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Archive for May, 2011

Making the Hand Obey Another’s Psychology: Robert Seydel Interviewed

This excerpt from an interview Savina Velkova conducted with Robert Seydel last year is the only interview with Seydel before his sudden and unexpected death in January of this year. It reveals much about an artist whose own life and those of the personas he constructed were knitted in inextricable ways.

Seydel is the author of Book of Ruth (Siglio, 2011), an alchemical assemblage that composes the life of his alter ego Ruth Greisman—spinster, Sunday painter, and friend to Joseph Cornell and Marcel Duchamp. The collages, drawings, and journal entries from Ruth’s imagined life are conceived as a gathering of materials from the Smithsonian and a suburban family garage. They not only construct a mosaic portrait of a reclusive, unknown artist but reveal much about the tenuous creation of self. More images from the book follow. The full interview can be read here.

SV: Where does the impetus to access and speak through a persona come from?

Speaking through another’s voice is hardly an original tactic, though I suppose to some degree it is in the visual arts. “I is another,” Rimbaud said, lodging uncanniness at the heart of what we are. From Browning to Pound to Pessoa, speaking in voices was a way to carry history and multiplicity into the poem. Armand Schwerner asked, as a poet, “Why leave fictive experiments to the prose writers?” I guess I’ve asked that myself, but as an artist. To attempt to make the hand obey another’s psychology, at least so far as you imagine it, doesn’t seem that different to me than fashioning the voice of a literary character.

And art has always seemed to me a kind of exit out of the self, a way to get beyond the self. I don’t think I’ve ever really understood why “self-expression” is an attractive motivation for making art, which is how students so often speak about what they’re doing. Who cares really? But to fashion a self, that seems to me another thing. Walt Whitman isn’t only that boy “starting out from Paumonak,” but “Walt Whitman, a kosmos”—that is, an invention. The artist’s job, according to both Robert Henri and Jasper Johns, is to invent himself.

SV: What role did Joseph Cornell and Marcel Duchamp play in your development as an artist?

A number of other artists have been as important to me as Cornell and Duchamp. Wallace Berman and Ray Johnson and Tom Phillips come first to mind. And above all William Blake. I can remember saying to myself, in the way one does when one’s trying to figure out what you want or need to be doing, that my goal was to find a way to make visual art into a form of literature, with the kind of density I associated with my favorite writers. I think both Cornell and Duchamp are situated within that kind of territory. Duchamp’s notes for “The Bride Stripped Bare” is a great long poem, opaque and strange but wild and rich in its language and playful. I wouldn’t know how else to describe it but as a long poem including pictures, in the way that Pound said an epic is a long poem including history. Ruth is, I hope, in that kind of space, somewhere between the literary and visual arts.

A Perec Paper Plane


This is siglioblog’s first “Print This” post: a paper airplane that, as you fold it, words and phrases appear and disappear, recombine, repeat, and meanings shift as the paper transforms into something that takes flight. (And there’s space for you to inscribe, too.)

A few images follow: first, a snapshot of the front and back pages with a link to download the pdf to print (it includes actual instructions); then, a series of photographs of the plane being folded. But nothing’s so good as the actual object (which flies beautifully).

The Perec Paper Plane was originally issued as special bookfair ephemera we gave away at the New York Art Book Fair last year and at AWP, a creative writing conference. (Siglio intern Nicky Tiso designed it, appropriating text from Georges Perec’s “A Page” published in Species and Other Spaces.) It was such a hit at both places, we thought we’d share it with everyone.

Download Perec Paper Plane as a pdf to print. (There are written directions on page 3.)

And so you can see how one thing turns into another:

On the Small and the Contrary

In Prague, before the Velvet Revolution, one of the samizdat copies of Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being in circulation was a mimeographed typewritten manuscript, no different in its physical form than a thick stack of Communist era restaurant menus listing the various permutations of pork, beef, and knedliky (concrete slabs of potato dumpling). Unbound, with nothing to signal that it was a published much less revered work of literature, Kundera’s book existed in the most utilitarian and urgent of forms. Someone had re-typed the entire work—not from the Czech original but from a smuggled English translation—and mimeographed it, risking identification by typewriter keys, by the traces on the machine itself, or by the fact of missing ink and spirits.

Here was a book that did not look like a book and furthermore was cloaked in a foreign language. Its status was not a book to be placed as a treasured object on the bookshelf; rather, it was a collection of pages, printed in soft, purple type, meant to read, to be truly consumed and devoured, and then to be given away. While this particular work of beauty and nuance by an exiled writer was far more subversive than any blatantly political tract, the physical form of the book, the fact of its translation, and the necessity of its dissemination also profoundly affected both the act of reading and one’s role as reader: Kundera’s words in this “book” challenged a whole gamut of accepted truths. Holding on to it was not only a dangerous act—a punishable offense if you were caught by the authorities—but also a selfish one. By passing it on, you shared the risk as well as gave a gift: each reader became a publisher, albeit very much through the looking-glass.

The essay by Lisa Pearson continues as a pdf: On the Small and the Contrary

On What Fiction Can Do: Danielle Dutton Interviewed

Danielle Dutton is the author of S P R A W L (Siglio, 2010), a novel that, in a single long paragraph, chronicles the mercurial consciousness of a woman surveying her suburban life. While the reviews of S P R A W L have been excellent (“Danielle Dutton’s S P R A W L reads as if Gertrude Stein channeled Alice B. Toklas writing an Arcades Project set in contemporary suburbia” —The Believer), interviews with Dutton reveal much more about her process and intentions, as well as about her work as the founding editor of Dorothy, a publishing project. It all makes for very interesting reading. Click on the links to read the interviews in their entirety.

From an interview with HTML Giant’s Christopher Higgs entitled “What is Experimental Literature?”

I’m interested in so-called “conventional” books and so-called “experimental” books and in how different kinds of books might form a conversation about what fiction can do and be.

From an interview with Anne K. Yoder in BOMB Magazine:

On a very basic level, my best guess is that writing asks something different of its reader than listening asks of the listener. Same goes for looking at a painting, even one that might perplex or upset us. To read, to connect words in a difficult syntax, like Stein’s, or make sense of seemingly simple sentences within a maddening paragraph, like Beckett’s, or piece together a narrative that doesn’t seem to add up in a familiar way, like Gladman’s or Woolf’s, the reader has to pay close attention, has to work. I’m not saying that experimental writing is all slog slog slog, that it isn’t rewarding or entertaining, because obviously I think a lot of it is, but that we’ve been trained to think that language itself should work in one way, should be clear, and linear, and should instantly reveal meaning, so when writing confounds those expectations it’s perhaps easy to feel cheated by it, or to chalk it up as wrong, bad, pretentious.

From an interview with Laynie Browne on Like Starlings:

I don’t think of myself as a poet, though, and I’ve never been called a poet by other poets . . . I mean, in classes, for example, when I “had” to take poetry writing classes at the University of Denver, I felt like an outsider; not unwelcome, but outside it somehow. But then I don’t always fit right in with fiction writers either.

From an interview with Siglio publisher Lisa Pearson:

My fiction tends to begin more with a desired shape than with any idea for a plot. The exploration of sprawl, for example, seemed to necessitate one long paragraph wherein everything, at a glance, seems the same but isn’t. That said, to begin the book I wrote segments, little bursts of language, often working off the photographs, and then I began stitching these segments together, like a quilt. Once I’d stitched together about fifty pages of material, I started working inside that long strip of language, pulling things out, carrying them through, expanding, connecting, spreading. But the fact that photographs were the most influential stimulus to the project is no doubt telling: I think the novel is concerned with seeing, with acts of attention.

Dutton reads next week on Tuesday, May 17 at 7:30 p.m. in New York City at Dixon Place (161 Chrystie Street) as part of the Belladonna press reading series. (Amina Cain and Renee Gladman will read, too, and the evening is curated by Kate Zambreno.)

Ira Glass on Everything Sings & Interview with Denis Wood

I found out about Denis Wood’s Boylan Heights maps through Ira Glass’s interview on This American Life. Denis’s boundless sense of wonder and the strangely beautiful manifestation of his obsession (to the point of sitting on a street corner all day and counting cars) was riveting. This kind of atlas seemed very much like a “siglio” book to me: multi-disciplinary, visual-literary hybrid collection of maps that have poetic resonance and narrative suggestion, an atlas that investigates the nature of place and our experience of it, a book that is both joyful and unrelenting in its inquiry.

Ira also wrote the introduction. Here’s an excerpt, and the complete intro can be read on the siglio website.

These maps are completely unnecessary. The world didn’t ask for them. They aid no navigation or civic-minded purpose. They’re just for pleasure. They laugh at the stupid Google map I consult five times a day on my phone. They laugh at what a square that map is. At its small-mindedness. They know it’s a sad, workaholic salaryman.

Their mission is more novelistic. Which I also love. What they chart isn’t Boylan Heights exactly but Wood’s feelings about Boylan Heights, his curiosity about it, and his sense of wonder at all the things about the place that are overlooked and unnamed.

Next month we’re going to post new maps of Boylan Heights, including one of barking dogs and the color of the ceilings on porches—both things that defy Google Earth, i.e. things that no satellite can see!

—Lisa Pearson, publisher


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