Penultimate mutations of the writer

The verb to jam may mean to saturate, to cram, to press, to interfere, to clog… From that cloud of words came out the jam session at some point during the 30’s, to name a musical meeting in which an improvised script is played. Unwritten music. Music that only exists at the time of execution. None of the verbs that are behind the expression convey harmony and order, the classical values of art, to be behind the objectives of the action. Other words that seem to be there are: experimentation, provisional, outrage, and productions, which is always previous to correction, editing and post production.

This is how Nicolas Bourriaud’s Postproduction essay begins (2002):

“Postproduction” is a technical term used in the world of television, film and video. It designates all the processes performed on material recorded: mount, the inclusion of other sound or visual sources, subtitling, voiceovers, special effects. As a set of activities linked to the world of services and recycling, post-production belongs to the tertiary sector, as opposed to the industrial or agricultural sector, the production of raw materials.

Since the early nineties, an increasing number of artists perform, reproduce, re-state or use works made by others or cultural products that are available. The art of post production it is an answer to the multiplication of cultural offerings, but also more indirectly responds to the inclusion within the art world of forms that were previously unknown or despises.

According to the French curator, after the 90’s relational art, the central tendencies would be the art of post-production and radicant art of the turn of the century. Both are complementary, as though the postproduction also involves ethics, it is primarily a practice, often executed by the radicant artist characterized by “a mastery of forms, a relationship between form-path and an ethical way: translation.” Post production is an art that is created after the art. When Christian Marclay creates Clocks (2010), a movie made out of fragments of thousands of movies displaying watches, assembled to last exactly twenty-four hours and that during all the footage clocks are displayed to show the exact same time of its viewers, it is confirmed as an artist of the postproduction with a work that can only be understood as a sampling, as a mixture of earlier works. But Marclay is known primarily as a DJ, that is, as a performer. Unlike Clocks, most of his work need of his performances, his live performance, with vinyl records that he found at flea markets and antique turntables that make them sound and violent. At heart we are dealing with two forms of post-production, which require the artist as an actor and that, however, conceals the artist behind the piece independently, projected on the screen of a gallery. In the first one, there is a possibility that the work appears “crude”, imperfect, subject to the rigors of live performances. In the second, however, one expects perfection, flawless finishings, postproduced post production. But in both cases the artist works with alien material. Or rather, the artist has given up on the possibility that all materials are not unrelated.

Almost all current art is an art of postproduction. Digital photography, computerized editing, design programs, word processors, the infinite Internet resources have virtually eliminated the horizon of the scriptures the sensation of crude production. If the mechanism of artistic creation has always been mimesis and the deviation, the copy with substantial variations, being able to have on the same screen where you retouch your own photo, write a text or edit a video, photos, videos or texts that your work is based on, not only changes the artist’s relationship with tradition, making it more immediate and unbiased, it also eliminates any possibility of reviving the romantic myths of creation ex nihilo and genius. In a saturated mediasphere, the artist finds his/her way through the recycling of primary and secondary sources and spam. Clipping is not crippling, but motivating. And claims, more than ever, for the poet to be Doctus, ie, an expert in materials he/she works with.

During the months I spent writing the essay Teleshakespeare, my computer had the following windows minimised: RAE dictionary, Wikipedia (the best TV series database ever), Youtube, and Spotify (with appropirate music and TV series soundtracks, according to the case). And Word programme. With the document entitled “teleshakespeare.doc.” In a laptop. It is not so different from the way a graphic designer, a visual artist or a DJ works. Pages and programs might change, but not the system of opening and closing windows. The workshop, study, office or laboratory share a production facility and storage: the computer (connected to internet). It is common to transport the instrument, which contains the memory of your poetry, your project, where you have everything necessary to expose them. DJs and musicians work with their laptops during the meeting at a festival or a club. Visual artists are used to carry the laptop to meetings with cultural managers to must defend a project and connect it to show when it becomes necessary, as part of workshops or meetings, to explain their career.

The shift proposed by the jam applied to non-musical disciplines and languages is the same. Live improvisation of a musician is not much different than the one that an artist or writer can carry. Perhaps eighty years ago, there were really abysmal differences between the two practices, both in relation to the tools (the musical instruments on the one hand, the pencil, paper, typewriter, on the other) and the spectacular aura (which just wrapped the musicians). But today, in a world that has gone through countless screens, in which which music is also computerized, in which the literature of Mario Bellatin, César Aira, Cristina Rivera Garza, Manuel Vilas, Agustín Fernández Mallo, Cebrián Mercedes and Fernando Vallejo, just to name a few Hispanic authors that work under the scope of what Reinaldo Laddaga has called reality shows, where festivals and microphones and large screens have become part of the circuit of a writer’s work, in which the media dimension of the writer has spread far beyond the traditional scope, both in traditional media (newspapers, radio, television, interviews as a subject of reviews and as a manager of opinion) as new digital platforms (social networks, blog web pages, Twitter, etc..), today in this world, the distance between the practice of music and the writing practice, if it has not been erased, it has ceased to be abysmal.

To tune with the culture of convergence, advocated among others by Henry Jenkins, that characterized the contemporary world, writers and readers have to stop thinking about literary writing as an isolated world. As writing and as a narrative, it is as much about communication and storytelling as contemporary art, to name two distant poles in principle, among which are video games, comic books, TV series or movies. That does not mean that literature does not have its unique features. Noe that authors can and must defend a personal poetic way of understanding his/her transferable reading, writing, personal life. But in my opinion, it should be a program that is the result of unbiased reflection and not a repetition of topics that will be transmitted automatically, without being discussed or thought before being internalized.

Two topics are especially relevant: on one hand, that the only duty of the writer is writing and reading, on the other, that impromptu writing is not literature. The first section constantly brings a series of misunderstandings. The latter has to do with the writer’s presence in the discussions of your blog or Facebook traffic. I have read several times that this virtual activity discredits the writer, that “instead of reading and writing, they are wasting time online.” We are in a period of legitimation of the virtual gathering. If this is considered entirely legitimate for the writers of twenty, thirty or a hundred years ago to be devoted most of the day to chat, drink, discuss, thrive, strutte fight and flirt at the Cafe Pombo, Café Gijón, the Café Orient or Boccaccio, presumably the same will happen next with the conversation on blogs and social networks. The second topic leads directly to the issue of jam writing. Before addressing it, however, it has to considered the issue of automatic writing, which is always invoked as an authority argument to discredit the possibility of direct writing. It suggests that, beyond the specific experiments conducted by surrealism and his followers, we will never know what words or what paragraphs, were part of masterpieces of universal literature, were the result of a first draft . Fernando de Rojas said he had writen La Celestina in fifteen days.

Although we find a long tradition of public performances of the writer, from the presence of writers in eighteenth-century literary salons, readings from his own work and presentations of books that have been made since the nineteenth century (in some cases with real mass success: think of Truman Capote, for example), and theatrical or performative performance (Gómez de la Serna, García Lorca, Copi, Pedro Lemebel, Javier Montero …) until the emergence in the 80 and 90 of spoken word and poetry slam circuits (which has caused the existence of Def Poetry, the HBO program) and the proliferation of writers who make up their own bands (Francisco Garamona, Dani Umpi, Carlos Labbé …) the idea that the writer must be reluctant to such exposure is still strong. One must be very naive not to see the paraphernalia that surrounds the discussion of a writer with a journalist in places like the Auditorium of the Jaume Fuster Library or KOSMOPOLIS scenarios to be a theatrical device that turns the intervention of the writer into action, into a performance. But this supposed naivete is still trading, it seems, in the literary market.

During the first decade of XXI century we have witnessed the incorporation of this type of screen performances, already a classic, of the writer. Many international events have featured live production of writing, often accompanied by other types of artistic production, like illustrations. This must be put in relation to live performances by artists and chefs, or nonfiction drama that has plagued real domestic spaces or live written transmission experiments through blogs or Twitter, ie with written operations in real time and exchange between spaces. Because our century is characterized by the obsession with strict and radically contemporary and spatial displacement. The biggest example would be Big Brother: constant tv transmission shows an intimate space in the public sphere. Similarly, not only the dramatic essay, traditionally private, is open to the public, but also the work is represented in the living room pf the director’s mother. The Jam writing act, created in Buenos Aires in 2007 by Adrian Haidukowski should be understood in line with this general context, as it proposes to remove the writer from his studio to face the public in a bar, while a DJ session creates an atmosphere. But it must also be seen in its particularity, as an artistic expression arising from Argentina’s economic crisis of 2001. Because the reaction of many young writers to such scene was to boost initiatives for cultural management options alternatives to the crisisEditorial initiatives such as Cartonera Heloise were born, as small presses and poetry as forms of promotion and distribution of new books proliferated around the country. It also consolidated the relationship between writers and publishers and, finally, the jam was born. In four years of life it has become an important event in the cultural life of Buenos Aires and has been internationalized, with editions in Mexico City, Guadalajara and Barcelona. Radicant.

Of course you can not expect from a text written live the same degree of formal perfection found in a text largely produced and edited. In some cases, the interaction between the writer and the audience proposed leads the experience to a territory usually alien to the writer’s life (unless, through such forums, he/she is in dialogue with readers about the work being created). But mostly we see the writing as a spectacle, in a double sense: first, the combination of music and the screen creates a mood, say, environmental, comparable to the one that overwhelms us in a concert or a theatre play, on the other, our way of looking becomes pornographic: we attend a process that we understand is intimate and, if we want the poetry of the author, we are fascinated by the way he/she punctuates, corrects, goes back, throws references, renames characters, changes the pace, accelerates it or blocks it.

In a time characterized by the dematerialization of the book and uninterrupted connection, these experiments with reality can be tests of future avenues, paths to a literature that is unequivocally contemporary art, featuring readers and writers who can take critically the horizon of their time.

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  • Ferran Cerdans Serra | 19 February 2011

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Penultimate mutations of the writer