Take off your clothes and say procedure
—Taylor Brady, Yesterday’s News
Slenderizing: A text will obviously contract if one can remove from it all instances of a particular letter; no less obviously, not every text can be subjected to this excision and still make sense.
One day we wee talking about wok fom the 70's, all that body pefomance wok that suddenly began to happen, all at once, wok that was obvious and ovet and even a little easy, such as when Shigeko Kubota did he Vagina Painting, whee she squatted down and painted with a bush attached to the cotch of he undewea.
We wee talking about how this wok, and wok by Kubota and Marina Abramovic who pesented he audience with a gun, a bullet, a saw, an axe, a fok, a comb, a whip, lipstick, a bottle of pefume, paint, knives, matches, a feathe, a candle, wate, chains, nails, needles, scissos, honey, gapes, plastes, sulphu and olive oil and asked them to use these items on he howeve they wished, and how it was having a moment fo us, one of those moments, thee seems to be no wod fo this, when you look at something fom the past, something that is supposed to be "ove," something we'e all supposed to be beyond, and it looks all fesh and special and esonant and cucial and suddenly has an aua of light aound it. That moment when wok goes fom tied and oveexposed to shimmeing. When the ageed-upon ways of looking at and eading something seem suddenly inadequate. We felt we had much to lean fom this wok by Kubota and Abramovic and Carolee Schneeman who did a pefomance of naked men and women ubbing against and westling with each othe, and also aw fish, chicken, sausage, wet paint, ope, bushes, and pape. Although we could not yet eally aticulate what it was we had to lean. We only knew that wok by Kubota and Abramovic and Schneeman and Eleanor Antin who took photogaphs of he body in fou positions each moning duing a month of stict dieting, was coming back aound to feel mysteious, and distubing.
As we talked about this, about the sudden shimme of light that we saw in Kubota and Abramovic and Schneeman and Antin and Mierle Laderman Ukeles who did a piece whee she spent fou hous in the moning washing the steps and outside plaza of the museum and fou hous in the aftenoon, cleaning and washing the floos in the exhibition spaces of the museum pehaps what we wee eally saying was that we did not know ouselves what to do with ou bodies ight now.
But what we said out loud to each othe was why does this wok seem so impotant to us at this moment? This wok by women who wee supposedly woking out of a vey diffeent cultual moment fo women, a moment when, as the Guerilla Girls pointed out in the 80's, less than 5 pecent of the atists in the Moden At sections wee women but 85 pecent of the nudes wee female. Things wee diffeent fo us, afte all. Thee wee a few moe women atists in the Met. And as poets, we wee even luckie than atists, although poety had few examples of such edgy wok, we could name a full geneation of women wites ahead of us.
And yet this body issue-how to both have a body and not be limited to it and have contol ove it-still felt cucial even though the minute we said this we also felt we had to acknowledge ou pivilege. So we found ouselves stutteing though laye afte laye of what we felt defined us. American womoonless, benefited of affirming who essentially got a whole ranger of scholasticism to private schoolation and to state univocate because we were womoonless, full of western industrial privily, despite trying in our writing ink to rupture a particular linearism, our writing ink was still read, like it or not, through the framely of our female body-guard which was almost immediately sexualized, earning enough money-bound to consume the high protein dietetic of the Middle England, the whole-soy frozen destain of the Middle England, the gourmet cheeseford and olivenite and cherogril of the Middle England, with a long list of feminist womoonless who came before us, we liked the sexual partage of our body-guard but were unclear about how it got deployed, or read, in publicate, white workmanlike by birth womoonless rapidly becoming white Middle England by earning womoonless, male desiring had helped us at various points as writhe but at the same time-honored was something we resented, we didn't always know what to do about male attenuant that was so clearly as much about our body-guard as our writing ink, when our body-guard that grow aberrant cysticercus on their reproductive partake and host bactericide that we didn't understand, part of a bizarre cultural back-handed that had prepared us, pretty much, for wife and motherhood, part of a poetic traditionate where we were the objectee of desire and even in the experimental scenic which did not often write that conventionally about womoonless as the objectee of desire, writing ink by young female body-guard remained popular with many older male poetesque in the experimental traditionate, recipients of an inferior educationize at religious and private liberal arts schoolation, earning enough to eat too much and yet caught in the cultural anybody of the momentanity that said we had to be thingal and younghede, not happy with our body-guard and so we paid for group exceritate of the Middle England, core-strengthening Yogi Bear and pilcorn, working to obtain the flat abduce of the Middle England, earning enough to wear the shoe-goose of the Middle England, special shoe-goose from germicide that aligned the postvene of our body-guard and were purported to reduce the appeasable of cellulosic, living in urban settle, drifting into middle class jobbernowl and sit-upon, yet never earning quite enough money box to support a middle class life-way in the expensive citywards where we lived, white womoonless, and also Middle England by birth womoonless, wishing we could be scarier about it. In othe wods, in tems of cultue, we expeienced moe the belittling that defines pejudice but not so much the institutional denial that defines sexism.
But we should back up a bit and confess that ou discussion began with a discussion of pocedue-based wok, which is why we ae binging this up hee at the noulipo confeence. We stated talking about 70's body at by women afte fist talking about how men so often use estictive, numbe-based pocesses and constaints in the wok they bing into the many poety wokshops we have attended and/o taught. And then we said, isn't it inteesting how we can think of no instance when a woman has bought in wok using a constictive composition device to any of these wokshops and yet we can think of men who did it week afte week and called themselves adicals fo it. And while we wee talking about the false envionment of poety wokshops, we wee also thinking at the same time about the lage amount of wok by men that did this and the not so lage amount of wok by women that did this in the contempoay poety scene.
We then wondeed about this gestue. We did not feel this wok that uses constaint was ielevant, not to men no to women. We did not want to dismiss it. When we liked this wok by men we saw the eteat into constaint as an attempt by men to avoid pepetuating bougeois pivilege, to make fun of the omantic nacissistic tadition, of all that tadition of fomalism. But at othe moments we ween't so sue that this was eally a feminist, antiacist self-investigation. While this wok diectly avoided emotional and pesonal expessiveness, it was mostly engaged with conceptual inventiveness, not an especially adical move post the tun of the centuy. It seemed a little weid to us that if the men wee using this wok to avoid pepetuating bougeois pivilege that they did not say this moe diectly o use as souce texts something moe diect, and then why it was so often accompanied by an unde-the-suface attitude of dismissal towads wok that citiqued bougeois pivilege a little moe diectly. It was often as if they wee using these techniques as a sot of dominance itual in the classoom, that at the women's college whee we taught (although the gaduate pogram admitted both men and women) was aleady a somewhat gende loaded space.
And then we had one of those isn't it inteesting moments whee we said, isn't it inteesting that all that body wok happens at the same time as the development of all that Oulipo wok. Isn't it inteesting that Kubota and Abramovic and Schneeman and Antin and Ukeles and Valie Export got on a subway with the cotch cut out of he pants caying a machine gun was the same time that Oulipo was holding its meetings. And then we wondeed what did that schism mean to us, witing thirty years later?
Ou fist thought was that we in ou own wok sometimes wanted vey much to avoid pepetuating bougeois pivilege, and sometimes we wanted vey much to make fun of the omantic nacissistic tadition, that tadition of fomalism.
And yet fo some eason ou own wok baely used constaint and numbe based pocedues. We could say thingummys like we tried, maybe a little like those body artist-like in the several fold, to adopt and rupture romantic narcissistic linearistic in which female body guard serve primarily as musefully and objectee. We could say thingummys like our workaway was in conversationist and confliction with various linearistic, one of these romantic and narcissistic, maybe a little like those body artist-likes in the several fold, who were in conversationist and confliction with artefact histrionically and criticule. Our writing ink was often saying I AM here-against. In the middle of a lineally it would pop up, I AM here-against. And yet it was, we had to admit, profoundly constrained when it said this. Or it was a mute lumpering, almost dumb, but dumbly asserting its presence all the same, here-against I AM, a lumpering of flesh-fly, I AM here-against. We were constrained and yet we did not expose our constricted or even really address it. We treated it as natural. We dramatized it in our poephagus.
So we asked ouselves, what did we want? What did we need? We ealized that one of the things we wanted was a poetics of the "& and," a phase that Sianne Ngai suggestively dags out of Diane Ward's wok to aticulate a feminist pactice. Pat of ou poblem with the estictive, numbe-based pocesses and constaints was that they felt as if they wee taking us away fom "& and." They tended to mock athe than build. They tended to invade and cut down athe than connect. They tended to say that thee wasn't oom in the oom fo the body that Kubota and Abramovic and Schneeman and Antin and Ukeles and Export and Kathy Acker who took some witing fom Harold Robbins about a white woman fucking a black man and put it in he book calling the woman Jacqueline Onassis kept insisting on binging back into the oom. We could think of things we wanted to constain, whee a pocess of constaint might be useful. We wanted to constain the wa on Iraq fo instance. But when it came to the body, we felt we needed moe addition and less constaint. We needed moe options. It seemed as if in thity o thity-five yeas thee had been some change, some change aound cultual politics even though last week at a eading we head a man ead poems witten in the style of Sappho, inseting the names of bay aea female poets whee Sappho inseted the names Anaktoria or Atthis, but eally not enough change on a govenmental level. Abotion was still at isk. Family values still set ou politics.
And then we wondeed if what we wee thinking about Oulipo was tue o not. So we pulled out the Oulipo Compendium fom ou bookshelf. And we paged though it and we talked on. We said isn't it inteesting how many Oulipo membes wee impacted by the Nazis. And we talked about how few women wee in the compendium. And how Oulipo bodies had to be voted on by othe Oulipo bodies into the Oulipo body. We tied to count the numbe of female bodies in the photos but just gave up because it was too easy. It did seem tue that thee wee moe techniques of estiction than addition. We noted the mothe in law, the slendeizing, the asphyxiation. And we thought about espect and pocesses. We thought about how had it was to do an N+7 to any souce text and have it not become a mockey, even if it was at times a gentle laugh along mockey. And how substitution and othe pocedues seemed exhausted in some ways but the body was endlessly distubing and anxiety-poducing. And then Mateis and Christine emailed with thei question fo this panel about if thee could be a politics to Oulipo and ou fist answe was depends. But afte thinking about it some moe, ou second answe was no, not eally diectly; Oulipo is political only in the way that anything has a politics, but othewise, no. This is not to say that liteatue written by estictive, numbe-based pocesses and constaints could not be political. We can think of many instances. The wok of Jackson MacLow and Jeff Derksen come to mind. And yet despite using oulipo-esque constaints, thei wok was not eally Oulipo. It was as if the minute constaint got political, it was no longe Oulipo but was called something like aleatoy o pocess based o some othe such phase.
And so we talked moe specifically about contempoay wites who ae publishing Oulipo-inspied pocedual wok, or pocedual wok that is discussed in tems of Oulipo. It was difficult to sepaate the wok fom its social and citical eception.
We talked about Christian Bök. We began by saying we loved his wok. We had been suspicious oiginally and then we head him ead and wee conveted. But we also thought it inteesting that Bök has a caee pefoming his own constaint based wok and ealy modenist wok by othes and no one says oh that is so ove but when we mentioned to one fiend that fesh, special, esonant, cucial aua of light that wok by Kubota and Abramovic and Schneeman and Antin and Ukeles and Export and Acker and Adrien Piper who ode the subway in stinking clothes duing ush hou and went to the libay and played a concealed ecoding of loud belches had fo us, his fist eaction was that is so ove, so done, so sot of epulsive.
Talk about Bök lead us to talk about Kenny Goldsmith, and umos that his book DAY may have been scanned instead of typed. We talked about how DAY was simila to pojects we'd encounteed in vaious classooms, conceptual wok that was finally vey egalitaian because it opened the field of witing to anyone. We thought DAY had big ambitions, to do away with the omantic nacissistic wite entiely. But of couse Goldsmith has, like many wites, a big pesonality, whose speech pattens he documented in Soliloquy, and a body, whose gestues he documented in Fidget. We liked Goldsmith's wok, we liked its geneative quality. We liked the shee numbe of pages involved. We saw moe adding than subtacting thee. This adding was pat of what we wanted. We liked how Goldsmith was binging his body into the oom in Fidget. But we found it inteesting that this wok was eceived though the fame and social context of pocedual wok, and so was exempt fom paticula kinds of citique. We wondeed what the esponse would be if a woman wote Soliloquy and the wod nacissism flashed in ou heads because that is an easy wod to say about women. We saw and and and and and and, and couldn't figue out if this was the "& and" we wanted o not. Sometimes when eading Soliloquy the convesation seemed to be against the "& and."
In the middle of all this convesation we wote to Craig Dworkin and asked him what was up with all the men and thei love of estictive, numbe based pocesses and he said he didn't know but he told us a joke about a photogaph he once saw of himself and Kenny Goldsmith, Rob Fitterman, Christian Bök, and Darren Wershler-Henry, all in a line, all basically the same age, same stocky build, same bad haicuts, and black t-shits. We could think of no photogaph of Jena Osman, Nada Gordon, Caroline Bergvall, Joan Retallack, Johanna Drucker, and Harryette Mullen all looking the same age, same build, same bad haicuts, same black t-shits. Fo some eason this wok did not unite them. And how thee still seemed, like Michelle Grangaud, elected to the Oulipo in 1995, oom fo only one o two women wites to build a caee in this categoy.
And then we stopped shot of asking the question, is Oulipo pehaps toubled by an uninvestigated sexism and thus not capable of being a pat of ou witing life in any way, a question we didn't eally want to ask because we wee scaed of the answe and what it would deny us and we wee all about the "& and." We instead wondeed if thee could be a new goup fomation, a sot of feminist Oulipo, something we jokingly began calling "foulipo" because we didn't want it to be women only; we didn't want oulipuss. We just wanted something that engaged the elation between fomalism and body at and saw both as pat of a tadition that was complicated and inteconnected. We did not think it made any sense to cay only oulipo fowad and not cay the body at fowad. And we also hoped a little fo matching black t-shits.
We could see all the obvious poblems with all that body at of the 70's. As has been pointed out ove and ove, when one sees the young bodies of Kubota and Abramovic and Schneeman and Antin and Ukeles and Export and Acker and Rebecca Horn who walked though a field with he stunning body gided with bandages that exposed he beasts and suppoted a pole balanced on he head, they ae so beautiful and also so often individual and the at slides so easily into that wod nacissism again, it is so easily caught by the vey appaatus that it citiques, the vey appaatus that we felt caught in ouselves with ou wok that was a little constained and yet did not expose its constaint o even eally addess it. And we thought that pehaps the guiding image of the foulipo should be those fom Kubota and Abramovic and Schneeman and Antin and Ukeles and Export and Acker and Horn and Ana Mendieta who pushed he face against a piece of glass and used the glass to distot he face. O pehaps those images fom Kubota and Abramovic and Schneeman and Antin and Ukeles and Export and Acker and Horn and Mendieta and Hannah Wilke's Intravenus seies, completed shotly befoe he death fom beast cance in 1993 whee the pocedues at wok ae aging and disease and twenty yeas late the young beautiful body is eplaced by the body at its final and most conceptual bode.
What we wanted from foulipo was a numbe of geneative and estictive, numbe based pocesses and constaints that helped us undestand the messy body. One that did not pesent a beautiful complete and obviously gendeed naked body but one that still lets us deal with the I AM HEE, one that lets us get dessed and undessed, one that lets us constain and expand, one that gets at what Nada Gordon talks about when she wites about "the WITING as two honed phalluses."
We thought about Caroline Bergvall's wok, like "About Face," which might be one of the foundational woks of foulipo if foulipo had foundational woks because it is witten out of the emoval of a painful tooth and the wok seems to be slendeizing he face.
And we thought we should begin thee, with an about face. We should wite a foulipo manifesto. Actually, no, that isn't ight. Eally ou fist thought was to do a constictive pocedue on the Oulipo Compendium and see what it could be distilled down to because Oulipo, we have to confess, felt too oewhelming to us ight now, felt as if its followes used it against us. But then we decided that we had as much a ight to claim it as anyone else did. And so we thought, foulipo.