absence of clutter: minimal writing as art and literature

absence of clutter: minimal writing as art and literature

by Paul Stephens


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An exploration of minimal writing—texts generally shorter than a sentence—as complex, powerful literary and visual works.

In the 1960s and 70s, minimal and conceptual artists stripped language down to its most basic components: the word and the letter. Barbara Kruger, Jenny Holzer, Carl Andre, Lawrence Weiner, and others built lucrative careers from text-based art. Meanwhile, poets and writers created works of minimal writing—visual texts generally shorter than a sentence. (One poem by Aram Saroyan reads in its entirety: eyeye.) In absence of clutter, Paul Stephens offers the first comprehensive account of minimal writing, arguing that it is equal in complexity and power to better-known, more commercial text-based art.

Minimal writing, Stephens writes, can be beguilingly simple on the surface, but can also offer iterative reading experiences on multiple levels, from the fleeting to the ponderous. “absence of clutter,” for example, the entire text of a poem by Robert Grenier, is both expressive and self-descriptive. Stephens first sets out a theoretical framework for reading and viewing minimal writing and then offers close readings of works of minimal writing by Saroyan, Grenier, Norman Pritchard, Natalie Czech, and others. He “reverse engineers” recent works by Jen Bervin, Craig Dworkin, and Christian Bök that draw on molecular biology, and explores print-on-demand books by Holly Melgard, code poetry by Nick Montfort, Twitter-based work by Allison Parrish, and the use of Instagram by Hans-Ulrich Obrist and Saroyan. Text, it seems, is becoming ever more prevalent in visual art; meanwhile, poems are getting shorter. When reading has become scanning a screen and writing tapping out a text, absence of clutter invites us to reflect on how we read, see, and pay attention.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780262043670
Publisher: MIT Press
Publication date: 03/24/2020
Series: The MIT Press
Pages: 288
Sales rank: 1,220,894
Product dimensions: 6.30(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.10(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Paul Stephens is the author of The Poetics of Information Overload: From Gertrude Stein to Conceptual Writing and the editor of the journal Convolution.

Table of Contents

Introduction: The Aesthetics of Information Scarcity 1

1 Varieties of the Minimal 17

2 Close Viewing / Distant Reading / Readography 47

3 Absence of clutter 57

4 The Indexical Present 69

5 "A Radium of the Word": From Imagism to Concretism 77

6 The One-Word Poem 93

7 The Transreal 111

8 "Really 'Reading In'": Robert Grenier's Sentences 127

9 To Icon or Not to Icon 149

10 "TOREVERSETHEREVERSE": Molecular Conceptualism 185

11 Minimal Maximalism 203

Coda: @no_ideas_but_in_??? 217

Acknowledgments 223

Appendix: A Selected Bibliography of Oneworders (Categorized by Primary Word) 225

Notes 237

Index 275

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From the Publisher

With illuminating commentary on poets Robert Grenier, Aram Saroyan, Norman Pritchard, Nick Montfort, and Craig Dworkin—in the context of language artists such as Glenn Ligon and Adrian Piper—Stephens' necessary intervention broadens and transforms the discussion of minimalist verbal art.

Charles Bernstein, author of Pitch of Poetry

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