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Craig Dworkin

Craig Dworkin, Professor in the English Department at the University of Utah, is the author of Reading the Illegible and the editor of Language to Cover a Page: The Early Writings of Vito Acconci (MIT Press).

Titles by This Author

In No Medium, Craig Dworkin looks at works that are blank, erased, clear, or silent, writing critically and substantively about works for which there would seem to be not only nothing to see but nothing to say. Examined closely, these ostensibly contentless works of art, literature, and music point to a new understanding of media and the limits of the artistic object.

Dworkin considers works predicated on blank sheets of paper, from a fictional collection of poems in Jean Cocteau’s Orphée to the actual publication of a ream of typing paper as a book of poetry; he compares Robert Rauschenberg’s Erased De Kooning Drawing to the artist Nick Thurston’s erased copy of Maurice Blanchot’s The Space of Literature (in which only Thurston’s marginalia were visible); and he scrutinizes the sexual politics of photographic representation and the implications of obscured or obliterated subjects of photographs. Reexamining the famous case of John Cage’s 4’33”, Dworkin links Cage’s composition to Rauschenberg’s White Paintings, Ken Friedman’s Zen for Record (and Nam June Paik’s Zen for Film), and other works, offering also a “guide to further listening” that surveys more than 100 scores and recordings of “silent” music.

Dworkin argues that we should understand media not as blank, base things but as social events, and that there is no medium, understood in isolation, but only and always a plurality of media: interpretive activities taking place in socially inscribed space.

Titles by This Editor

The Early Writings of Vito Acconci

Pioneering conceptual artist Vito Acconci began his career as a poet. In the 1960s, before beginning his work in performance and video art, Acconci studied at the Iowa Writers Workshop and published poems in journals and chapbooks. Almost all of this work remains unknown; much of it appeared in the self-produced magazines of the Lower East Side's mimeo revolution, and many other pieces were never published. Language to Cover a Page collects these writings for the first time and not only shows Acconci to be an important experimental writer of the period, but demonstrates the continuity of his early writing with his later work in film, video, and performance.

Language to Cover a Page documents a key moment in the unprecedented intersection of artists and poets in the late 1960s—as seen in the Dwan Gallery's series of "Language" shows (1967-1970) and in Acconci's own journal 0 to 9. Indeed, as Acconci moved from the poetry scene to the art world, his poetry became increasingly performative while his artwork was often structured and motivated by linguistic play.

Acconci's early writing recalls the work of Samuel Beckett, the deadpan voice of the nouveau roman, and the jump cuts and fraught permutations of the nouvelle vague. Poems in Language to Cover a Page explore the materiality of language ("language as matter and not ideas," as Robert Smithson put it), the physical space of the page, and the physicality of source texts (phonebooks, thesauruses, dictionaries). Other poems take the space of the page as an analogue to performance space or implicate the poem in a network of activity (as in his "Dial-a-Poem" pieces). Readers will find Acconci's inventive and accomplished poetry as edgy and provocative as anything published today.