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“Absent Things As If They Are Present. A History...

Jan 18, 2012
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“Absent Things As If They Are Present. A History Of Literature Created By Erasure, Collage, Omission, And Wite-Out”

Nice long piece by Jeannie Vanasco this month in The Believer (now on Tumblr!) about writing by erasure. A lot of the artists mentioned (Tom Phillips, Mary Ruefle, Thomas Jefferson…) will be familiar to anybody who’s read the history chapter of Newspaper Blackout. (Unfortunately, Blackout was not one of the texts mentioned.)1

What I like about the piece is that unlike some writers who take an apologetic or condescending tone towards erasures, Vanasco actually champions the form:


  Why erase the works of other writers? The philosophical answer is that poets, as Wordsworth defines them, are “affected more than other men by absent things as if they were present.” The More practical answer: compared to writing, erasing feels easy.
  
  But I am here to convince you: to erase is to write, style is the consequence of the writer’s omissions, and the writer is always plural.
  
  To erase is to leave something else behind.


Like Kenneth Goldsmith, Vanasco even uses the form in her creative writing class at NYU (here’s the PDF of the syllabus)


  the motto of Modernism, Ezra Pound’s “Make it new,” is a translation of Confucius who borrowed it from Emperor T’ang who inscribed on his bathtub “Every day make it new.” I want you to take existing poems and stories by other writers and make these works new. How? By making them your own. How? By imitating their styles.


She points to Allen Ginsberg, who was very open about his influences:


  Ginsberg shows us that by imitating the style of other writers, as well as by resisting them, a writer develops his or her own style. Erasure is simply an exaggerated form of writing. “We say that an author is original when we cannot trace the hidden transformation that others underwent in his mind,” Valery wrote. “What a man does either repeats or refutes what someone else has done—repeats it in other tones, refines or amplifies or simplifies it.” But instead of concealing or denying their influences, erasurists acknowledge that they have come from somewhere, not nowhere, and make clear the chaotic process of creating art.


It’s a great piece — anybody who’s interested in Newspaper Blackout or Steal Like An Artist will enjoy it.



I heard later from Jeannie that Newspaper Blackout was part of a section that had to be cut due to length. :) ↩

“Absent Things As If They Are Present. A History Of Literature Created By Erasure, Collage, Omission, And Wite-Out”

Nice long piece by Jeannie Vanasco this month in The Believer (now on Tumblr!) about writing by erasure. A lot of the artists mentioned (Tom Phillips, Mary Ruefle, Thomas Jefferson…) will be familiar to anybody who’s read the history chapter of Newspaper Blackout. (Unfortunately, Blackout was not one of the texts mentioned.)1

What I like about the piece is that unlike some writers who take an apologetic or condescending tone towards erasures, Vanasco actually champions the form:

Why erase the works of other writers? The philosophical answer is that poets, as Wordsworth defines them, are “affected more than other men by absent things as if they were present.” The More practical answer: compared to writing, erasing feels easy.

But I am here to convince you: to erase is to write, style is the consequence of the writer’s omissions, and the writer is always plural.

To erase is to leave something else behind.

Like Kenneth Goldsmith, Vanasco even uses the form in her creative writing class at NYU (here’s the PDF of the syllabus)

the motto of Modernism, Ezra Pound’s “Make it new,” is a translation of Confucius who borrowed it from Emperor T’ang who inscribed on his bathtub “Every day make it new.” I want you to take existing poems and stories by other writers and make these works new. How? By making them your own. How? By imitating their styles.

She points to Allen Ginsberg, who was very open about his influences:

Ginsberg shows us that by imitating the style of other writers, as well as by resisting them, a writer develops his or her own style. Erasure is simply an exaggerated form of writing. “We say that an author is original when we cannot trace the hidden transformation that others underwent in his mind,” Valery wrote. “What a man does either repeats or refutes what someone else has done—repeats it in other tones, refines or amplifies or simplifies it.” But instead of concealing or denying their influences, erasurists acknowledge that they have come from somewhere, not nowhere, and make clear the chaotic process of creating art.

It’s a great piece — anybody who’s interested in Newspaper Blackout or Steal Like An Artist will enjoy it.


  1. I heard later from Jeannie that Newspaper Blackout was part of a section that had to be cut due to length. :) 

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