Thursday, January 13, 2011

Appropriations: 1915-present (syllabus)

Here is a paragraph from the course description of the class I am teaching at School of Visual Arts this spring, regarding "appropriation" techniques in 20th and 21st century writing, as well as a sequence of texts that will be covered in the course.

The term “appropriation” is a loaded one, in visual art, cultural studies, and anthropology, and I will go over the various valences of this term in class as much as I can. In terms of this course, by appropriation I mean any technique by which particular texts are incorporated into a new text, thus becoming the property of a separate work. Collage is appropriative; so, arguably, are certain quotational and citational practices. Appropriational writing also concerns the use of texts without attribution, and so brings up questions of property, plagiarism, and identity (who is the ‘speaker’, ‘author’, or writer?; to what extent is this entity a construction of a distribution network or institutional complex?). Appropriation also involves what we may call “recontextualization”; the taking of something from one context and removing it to another, of which there are countless examples in this course. With the removal of a text to a different context, the meaning of that text changes—it is thus transformed both in 'form' and 'content'.

I. Documentary Poetries

1-13. Introductions;

1-20. Walter Benjamin’s “The Author as Producer” (;

1-27. William Carlos Williams’s Patterson excerpts with Langston Hughes’s Montage of a Dream Deferred;

2-3. Muriel Rukeyser’s "The Book of the Dead" with Charles Reznikoff’s Testimony excerpts, supplemented by Michael Davidson’s Ghostlier Demarcations excerpt;

2-10. Louis Zukofsky’s “A-8” with Charles Olson’s The Maximus Poems excerpts, supplemented by “Z-cite” guide to Louis Zukofsky’s “A-8” (

Contemporary examples of “documentary poetries”: Chain journal vol. 2: Documentary; M. NourbeSe Phillip's Zong!; C.S. Giscombe’s Giscombe Road; Juliana Spahr’s Fuck You, Aloha, I Love You; Evelyn Reilly’s Styrofoam; Alan Gilbert’s Another Future; Mark Nowak’s Revenants and Coal Mountain Elementary; Vanessa Place’s Statement of Facts; David Buuck’s Buried Treasure Island; Craig Santos Perez's From Unincorporated Territory.

II. “Shock Effects,” Collage Aesthetics, and Socio-historical Re/mediation
2-17. Walter Benjamin’s “The Work of Art in the Age of Technical Reproduction” ( with Dada gallery (;

2-24. John Ashbery’s The Tennis Court Oath excerpt with Bruce Andrews’s I Don’t Have Any Paper So Shut Up (or, Social Romanticism) excerpt, supplemented by Andrews on collage and noise in Paradise and Method and links to Andrews performing his work at PennSound (

3-3. Susan Howe’s "A Bibliography of the King's Book;
or, Eikon Basilike" and Rachel Tzvia Back’s Led by Language excerpt;

Additional texts: Flarf feature at Jacket (; Craig Dworkin’s Reading the Illegible (chapter on Howe, “Waging Political Babble”)

III. The Politics of Re/Appropriation

3-10. Guy Debord’s “Methods of Détournement” ( and art after Situationism;

3-17. BREAK

3-24. Hannah Weiner’s “Radcliffe and Guatemala Women,” Judith Goldman’s Deathstar/Rico-chet, and Martha Rosler’s “reading” performance video for Paper Tiger Television, Martha Rosler Reads Vogue (;

4-7. President of the United Heart’s The Big Melt with Rachel Zolf’s Neighbour Procedure;

Additional texts: Eliot Weinberger’s What Happened Here?; Jules Boykoff’s and Kaia Sand’s Landscapes of Dissent; Kim Rosenfield’s Re: Evolution; Yedda Morrison’s Darkness; Mónica de la Torre’s Public Domain; M. Mara Anne’s Containment Scenario; Laura Elrick’s Stalk; Dada “in context”: (éhar.pdf)

IV. What is an Author? The politics of identity and distributed authorship

4-14. Michel Foucault’s “What is an Author?” ( and “Roland Barthes’s “Death of the Author” (;

4-21. Kathy Acker’s Great Expectations excerpt with Dodie Bellamy’s Cunt-Ups;

4-28. Robert Fitterman’s Rob the Plagiarist excerpt with Tyrone Williams's c.c. excerpt;

5-5. Stephen Collis’s The Commons and “Of Blackberries and the Poetic Commons” ( with Tan Lin’s Heath and EDIT event;

Additional texts: Lyn Hejinian’s A Border Comedy; Charles Bernstein’s All the Whiskey in Heaven; Laura Moriarty’s A Tonalist; Ben Friedlander’s Simulcast; Brandon Brown’s The Poems of Gaius Valerius Catullus; The Grand Piano (Barrett Watten, et al).


Michael Cross said...

God, I would have donated a limb to have had access to a course like this in, say, 1997...


Thom Donovan said...

Though, it's interesting to note, many of these works haven't existed since 1997. And concern poetry of the last decade... Could such a course have come into existence circa '97, I wonder?
Pre-Google? It would have been less fleshed-out, for sure...

Ken L. Walker said...

This syllabus/course outline looks great man. I'd sign up for it, no doubt. I am particularly interested in how you will frame the discussions in the realm of Zukofsky and his research-based "appropriations" . . . In fact, check out this geeky-goodness:

Louis Zukofsky in Kentucky in History
Chris Beyers
College Literature
Vol. 30, No. 4 (Fall, 2003), pp. 71-88

(Hits home for me but could hit the occupational level for you.)