringer, Jenny, ed. The Oxford Companion to Twentieth Century Literature. N.Y.: Oxford Univ., 1996.

FROGTHINK (1970s). This has been my coinage for purportedly critical writing that is more concerned with spouting a high-falutin’ rhetoric and self-consistent thinking than defining any commonly perceptible realities. It is scarcely new. In his classic Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds (1852), the Scottish author Charles Mackay (1814-1889) speaks in passing of a French philosopher who “had constructed a very satisfactory theory on some subject or other, and was not a little proud of it.”

“But the facts, my dear fellow,” said his friend, “the facts do not agree with your theory.” Don’t they?” replied the philosopher, shrugging his shoulders, “then, tant pis pour le faits;”--so much the worse for the facts.

It would be mistake to think that only Frenchman practice frogthink, which can also be spelled frog-think, or Frog-Thought. Germans have done it for decades, but Americans only recently. If only because frogwriters proclaim their style avant-garde, they often choose genuinely avant-garde art to be the subjects, or victims, of their discourse. The epitome of academic writing during the 1980s and 1990s, American frogspeak is meant to impress immediate superiors without aspiring, pretenses to the contrary, to greater insight or any lasting value.

Interpretation: Mackay, Charles. Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds (1852). Ware, Hertfordshire: Wordsworth Editions, 1995.

GASS, William (30 July 1924). A philosophy professor by trade, unfortunately surnamed, he has published a few self-consciously obscure (and thus intrinsically pretentious) books of fiction, as well as criticism that, more successful at intimidating than elucidating, reflects typically academic limitations. Nonetheless, buried in his modest bibliography is one remarkable text, a novella initially published not by a book publisher but a mid-western literary journal with extra funds. Willie Masters’ Lonesome Wife (1968) has various typefaces in various arrangements including footnotes and columns as well as images purported of coffee-cup stains, printed in its original edition on pages various in brassy color. One theme recurring in the fragments is the sexual frustration and fantasies of the woman who appears nude on the original over. The book is intricate and marvelous, as well as accessible to a degree that other Gass fictions are not. To no surprise to critical observers of American literary politics, he occupies a seat in the American Academy of Arts & Letters which, as noted before, customarily ignores more avant-garde writers.

Gass, William: Willie Master’s Lonesome Wife (1968). Normal, IL: Dalkey Archive, 1999.

GOLL, Iwan (29 March 1891- 27 February 1950, b. Herbert [or Isaac] Lang). An Alsatian who spoke French at home and German at school, he wrote poets and dramas as well as criticism in both languages. An early expressionist he published a volume of poems in 1912, The Panama Canal, which celebrated the linking of two oceans through the collaboration of workers of all races and classes.

Iron sluices grow with every push and pull

Every inch nailed in with the tiniest of hammers

Huge wings carried by small steel structures

As if by Prometheus into the deep

And when these soon finally do open

when two enemy oceans embrace

O, then will weep

All the nations on earth.

Later in his life, he rewrote his most famous poem, reflecting his discovery that workers in Panama’s excessive humidity were scarcely ecstatic.

A typical example of his expressionist prose appeared in 1921, the stylistic abruptness, epitomized by bursts of language, becoming a representation of unselfconscious communication:

Demand. Manifesto. Appeal. Accusation. Oath, Ecstasy. Struggle. Man screams. We are. One another. Passion.

As a pacifist, Goll spent World War I in neutral Switzerland. After abandoning Expressionism, he and his wife Clair Studer (b. 1891 as Claire Aischmann) moved to Paris before, as he was Jewish, they fled to America in 1939. Perhaps because he published in several countries, in different forms and different languages, his work has never received the recognition it deserves. Among his additional literary pseudonyms were Iwan Lassang, Tristan Torsi, and Tristan Thor. His widow published in 1962 The Lost Paradise, a memoir of an angry childhood.

Goll, Iwan. “Expressionism Is Dying,” reprinted in Rose-Carol Washton Long, ed. German Expressionism. Berkeley, CA: Univ. of California, 1993.

HAMMID, Alexander (b. A. Hackenschmied, 1907—26 July 2004). Born in Austria, he grew up in Prague, making his first silent experimental film, Bezucelna Prochazka/ Aimless Walk in 1930. Working as a cinematographer for the leftist American documentarian Herbert Kline, he fled Czechoslovakia in 1939 to the US where he met and married Eleonora Derenkowskaya who took the name, perhaps with his advice, of Maya Deren, much as he too took a new name. With her he collaborated on the classic avant-garde film Meshes in the Afternoon (1943) that established her reputation that survived their divorce. In the 1960s, Hammid began collaborating with the sometime painter Francis Thompson on multi-screen films: To Be Alive (1964), which knocked me out at the Montreal World’s Fair, both of which remain in my mind as masterpieces of the under-developed genre. Later Hammid and Thompson, among the great collaborations in modern film, produced To Fly! (1976), which remains the pioneering classic in the IMAX technology.


Bezucela Prochazka/Aimless Walk (1930)

Na Prazsken Hrade/Prague Castle (1932)

Meshes of the Afternoon, with Maya Deren (1943)

The Private Life of a Cat (1945-46)

To Be Alive, with Francis Thompson (1964)

To Fly, with Francis Thompson (1976)

HAUER, Josef Matthias (19 March 1883-22 September 1959). While working as a gymnasium (high-school) teacher in Vienna, he studied music; and thanks for a predisposition to mathematical constructions, he, to Slonimsky, “developed a system of composition based on ‘tropes’ or patterns, which aggregated to thematic formations of twelve different notes. As early as 1912, he published a piano piece, entitled Nomos (Law), which contained the germinal principles of twelve-tone music; in his theoretical publications, he elaborated his system in greater detail.” Later claiming that he invented the twelve-tone composition prior to Arnold Schoenberg, Hauer even used a rubber stamp on his personal stationery to proclaim himself its true founder. Though Hauer’s claim commanded respect in his native city, where he lived his entire life, Schoenberg and his allies persuaded the larger world. Imaginatively fecund, Hauer also developed suggestive ideas for the systematic use of color in visual art.


Slonimsky, Nicolas. Baker’s Biographical Dictionary of 20th Century Musicians. N.Y.: Schirmer, 1997.

HEJINIAN, Lyn (1941, b. L. Hull). Her most famous work is My Life (1980, 1987), an alternative autobiography whose initial edition, composed for her 37th birthday, has thirty-seven groups each thirty-seven sentences in length. For the second edition, she composed forty-five groups, each of which is, to be sure, forty-five sentences long, the latter recycling old materials while adding new stuff. Rigorously concerned with stretching definitions, Hejinian also published Oxota: A Short Russian Novel (1991) that is a sequence of 270 poems fourteen lines in length--sonnets, by traditional definition--that are called “chapters.” She has also been involved in translating from the Russian, copublishing the Poetics Journal (1981), and printing letterpress chapbooks.

Autobiography: My Life. Providence, RI: Burning Deck, 1980. Expanded edition. Los Angeles, CA: Sun & Moon, 1987.

Oxota: A Short Russian Novel. Great Barrington, MA: The Figures, 1991.

The Cold of Poetry [collecting several earlier books]. Los Angeles: Sun and Moon Press, 1994.

HOTEL PRO FORMA (1990s) is a Danish theater production group centered around Kirsten Dehlholm (5 April 1945). Late in 1999 I saw at the Brooklyn Academy of Music its production of Operaton: Orfeo, a kind of contemporary opera, as its orthography suggests, that ranks among the most austere performances ever seen. More precisely perhaps a theatrical oratorio, it opens with the proscenium filled from top to bottom with a black square surrounded by a white frame. Once the voices of singers is heard, you begin to notice the outlines of human figures layered up the blackness. This continues for several minutes. Once the stage is better illuminated, you can see that they are seated on benches running like stairs up the entire square. Though the singers move up and down the stairs, the scene remains unchanged for 80 minutes or so. They were singing music arranged by the Danish composer Bo Holten from ancient European tunes written by Hans Leo Hassler in the early seventeenth century; G. W. Gluck’s Orfeo ed Eurydice; and John Cage, including his Hymns and Variations (1979), which in turn is based upon two psalms of William Billings. The program note said Operaton: Orfeo had been commissioned several years before for a Danish festival and had survived in the group’s repertory, as well it should.

The program notes also describe several earlier productions I’d like to see: Why Does Night Come, Mother (1989) is meant to be seen from above. The music is composed for a soprano lying down. “The vertical angle and the precise displacement of the performers create optical illusions in the relation between the apparent and the seen.” Monkey Business Class (1996) is described as “a musical that celebrates money bills before they disappear from our world.” The performers in Fact-arte-fact (1991) were five pairs of identical twins ranging in age from seven to 67 (reminiscent of a Michael Kirby performance that depends upon the sudden appearance of his identical twin brother). “During the performance, the audience was divided into two groups, walking in either direction in parallel rooms, able to see only half of the performance but able to hear it all.” House of the Double Axe/XX (1998) “is a visual composition for song and recital. The labyrinth and the Medieval horizontal world scheme are the guiding principles for action and movement. Seven actions track the Medieval views on planets, heavens, and hells, the secrets of the numbers, the days of the week, geometry, and madness.” (Where can I purchase tickets?) The truth here is the cultural administrations in smaller countries are more likely to those in the U.S. to support the best avant-garde work for the simple reason that it enhances the country’s cultural reputation in the larger world. In the American superpower, by contrast, the NEA and NEH work overtime to make America look second-rate, all at taxpayers’ expense.

HUTCHINS, Robert Maynard (17 January 1899-17 May 1977). A legendary academic superstar, he became successively the dean of Yale Law School while still in his twenties and then at thirty president of the University of Chicago, which he ran for more than two decades. As an academic chief, Hutchins abolished compulsory courses and conventional grading long before anyone else in a comparable position did. His undergraduate college one-upped other first-rank institutions by admitting bright kids who hadn’t completed high school, including Philip Glass and Susan Sontag.

In his spare time apparently. Hutchins wrote a brilliant illustrated book, scarcely known, called Zukerkandl! (1968). Resembling a children’s book with a large format, a large typeface, and few pages, the book incorporates sophisticated parodies of academic writing: “Zuckerkandlism demands that communication be reduced to a minimum, and this effort is immensely facilitated by the selection of a medium of communication through which communication is made almost impossible.”

The accompanying drawings by the film animators John and Faith Hubley (1914-1977, 1924-2001) either undermine the prose or contribute to the parody by giving the book a frivolous appearance. A remarkable performance, a classic of its kind, Zukerkandl! isn’t mentioned in any history of literature or book art known to me, even though its author’s name has not been forgotten. The fictive bio note says the author “now lives near Hollywood studying Zuckerkandlism and its oriental counterpart, Sen-Sen Buddhism, the Creed That Sweetens Your Breath AS It Empties Your Mind.” Curiously, RMH’s wife Maude (Phelps) Hutchins (1899-1991) produced not only paintings but moderately experimental fiction.

Hutchins, Robert Maynard. Zukerkandl! New York: Grove, 1968.

JANDL, Ernst (1 August 1925-9 June 2000). A sometime Viennese high school teacher of English, he mastered the classic experimental poem mostly in German, sometimes in English. The measure of their classic quality is that every part belongs where only it can be:








































which also sets a standard, incidentally, for alphabetical poems that many experimental poets have tried to do.

In this the arrangements are more subtle:













Another Jandl classic, “Der und Die,” has only three-letter words laid out with 13 units across and 26 lines down. Though translators have imitated his forms to make English poems acknowledging his German inventions, they are strictly untranslatable. Nor are they surpassed. He reportedly declared that each invention could be used only once, which was perhaps a self-defeating ideal. He also wrote radio plays, sometimes co-authored with his lifetime companion Friedricke Mayröcker. Into German Jandl translated classic texts by Gertrude Stein and John Cage’s Silence.

Jandl was a masterful sound poet, likewise in both German and English, whose gravelly voice was instantly recognizable. He had a curious relationship with the so-called Vienna Poets,” who were mostly his age, though they didn’t initially include him, at the cost of their literary credibility. (Self-consciously exclusionary groups often make the tactical mistake of failing to include someone they should.) This was doubly unfortunate, because he was in many respects the epitome of a Viennese literary man. Though many selections from Jandl’s writings have appeared as books, we still need a complete works; poets as strong as he was merit nothing less.

Reft and Light . Providence, RI: Burning Deck, 2002.

Dingfest/Thingsure. Translated by Michael Hamburger. Dublin: Daedalus, 1997.

JONES, Bill T. (b. William Tess J., 1952). As a former track runner who became a distinguished modern dancer, Jones has been a spectacular performer. Hailed as well as blamed for publicizing his race (black) and physical disability (HIV positive), he should really be credited with a radical departure in choreographic composition. Though Jones himself is thin and athletic, his initial partner Arnie Zane was short and considerably less athletic. Objecting to “things that separate people,” Jones has included in his performance company dancers who were old as well as young, fat as well as thin, at one point even requiring them all to bare themselves on stage. It was not only a vision of dance but a statement about humanity realized intelligently through performance.

As he was diagnosed HIV-positive in 1985 and Zane died from AIDS-induced complications a few years later, Jones began in 1992 to conduct a nationwide series of “survival workshops” for people who had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, cancer, AIDS, and other serious illnesses. Out of these workshops came the performance piece Still/Here (1994) that explores the experience of living and surviving under threat of death. This work prompted Arlene Croce, the veteran dance critic for The New Yorker, to write that she would not review it because it was “beyond criticism” as “victim art.” What could have been discussed, what should have been discussed, was the composition of his company and thus Jones’s courageous, if exploitative, use of kinds of people not previously seen in formal dance.

Jones, Bill T. Last Night on Earth. New York: Pantheon, 1995.

Gates, Henry Louis, Jr. Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Black Man. New York: Random House, 1997.

KEAY, David (13 June 1957). Given the continuing obstacles against the publication of distinguished writing, it is scarcely surprising that David Keay’s Fake Book (1999) was self-published. As continuous prose for over 200 pages, with no breaks for paragraphs, it is first of all a tour de force in the best sense. Whether it can be read from beginning to end, as one would a detective novel, I cannot tell; but strong writing abounds.

Striking as a whole, it filled from beginning with end with stunning prose, opening:

Hello? Who am I? What am I doing? Who are you? Where were we? I’ve been dreaming./ You were the King, as always, Sire! Conqueror of the. . . of no known kingdom! And I? Sano, the Obscure Brand of Mapleton or Cascade, newly lured to mind the door! This is the Castle of Course? And you are seated, as always, on your own throne, currently caught contemplating copious liner notes as opposed to minding the monarchy!

And closing with these ironic sentences:

Why find out? Who it is? The true mystery of life is not us, but the existence of the mosquito, says this King figure with his seeing-eye dogs motif. And at the moment I turn, to take some other direction, I’m bitten in the back. But the bite was described as playful.

Given the limitations of not only commercial publishing but “alternative publishing,” don’t be surprised if most truly original fiction in the coming decades will be likewise self-published not just in print, as Fake Book was, but in other media. Nothing is gained by leaving them unavailable; the only truth proved is the deleterious censoring power of publishing.

Keay, David. Fake Book. New York: Pretend-a-Press (244 Fifth Ave, # 29099, 10001-7604), 1999.

KELLY, Robert (1935). He has produced a large number of books, including both poetry and prose, that are both obscure and inclusive, which is a way of accounting for why they should be more impressive when they are opened only to be put aside before they are finished. Indicatively, there is remarkably little critical writing about his work. The last list to come to my attention was mostly entries in writer’s encyclopedias and articles in the single issue of an obscure literary magazine. Kelly is either a second-rate obscurantist whose work cannot be understood or a first-rate experimentalist whose work remains to be discovered. One disadvantage is his association with an academic institution that has an “avant-garde” reputation but employs remarkably few people of the sort included in this book.

Kelly, Robert. Red Actions: Selected Poems, 1960-1993. Santa Rosa, CA: Black Sparrow, 1995.

Fiction: The Scorpions. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1967.

A Transparent Time. New Paltz, NY: McPherson, 1985.

KIRK, (Rahsaan) Roland (7 August 1935-5 December 1977): Blinded early in life, he developed incomparable virtuosity in playing several instruments strapped to his body simultaneously or in quick succession—several levels of clarinets, saxophones, flutes, whistles, and/or even sirens, playing one melody with one hand while blowing another with his other hand, sometimes singing as well. He also mastered the technique of “circular breathing” that allowed him to produce superhuman continuous sound. A one-man combo, so to speak, who incorporated references to earlier jazz into his improvisations, Kirk produced kinds of “Black Classical Music,” as he called it, which was simply unavailable even to groups manned by several people. One memorable testimonial comes from his widow Dorthanne: “His head should've just blown off his body with all the stuff he held up there.” While audio discs of his playing remain viable decades after his passing, footage of him playing live must be seen to be believed. Suffering a stroke in 1975, he taught himself to play only with his left hand until dying young after another stroke. To his birth name, he added Rahsaan (pronounced Rah-San with equal stress) around 1970. His discography includes not only solo albums but performances with such jazz legends as Quincy Jones, Jaki Bayard, and Charles Mingus. A tribute band calling itself the Vibration Society survived his death, producing an album of Kirk’s music as late as 1986.

KRAFT, William (1923-). A percussionist for over two decades with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, he has also been a guest conductor for that orchestra and others. As a soloist, he did the American premieres of Karlheinz Stockhausen’s Zyklus and Pierre Boulez’s Le marteau sans maître. More particularly, he has been a highly original composer for a wide range of western percussion instruments. His catalog of scores includes works for harp and percussion, brass quintet and four percussion, string quartet and percussion, trumpet and percussion, trombone and percussion, etc. Whereas Max Neuhaus, once the most adventurous percussionist of a younger generation, moved into electronic sound-processing, Kraft has stayed mostly with live instruments.

Since these pieces are rarely performed and insufficiently recorded, in part because they require more skilled percussionists than are customarily available in a single place, I must recall a 2003 performance of Momentum (1966) for eight players calling themselves the Juilliard Percussion Ensemble (an organization whose personnel changes as Juilliard students go and come). Using more than three dozen instruments, distributed over the stage much like items in a garage sale, including a wealth of various drums, seven wood instruments, eight metal, five responding to mallets, anvils, a bass drum, a xylophone, a glockenspiel, and a simulated lion’s roar--some of them with fixed pitches, others not (and none of them amplified)--Momentum was a brilliant articulation of various sounds available within a single mode of playing (percussion). The music publisher Arthur Cohn has written that the octet “is based on the idea in which pitch enlarges (and aids) the governing doctrine of rhythm. The primary part of the piece is a generating figure with disjunctive properties (first herd on the xylophone). This is elongated and compressed and then contrasted to more conjunct data in which rhythmic counterpoint comes to full growth. The speed differences, tensions, and releases within this are eventually drawn from the initial part and thus, by association, the music obtains its ‘momentum.’ There is a tidbit of ad libitum detail at the end, furnishing a huge torrent of sound. Three of the players are, at this point, instructed to “run amuk,” a vernacularism that says much more than the mere word “improvise.” At the performance heard by me, the conclusion was indeed resounding. It was not for nothing that a percussion ensemble at the University of Arkansas took the name Momentum. Late in his life, Kraft was awarded a chair in composition at the University of California at Santa Barbara.

Recordings: Percussion by William Kraft (Crystal CD-124).

LEVI, Julien (1906-1981). An approximate Harvard classmate of Lincoln Kirstein, Everett Austin, Jr., and Alfred Barr, all of whom became elevated impresarios in advanced American culture, Levi had the foresight to open his eponymous art gallery with a retrospective of American photography organized by Alfred Stieglitz. Situating his store near the Museum of Modern Art, it complemented its program on advancing American esthetic taste, later sponsoring the first American shows of Joseph Cornell and Salvador Dali, in addition to the photographers Walter Evans, Jean Eugène–Auguste Aiget, George Platt Lynes, and Henri Carter-Bresson. On the advice of the American photographer Berenice Abbott, he purchased in 1930 the entire contents of Aiget’s studio—thousands of prints, over 10,000 plate glass negatives—preserving the Parisian photographer legacy against likely destruction. Though he offered this to MoMA at the time, not until 1969, nearly four decades later, was it purchased. Later emphasizing Surrealism, the Julien Levy Gallery began early in 1932 exhibiting avant-garde films, including Ferdinand Leger’s Ballet Méchanique, accompanied by George Anthiel’s piano roll, and Man Ray’s L’Etoile de Mer. This program became a foundation for the permanent film department at the Museum of Modern Art. Levi also published the first American book on Surrealism (1936). Don’t confuse this Levi with the New York painter JuliAn Levi (1900-1982).


Levy, Julien. Surrealism (1936). N.Y.: Da Capo, 1995.

Memoirs of an Art Gallery. N.Y.: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1977. Reprinted, ???: MFA, 2003.

Exhibition Catalog:

A. Everett Austin, Jr.: A Director’s Taste and Achievement. Hartford, CT: Wadsworth Atheneum, 1957.

Julien Levy: Portrait of an Art Gallery. Ed. Ingrid Schaffner. Cambridge, MA: MIT, 1998.

Interpretation: Marquis, Alice Goldfarb. Alfred Barr: Missionary for the Modern. Chicago: Contemporary, 1989.

Weber, Nicolas Fox. Patron Saints: Five Rebels Who Opened America to a New Art, 1928-1943. N.Y.: Knopf, 1992.

MALAPARTE, Curzio (b. Kurt Erich Suchert, 9 June 1898-19 July 1957). Born in Italy of a German father and Italian mother, he took an Italian literary pseudonym, the first name being the Italian equivalent of Kurt, the surname meaning “bad-part,” as he was an indeed a provocative writer on the fringe of the Italian fascist party who was imprisoned from 1933 to 1935 for defamation and slander, only to be released early as favor to Mussolini’s son-in-law. In addition to editing a literary magazines, among which Prospettive (Perspectives) from 1940 through 1943, remains the most distinguished, Malaparte published popular, stylistically conventional books that generated enough royalties to build in the early 1940s, in collaboration with a friendly architect, his avant-garde masterpiece--a house on a barely accessible rock cliff in Capri. So impressively original is this unusual construction, 30 feet by 150 feet, with water on three sides, that a whole book has been devoted to it with appreciations by architects from around the world—Malaparte: A House Like Me (1999). The only writer’s comparable architectural achievement known to me is Robinson Jeffers’ unusual house likewise overlooking the ocean in northern California.


McDonough, Michael. Malaparte: A House Like Me. New York: Potter, 1999.

MOORE, Peter (1932-1993). One of the hidden figures in the history of modern avant-gardes is the photographer who makes a mission of recording every major event. Simply from experience, these enthusiastic documentarians know in advance what might be important and make it their habit to be present, fully equipped with camera, even if spectators were few. None took as many pictures for as long as Moore, especially of New York City artists in performance in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. In Gloria McDarrah’s testimony, “His images of a naked, cello-playing Charlotte Moorman interacting with video artist Nam June Paik and Robert Rauschenberg roller skating with a parachute on his back are icons.” Other New York photographers snapped pictures of the artists, customarily looking directly into the camera; but Moore at his best made his pictures historic by capturing their work.


McDarrah, Gloria, et al. The Photography Encyclopedia. N.Y.: Schirmer, 1999.

OUTSIDER ART: The epithet customarily refers to visual art produced by individuals who didn’t go to art school or socialize with other artists. Their work is customarily praised for a lack of sophistication and at its best is only incidentally (or accidentally) avant-garde, reflecting not conscious intention but the lack of it. Perhaps the most famous Outsider Artist in America was Grandma Moses, who didn’t start serious painting until her early 80s (and lived past 100). Others include Simon Rodia (*) and Henry Darger. My own sense is that the greatest outsider visual art is not painting but sculpture. The outsider epithet is less applicable in literature and extended music composition both of which require more training and apprenticeship.

Rhodes, Colin: Outsider Art. New York: Thames & Hudson, 2000.

PASTIOR, Oskar (1927). One of the great German experimental poets of the late 20 th century, he was born in German-speaking Rumania (aka Transylvania) and thus, along with others similarly located, spent five years after WWII in a Soviet labor camp. After working for Bucharest radio, he came to Berlin in 1969, where he became prominent independent writer. Much like the Austrian experimental poet Ernst Jandl, his near contemporary, Pastior has sampled an impressive variety of experimental forms—in Rosmarie Waldrop’s succinct summary: “puns, lists, strings, heaps, fields, dictionaries, alphabets, collage, montage, potpourris—all in orgiastic expansion.” Unfortunately, much of his work cannot be translated into other languages, though it can inspire playful poets to write similar texts acknowledging him, such as this sestina on six loaded words by the American poet John Yau (1953):

Sex thought really all there was

Was sex thought really all there

Really all these was sex thought

There was sex though really all

All thought was there sex really

Thought really all these was sex

Whereas string poems by Richard Kostelanetz contain two or more overlapping letters, Pastior uses syllables in his continuous poetic form:


Other Pastior texts resembling prose depend upon far-reaching connections more typical of surrealist poetry:

Clemnitz and memphis laminate pneumatically—a sailor’s tick, gymnasium cause misgivings to one one. Nimbus diminishes enigma. Nimbus diminishes enigma. Amnesty clear mines. Anomaly is elementary. (Trans. Rosmarie Waldrop)

Another gem, titled “Crimean-Gothic Marching Song,” begins:

Marimal milliman


Minimal marimum

Which works as well in English as German.

Recalling that Pastior has prospered by living in Berlin, where he arrived a decade before me as a guest of the same DAAD program hosting me, I sometimes think the principal mistake of my poetic life was returning home to the US.

Pastior, Oskar. Many Glove Compartments: Selected Poems. Providence, RI: Burning Deck, 2001.

PELL, Derek (1947). A various and eccentric writer/artist, he published a series of Doktor Bey collage books with a mass paperbacker and more experimental visual-verbal texts with smaller presses. Under the witty pseudonym Norman Conquest he has initiated yet more radical acts such as applying first-class postage to a dollar bill, rubber-stamping it, and mailing it to a friend. This got him in trouble with the FBI for “defacing U.S. currency,” which might rank among the few artistic acts to generate the G-men’s interest. His single most extraordinary text is Assassination Rhapsody, which is refined commentary on the great modern mystery of John F. Kennedy’s death. Its pages include in both visual and verbal forms lots of pseudo-information that are superficially credible but finally ridiculous. To quote Larry McCaffery: “This blend of aesthetic anarchy, black humor, social commentary, and irreverence establishes Pell as currently the most wickedly funny writer in America.” The Little Red Book of Adobe LiveMotion is, no joke, a witty guide to computer animation.

Pell, Derek: Doktor Bey's Bedside Bug Book . New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1978.

Morbid Curiosities. London: Jonathan Cape, 1983.

Assassination Rhapsody. Brooklyn, NY: Semiotext(e), 1989.

X-Texts. Brooklyn, NY: Autonomedia, 1994.

Bewildering Beasties. New York: Dover, 1996.

The Little Red Book of Adobe LiveMotion . San Francisco, CA: No Startch, 2001.

POETISM (1924). This nifty epithet was coined in Czechoslovakia by Vitezslav Nezval (1900-1958) and Karel Teige (*) to define their conviction that art and life are not separate but indistinguishable. From this position followed a predisposition to find esthetic value in the everyday activities of average people. Thus, collaborators in this movement wrote poetry incorporating design and photographs, in addition to producing films and mixed-means artistic performances into the 1930s (until the Nazi invasion of their homeland). They explored not only the new media of photography, film, and radio but produced popular cabaret. In the mid-1920s, Tiege wrote: “A work of art that fails to make us happy and to entertain is dead, even if its author was Homer himself. Chaplin, Harold Lloyd, Burian, a director of fireworks, a champion boxer, an inventive and skillful cook, a record-breaking mountain climber—are they not even greater poets?” Nezval had published as early as 1922 Abeceda whose subject is the letters of the alphabet. Each of them is depicted in a short stanza. By 1926, he staged a performance with the same title in which a dancer performs the letters. (This was reconstructed for a 1999 traveling exhibition that began in Florida. A tape of the dance was included at later venues.) Along with a dancer and a photographer Teige and Nezval conceived of a Poetist project that incorporated literature, dance, theater, graphic design, typography, and photography within a single rubric.

Dluhosch, Eric, and Rostival Svacha, eds. Karel Teige/1900-1951:L’Enfant Terrible of the Czech Modernist Avant-Garde. Cambridge, MA: MIT, 1999.

POPOVA, Liubov (24 April 1889-25 May 1924). One of the major participants in Russian Constructivism, she returned from a 1912 visit to Paris, where she assimilated cubism, to produce precociously distinctive Constructivist paintings with overlapping abstract planes. Not content with her success, she became a “utilitarian Constructivist,” consciously moving beyond easel painting to make stage sets and textile designs that to this day rank among the most innovative. The myth behind her name is that she was trying for a more distinguished career in abstract visual art, having authored this classic statement of high aspiration:

I don’t think that nonobjective form is the final form: it is the revolutionary condition of form. We must reject objectiveness and the old conditions of representation connected with it altogether, we must feel absolutely free from all that was created before in order to listen closely to burgeoning necessity and then start to look differently on the objective form, which will emerge from this work not only transformed but totally different in general.

Such ambition gave to the whole of her work an aura that transcended its parts. Popova also taught the “color discipline” course at Vkhutemas. She died prematurely of scarlet fever that a few years before had killed her son. Given the devolution of Soviet art, it is scarcely surprising that her paintings were rarely seen in her home country until recently.

Paintings & Post-Paintings:

Compositon with Figures, 1913.

Still Life with Tin Dish, 1913.

Portrait of a Lady (Plastic Drawing), 1915.

The Jug on the Table, 1915.

Compote with Fruit (Plastic Painting), 1915.

Painterly Architectonics (aka Archiectonic Construcions), 1916-1918.

Painterly Constructions, 1919-1921.

Spatial-Force Constructions, 1921.

Theatrical Decor:

The Magnanimous Cuckold (Fernard Crommelynck), 1922.

Earth on End, 1923.


Sarabianov, Dmitri V., & Natalia L. Adaskina. Popova. Trans. Marian Schwartz. N.Y.: Abrams, 1990.

Exhibition Catalog:

L.S. Popova 1889-1924. Moscow: Tretiakov Gallery & Leningrad, Russian Museum, 1990.

Liubov Popova. N.Y.: Museum of Modern Art, 1991.

REINHARDT, Johnny (???). One of the master music impresarios, in the tradition of Henry Cowell, he produces the extraordinary concerts of the American Festival of Microtonal Music, regularly reviving composers whose works are otherwise forgotten, in addition to the more eccentric works of Charles Ives. Surely his greatest achievement was the first evening-length concert of Charles Ives’s Universe Symphony, which had for decades been previously regarded as unfinished. On the side, Reinhard also ranks among the world’s most exploratory bassoonists. As his fellow composer Arkady Rovner (1970) recalled: “Among the techniques used were slapping a detached middle portion of the bassoon with the palm of his hand, playing slap effects on keys as a percussion instrument, blowing into a hand-made instrument constructed of a multitude of reeds, roaring out the piece’s main theme as a lion, playing an odd conglomeration of tremolos and glissandi, and finally playing on the bassoon without a reed.” Among his concerns here is exploring microtones, or sounds between the notes of the standard Western twelve-tone scale.

Compositions: Zanzibar, Eye of Newt, Dune.

Recordings: Raven. NY: Stereo Society, 1999.

Odyssus. New York Pitch, 2004

RIDING, Laura (nee L. Reichenthal, later L. R. Gottschalk, 1901-1991). Marrying young to her history teacher at Cornell, Louis Gottschalk, she moved with him first to Urbana, Il, and then to Louisville, KY. Offering her poetry in 1923 to The Fugitive, then a new magazine in Nashville eager to identify literary genius residing in the American South, she is awarded the magazine’s Nashville Prize in 1924 (even though she is Jewish, and its editors were not). An ungrateful acolyte apparently, she departed the following year, divorced, initially for New York City, her birthplace, and then for England with the writer Robert Graves, six years her senior and already established as an incipient major writer. With him she moved in 1929 to Mallorca, an island off Mediterranean the coast of Spain, where she both inspired Graves and collaborated with him, in addition to founding the Seizen Press, one of the century’s most selectively consequential small literary publishers, and producing twenty books of her own poetry, fiction, and criticism in an extraordinary rich expatriate career.

Returning alone to her native country in 1939, Riding renounced literary activity and, instead, collaborated with her new husband, Schuyler B. Jackson, formerly a Time magazine writer, on Rational Meaning: A New Foundation for the Definition of Words, a magnum opus which didn’t appear in 1997, several years after her death (and nearly three decades after his, in 1968). For the rest of her life, her pen name of choice is Laura (Riding) Jackson. Her renunciation of literature earned less resonance than Marcel Duchamp’s comparable renunciation of art, perhaps because the literary world differs from the art world, especially in America; but such silence perhaps provided the precondition for the survival of her reputation after her death. From 1970 onwards, books of her poetry, fiction, and criticism have appeared sporadically. In my own opinion, the last are the most distinguished, if only for their self-confident eccentricity.

RZEWSKI, Frederic (1938, pronounced re-CHEF-ski). Notwithstanding the best education an American composer of his generation could have gotten at Harvard with Walter Piston and then at Yale with Roger Sessions and Milton Babbitt, Rzewski became a transatlantic composer, moving easily between the U.S. and Europe. Indeed, few American composers of his rank have taught so long in Europe, in his case as a Professor of Composition at the Conservatoire royal de Musique in Liège, Belgium. As a performer, he collaborated in the late 1960s with Alvin Curran and Richard Teitelbaum as MEV (Musica Elettronica Viva), their name reflecting a European base, in live electronic improvisation. As a political composer, especially in the 1970s, he made music incorporating revolutionary slogans—The People United Will Never Be Defeated (1975) and North American Ballads (1979). As a masterful acoustic pianist, using a full palette of sound generation provided by the instrument (including closing the key-cover, drumming on its sides, etc.), he has performed his works. Perhaps the most ambitious is The Road (1998- ), which has several parts, reflecting his notion of the work as “a novel” on the scale of Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace that is also an extended solo-keyboard composition in the tradition of J.S. Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier. The last time I checked, he had performed parts typically in venues as various as The Kitchen in Manhattan, the Vooruit Kultuurcentram in Ghent, Belgium, the Warehouse in London; Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, etc. Implicitly, The Road seems designed for final preservation in a reproductive medium that can hold several hours of continuous sound, such as a VHS tape or a DVD disc used only for audio.

SACHER, Paul (28 April 1906-May 1999). In his twenties, he founded a chamber orchestra and a choir in his native city; in the fifties, he directed the local music academy. In between he toured as a conductor and incidentally married the widow of the founder of a large Swiss pharmaceutical firm. Thanks to her largess Sacher commissioned over two hundred works from living composers. Later his Paul-Sacher-Stiftung (Foundation) began to collect original scores, typically purchasing for over five million dollars the entire Igor Stravinsky archive soon after the composer’s death. This collection is housed in the Paul Sacher Foundation building in Basel. There’s no one else remotely like him as a modern-music philanthropist.

SERAFINI, Luigi (1949?). An inventive Italian designer, he composed in Codex Seraphinianus (19??) an elaborate imaginary encyclopedia in a language alien to all and pictures containing a wealth of materials that don’t quite integrate with one another, in sum suggesting a diffuse alternative world that has led some to classify the book as a sophisticated kind of sci-fi, which perhaps it is. The quantity of inventions becomes a measure of its quality. The Argentinian-Canadian writer Alberto Manguel, himself a sophisticated reader, remembers its arrival in an Italian publisher house where he was working in 1978: “instead of a manuscript, a large collection of illustrated pages depicting a number of strange objects and detailed but bizarre operations, each captioned in a script none of the editors recognized. The accompanying letters explained that the author. Luigi Serafini, had created an encyclopedia of an imaginary world along the lines of a medieval scientific compendium: each page precisely depicted a specific entry, and the annotations, in a nonsensical alphabet which Sarafini had also invented during two long years in a small apartment in Rome, were meant to explain the illustrations’ intricacies.” Originally published in two silk-bound volumes in Serafini’s native Italy (introduced by Italo Calvino) in an edition that has become rare, the Codex was reprinted in a single volume in America in 1983 and then in France a decade later. Something of a cult classic, it has inspired not only commentaries but a website devoted to deciphering what can be only scarcely understood, and then only in small parts. I think of this Codex as the kind of book that Jorge Luis Borges might have written if he could draw.

Serafini, Luigi. Codex Seraphinianus. 2 vols. Milan: Franco Maria Ricci, 19?? New York: Abbeville, 1983. Milano; Ricci, 1993.

SIEGALAUB, Seth (?). He was the first influential visual-art gallerist not to have a permanent space or even work through established institutions, instead operating initially out of a closet in a family apartment and then in spaces rented for brief periods around New York City. As a kind of guerilla representing conceptual art, which was by definition physically slight, he made the published catalog into the surrogate for an exhibition, beginning with Douglas Huebler: November, 1968, which had verbal descriptions, maps, and other sorts of documentation. The only address in the catalog was 1100 Madison Avenue, where the documentation and typescripts were kept a closet, where the gallerist often greeted collectors “in his usual costume--bathing suit or undershorts,” according to Lucy R. Lippard. Later in 1968, he published Lawrence Weiner: Statements, which was words and only words devoid of any visual supplements. Soon afterwards came the larger Xerox Book in which seven artists were allotted 25 pages apiece. Once his stable of artists was complete, Siegelaub e rented for a month some office space in an otherwise vacant small brownstone on 44 East 52 nd Street, which was a long stone’s throw away from MoMA but far from any other respectable galleries. Nonetheless, visitors came, including some art-world heavies who later exhibited Siegelaub’s artists in their own institutions, such as Harald Szeeman ,who incorporated Siegelaub’s stable into his exhibition later in 1969, When Attitudes Become Form at the Kunsthalle in Bern, Switzerland. As the first great avatar of ephemeral, Siegelaub disappeared from the art world.

SONTAG, Susan (1933-2005). An intellectual celebrity for most of her adult life, she became an effective idiot-identifier for a more sophisticated audience, which understood that people praising her, especially as “avant-garde,” were revealing they were probably inastute. She produced criticism, fiction, plays, and films; yet in no genre was her work significantly innovative or truly distinguished. Or did it have identifiable influence upon successors doing innovative work. Indeed, all of it was formally quite conventional, sometimes pretending to be avant-garde (or promoted as such), all of which is unfortunate, because her work reflects a seriousness and ambition that, were she not so egregiously misrepresented during her lifetime, might have led her to produce better work.

SPEECH-SINGING (1897, aka speech-song, sprechgesang, sprechstimme). This refers to vocalizations between speech and song. First used by Englebert Humperdinck in an 1897 opera, it was developed by Arnold Schoenberg, especially in his Gurrelieder, Die glückliche Hand, Pierrot Lunaire, Die Jakobsleiter, Moses und Aaron, and other pieces. Instead of musical notes, Schoenberg would use the letter X on a note stem. The result was a unique modern sound. Paul Griffiths thinks Alban Berg deviated by introducing “‘half sung” between Sprechgesang and song” and that Pierre Boulez has refined the concept by requiring “spoken intonation at the indicated pitch.”

Interpretation :

Griffiths, Paul. The Thames & Hudson Encyclopedia of 20th Century Music. N.Y.: Thames & Hudson, 1985.

TAVEL, Ronald (17 May 1941). The superficial record of his career is that he was a principal contributor to the Theatre of the Ridiculous, a 1960s development that was regarded as a successor to the Theatre of the Absurd. The credits for several better Andy Warhol films, including The Chelsea Girls (1967) and Harlot (1964), identify Tavel as the scenarist.

The hidden history is that around that time he also published an extraordinary novel probably more distinguished than his plays. Street of Stairs (1968) takes place in Tangiers, in which a large number of narrators, perhaps forty, tell of life in a circuitous, mysterious city. Some of the more striking passages reproduce a lingo unique to the place:

Soden we shewit dirty fotografias, askin 3,00 francos por todo el colección. No needit! gettim in Neuva York! him says end looksit for mad.--D’acuerdo, you want for see dirty bad cine.

Actually an abridgment of a manuscript at least twice as long, this edition was meant to prompt sufficient interest to persuade a publisher to do the longer version. That never happened. Disillusioned with America, Tavel has recently resided in Bangkok.

Tavel, Ronald. Street of Stairs. N.Y.: Olympia, 1968.

TER OGANYAN, Avdei (1961): One variation upon Mike Bidlo’s ironic achievement is Avdei Ter Oganyan’s portentously titled Some Questions of Contemporary Art Restoration (1993). It is essentially a men’s room urinal resembling Marcel Duchamp’s historic appropriation that, having been smashed in the past, is visibly repaired with glue, which is to say that, even though it drew upon the same material (and alluded to a Duchamp sculpture likewise repaired from breakage), Some Questions would never be mistaken for the original. Once making a fairly accurate replica of a Jasper Johns encaustic painting, Ter Oganyan left it outdoors in the Moscow rain, again producing a defective copy with considerably ironic weight. The epithet iconoclasm more accurately describes his work than others often so dubbed. In a 1998 Moscow art fair, Ter Oganyan performed a piece called "Young Atheist" during which he chopped up mass-produced icons with an axe and wrote obscene words on their faces. Visitors were also invited to destroy icons themselves for a small payment. After a Russian court declared Ter-Oganyan guilty of inciting religious hatred, he took political asylum in Prague.

TEIGE, Karel (1900-1951). A true polyartist in Czechslovakia, he worked with distinction in graphic design and architectural theory, poetry and performance. Reflecting the influence of the Bauhaus in Germany, he favored Constructivism that he blended not with Dada, which Moholy-Nagy favored, but Surrealism. He thus preferred sensual, if not erotic imagery, within a frames composed of horizontal, vertical, and parabolic lines. Typically, a 1938 Teige photocollage portrays a woman with gartered stockings in a Moscow subway station with a semi-circular ceiling. Later, he advocated the creation of Surrealist parks with abstract sculpture inspired by the human body.

In 1920, while young, he joined other radical Czech avant-gardists in founding a group calling itself Devetsil, whose name refers to a common weed while combining the Czech words for Nine and Force. The group advocated unity among the various art forms and so produced not only book anthologies but artistic festivals. Teige both edited and designed the principal publication, Red (1927-31), the name an abbreviation for Revue Devetsil, which published Czech avant-gardists besides international celebrities. He wrote a book about film in addition to several screenplays. Once the Nazis occupied Czechoslovakia in 1939, Teige worked in internal exile. Though his earlier political biases predisposed him to favor the Soviet occupation of his homeland, he quickly fell victim to Stalinist authorities, who forbade him to publish or organize artistic activities. He died prematurely in 1951 of a heart attack, which is customarily understood to reflect a broken heart. The state police reportedly confiscated all of his personal effects.

Dluhosch, Eric, and Rostival Svacha, eds. Karel Teige/1900-1951:L’Enfant Terrible of the Czech Modernist Avant-Garde. Cambridge, MA: MIT, 1999.

For an illustration, see/reproduce his Prague with Fingers of Rain (1936).

YI SANG (1910-1937, b. Hae-Kyoung Kim). An architect, graphic designer, and typographer, he was also in his short life a poet whose most prophetic work, according to professor Min-Soo Kim, “consists of persistent time-space conceptions as shown in the domain of modern visual arts.” As Kim has it, Sang’s work reflect Western advances in modern design as developed in the 1930s, particularly by Moholy-Nagy. While working as an architect for the Japanese occupiers of Korea, he published poems initially dismissed as incomprehensible. Some involve numerals that are reversed left to right (as though seen in a mirror). ILLUSTRATE WITH DIAGNOSIS 0.1 and POEM NO. IV from p. 221 of Visible Language, 33/3 (1999). Another poem, “A Memorandum on Line No. 1,” is ostensibly a grad of dots, arrayed ten across and ten down, with numbers in sequence along the top from left to right, and along the left margin from top to bottom. Accompanying this simple image is a series of ten numbered statements. These can be read into the grid both horizontally and vertically. One is “(The cosmos is of power by power).” Three reads: “Quietly make me a proton of an electron.” Seven reads: “The smell of taste and the taste of smell.” In an inspired interpretation, professor Kim regards this poem as reflecting “quantum physics, which represented new ideas about existence in modern physics, replacing Newtonian-classical physics” and thus that line seven illustrates, “according to the theory of relativity, two events which are seen as occurring simultaneously by one observer may occur in different temporal sequences for other observers [as] all measures involving time and space lose their absolute significance.” Admittedly, Kim’s pioneering readings represent an intelligence developed sixty years after the “incomprehensible” poems were written--indeed, sixty years after the poet died; but if Kim is persuasive, then Yi Sang ranks among the great avant-garde poets.

Kim, Min-Soon. “Yi Sang’s Experimental Poetry in the 1930s and Its Meaning to Contemporary Design,” Visible Language, XXXIII/3 (1999).