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     Stuplimity: Shock and Boredom in
     Twentieth-Century Aesthetics

     Sianne Ngai
     Harvard University

     © 2000 Sianne Ngai.
     All rights reserved.

          There is stupid being in every one. There is stupid being
          in every one in their living. Stupid being in one is often
          not stupid thinking or stupid acting. It very often is hard
          to know it in knowing any one. Sometimes one has to know of
          some one the whole history in them, the whole history of
          their living to know the stupid being of them.

                  --Gertrude Stein, The Making of Americans (1906-08)

          Sorry. Sorry. I'm sorry. I regret it. Please accept my
          apology. I'm extremely sorry. I regret my mistake. Pardon
          me. Pardon me. I hope you'll forgive me. I'm deeply
          apologetic. Do forgive me. Pardon me. Accept my apology. Do
          forgive me. I'm deeply apologetic. Excuse me. Excuse me. It
          was my own fault. Do forgive me. I'm so sorry...

              --Janet Zweig, Her Recursive Apology (sculpture), 1993

     "Thick" Language

  1. "Gertrude and I are just the contrary," writes Leo Stein in
     Journey Into The Self. "She's basically stupid and I'm basically
     intelligent" (Schmitz 100). What Leo perceived "stupid" about
     Gertrude and the non-linear writing of hers he abhorred is
     perhaps analogous to what the character Tod finds "thick" about
     Homer Simpson's use of words in Nathanael West's The Day of the
     Locust (1939). When Tod coaxes a sluggish, almost comatose Homer
     to relate his experience of abandonment following the departure
     of Faye, Homer's speech at first seems incomprehensible to him.
     "Language leaped out of Homer in a muddy, twisting torrent.
     [...] The lake behind the dam replenished itself too fast. The
     more he talked the greater the pressure grew because the flood
     was circular and ran back behind the dam again" (West 143-4).
     Yet as Tod discovers, Homer's "muddy, twisting torrent" in its
     negative insistence conveys a logic of its own--which, when
     acknowledged, enables his interpretation:

          [A] lot of it wasn't jumbled so much as timeless. The words
          went behind each other instead of after. What he had taken
          for long strings were really one thick word and not a
          sentence. In the same way sentences were simultaneous and
          not a paragraph. Using this key he was able to arrange a
          part of what he had heard so that it made the usual kind of
          sense. (144)

     In the case of Homer, the shock of sudden loss produces its own
     dense or "thickening" rhetoric--one that deceptively simulates
     an inability to respond or speak at all, by eroding formal
     distinctions between word, sentence, and paragraph: the
     structural units of conventional syntax. To borrow terms Deleuze
     adduces from philosopher Duns Scotus (whose name gives rise to
     current usage of the word "dunce"), these formal differences are
     exchanged for modal differences that are based on intense
     variations or individuating degrees rather than distinct
     attributes or qualitative forms (Deleuze 39). Modal differences,
     in this sense, could be described as moody ones: temperamental,
     unqualified, or constantly shifting. In West's example, the
     encounter with language based on such differences involves a
     transfer of affectivity: Tod finds himself temporarily stupefied
     by the language generated by Homer's stupor. Which is to say
     that he discovers that it challenges his own capacity to read,
     interpret, or critically respond to it in conventional ways.

  2. Radically altering the temporal order dictated by normative
     syntax ("the words went behind each other instead of after"),
     and blurring the distinction between its building blocks
     (sentence and paragraph), West's description of "thick" or
     grammatically moody language strikingly coincides with the
     signifying logic at work in Stein's dense Making of Americans
     (1906-8), where words are deliberately presented in "long
     strings" rather than conventional sentences, and the repetition
     of particular words or clauses produces a layered or
     simultaneous effect--Stein's characteristic "continuous
     present." As Stein puts it in "Poetry and Grammar,"

          Sentences and paragraphs. Sentences are not emotional but
          paragraphs are.... When I wrote the Making of Americans I
          tried to break down this essential combination by making
          enormously long sentences that would be as long as the
          longest paragraph and so to see if there was really and
          truly this essential difference between paragraphs and
          sentences, if one went far enough with this thing with
          making the sentences long enough to be as long as any
          paragraph and so producing in them the balance of a
          paragraph not a balance of a sentence, because of course
          the balance of a paragraph is not the same balance as the
          balance of a sentence. (Writings and Lectures 142)

     The deliberate making of sentences "simultaneous and not a
     paragraph" in The Making of Americans poses a grammatical
     challenge to the ideology of "essential difference" and the
     symbolic laws it sustains, a tactics of resistance to dominant
     systems of sense-making continued throughout Stein's career. The
     sense of urgency connected to this local struggle becomes
     amplified in How To Write (1928), whose opening piece, "Saving
     the Sentence," bears a title suggesting that language, like an
     occupied territory in time of war, is in need of rescue (7-32).
     For The Making of Americans, the strategy Stein chooses is
     primarily an agglutinative one, where the material build-up of
     language itself is invested with the potential for
     dissimulation, to achieve the "balance" of larger forms through
     the accumulation of smaller ones.

  3. In "Sentences," Stein makes a similar attempt to recalibrate the
     reader's sense of syntactic equilibrium when she writes, "What
     is the difference between words and a sentence and a sentence
     and sentences" (HTW 181, my emphasis). We can read this as Stein
     posing a question about the attribute distinguishing two formal
     structures (words versus a sentence), or singular and plural
     instances of a particular structure (sentence versus sentences);
     we can also read it as a statement defining the term "what" as
     precisely this distinction. Here Stein seems to highlight the
     fact that "what" can function as an interrogative pronoun or
     adjective, as well as a relative pronoun equally substitutable
     for plural and singular objects. When constituting a full
     sentence on its own, "what" also has the potential to function
     as a demand for repetition in itself ("What?" [did you just
     say?]), or as an expletive conveying a negative emotion such as
     disbelief, anger, or incomprehension ("What!"). In the latter
     instance, "what" paradoxically expresses a state of
     inexpressiveness. Here the term's sense-making agency resides in
     its impotentiality, or inability to refer and represent, since
     what it expresses is precisely a situation in which whatever
     "what!" is being uttered in response to appears to defy
     expression. Thus in locating the difference between words and a
     sentence in "what," Stein suggests that the status of such
     difference might resemble that of the various roles the term
     "what" assumes--in other words, that the difference is at once
     relative, interrogative, and potentially stupefying in its
     affective force. Like the relationship between sentences and
     paragraphs in The Making of Americans, or "one thick word" and a
     sentence in Homer's speech, difference as "what" could be
     described as a difference without fixed or determinate value, or
     as "difference without a concept"-- one of the ways Deleuze
     defines repetition in Difference and Repetition.

  4. The fact that in its expletive and interrogative roles,
     "what(!?)" also functions as a demand for repetition, also
     recalls Deleuze's counterintuitive thesis that repetition is
     what lies between two differences. Configured as a what, "the
     difference between words and sentences or a sentence and
     sentences" could thus be described as a demand for repetition
     which places us in a relation of indeterminacy, raising a
     question rather than providing an answer: "What is a sentence. A
     sentence is something that is or is not followed" (HTW 213). As
     Stein notes here, "what" becomes a sentence not only when it
     raises a question but also when it becomes one--when it actively
     solicits but may or may not be followed by a reply. "Now the
     whole question of questions and not answer is very interesting"
     (HTW 32, my italics). The response difference-as-what solicits,
     as in the case of Tod's response to Homer's speech, seems likely
     to take the form of an obstruction of response: when the ability
     to "answer" is frustrated or delayed. In both cases, the
     negative experience of "stupefaction" (in which this
     relationship to language is given a specific emotional value)
     raises the significant question of how we might respond to what
     we recognize as "the different" prior to its qualification or
     categorization (as "sexual" or "racial" for instance), precisely
     by pointing to the limits of our ability to do so. We are used
     to encountering and recognizing differences assigned formal
     values; Stein's writing asks us to ask how we negotiate our
     encounters when these qualifications have not yet been made.

  5. Thus in attempting to "break down the essential combination" of
     sentences and paragraphs, or claiming that "what is the
     difference between words and a sentence," Stein's agenda is not
     to be confused with an attempt to level or neutralize difference
     by repetition, but rather to radically reconfigure one's
     relationship to difference through repetition and grammatical
     play. If a particular kind of negative emotion inevitably
     accompanies or is produced by this new relation, it becomes
     important to understand how this affective dynamic might
     organize and inform strategies of reading made possible by it.
     Throughout Stein's career, but beginning particularly around
     1908 when, as Marianne deKoven argues, she started to develop
     her "insistent" style based on repetition, fixed or "essential"
     distinctions are replaced with unqualified ones to generate new
     frameworks of sense-making: forms of continuity, order, and
     linguistic equilibrium ("balance") alternative to the symbolic
     status quo (50). What this requires from the writer, Stein
     suggests, as well as from her readers, is an experiment in
     duration--or, more precisely, an experiment in the temporality
     of endurance, testing whether one can go "far enough with this
     thing." As any reader of The Making of Americans in its entirety
     can attest, the stakes of this astonishing 922-page narrative
     are the exhaustion it inevitably induces, as well as its
     narrative themes of familial and historical survival. Stein's
     interest in how astonishment and fatigue, oddly in tandem, come
     to organize and inform a particular kind of relationship between
     subjects and language (or between subjects and difference, via
     language), can be further explored by examining how this
     peculiar syncretism of affects comes to bear on our contemporary
     engagements with radically "different" forms in American poetry.

     Poetic Fatigue and Hermeneutic Stupor

  6. It comes as no surprise that what Leo Stein, journeying into the
     self, considered "stupid" language is language that, in
     undermining conventional patterns of grammar, syntax, and sense,
     threatens the limits of self by challenging its capacity for
     response, temporarily immobilizing the addressee as in
     situations of extreme shock or boredom. In the case of Homer's
     muddy and twisting rhetoric, the subject no longer seems to be
     the agent producing or controlling his speech; rather, language
     "leaps out" with its own peculiar force. Yet as West's scene of
     interpretation demonstrates, Homer's emotional speech is
     readable, once the interpreter recognizes that it simultaneously
     constitutes its own frame of sense-making. Like the affectively
     charged, insistent language Gertrude Stein uses to create her
     vast combinatory of "bottom natures" in Making of Americans,
     Homer's "thick" speech demands to be encountered on its own
     terms. The critical trajectory or journey it invites is not one
     into the self, but into the more complex problem of a particular
     kind of self's relationship to language, where the latter is
     what radically externalizes the former, pointing to its own

  7. "The words went behind each other instead of after. What he had
     taken for long strings were really one thick word and not a
     sentence. In the same way sentences were simultaneous and not a
     paragraph" (West 14). Deviating from conventional syntax and its
     standard organizations of temporality, Homer's gush, like
     Stein's prose, produces a kind of linguistic overlapping or
     simultaneity--one that recalls the source of the cryptanalyst
     Legrand's own experience of stupefaction in Poe's "The Gold-Bug"
     (1843). In both stagings of hermeneutic perplexity, the obstacle
     posed to the reader is attributed to a "thickness" or
     superimposition of forms:

          Presently I took a candle, and... proceeded to scrutinize
          the parchment more closely. Upon turning it over, I saw my
          own sketch upon the reverse, just as I had made it. My
          first idea, now, was mere surprise at the really remarkable
          similarity of outline--at the singular coincidence involved
          in the fact, that unknown to me, there should have been a
          skull upon the other side of the parchment, immediately
          beneath my figure of the scarabaeus, and that this skull,
          not only in outline, but in size, should so closely
          resemble my drawing. I say the singularity of this
          coincidence absolutely stupified [sic] me for a time. This
          is the usual effect of such coincidences. The mind
          struggles to establish a connection--a sequence of cause
          and effect--and, being unable to do so, suffers a species
          of temporary paralysis. But, when I recovered from the
          stupor, there dawned upon me gradually a conviction which
          startled me even far more than the coincidence. (Poe 305,
          my emphasis)

     In the scenes of analytical stupor staged by both West and Poe,
     the discourse initially stumping the interpreter is based on a
     logic of vertical stacking or piling rather than a horizontally
     progressive trajectory in time. Legrand's glyphs, like Homer's
     words, are placed behind each other instead of after, creating a
     layered simultaneity of signs. In West's narrative, the
     "thickening" of Homer's language is explicitly figured as an
     effect of behindness--that of discursive flow "[running] back
     behind the dam again" (144), recalling Heidegger's description
     of poetry as "the water that at times flows backward toward the
     source" (11). The anteriorizing slippage dramatized in Tod's
     description of Homer's language is both a convention of Stein's
     prose, where narration is consequently forced to "begin again,"
     and a stylistic dynamic utilized in Beckett's later writing. In
     "Stirrings Still" (1988), for instance, a prose poem that deals
     specifically with a subject's experience of stupefying loss, the
     overlapping accretion of phrases and word clusters within the
     boundaries of a severely limited diction results in a language
     that is paradoxically both ascetic and congested, "thickening"
     even as it progresses into a narrative of not-progressing:

          One night or day then as he sat at his table head on hands
          he saw himself rise and go. First rise and stand clinging
          to the table. Then sit again. Then rise again and stand
          clinging to the table. Then go. Start to go. On unseen feet
          start to go. So slow that only change of place to show he
          went. As when he disappeared only to reappear later at
          another place. Then disappeared again only to reappear
          again later at another place again. So again and again
          disappeared again only to reappear again later at another
          place again. Another place in the place where he sat at his
          table head on hands. (259-60)

     The familiar theme of "endurance" is conveyed here through a
     drastic slowing down of language, or a rhetorical enactment of
     its fatigue in which the duration of relatively simple actions
     is uncomfortably prolonged through a proliferation of precise
     inexactitudes. This process occurs not only through repetition,
     but a series of constative exhaustions staged through the
     corrective dynamics of retraction and restatement, of statements
     partially undoing the completion of preceding statements by
     breaking the movements they describe into smaller intervals. The
     undoing paradoxically relies on a process of material build-up,
     where words are slowly added rather than subtracted. Thus the
     finitude of a simple action such as "he saw himself rise and go"
     becomes disrupted by being rendered increasingly specific in
     degree. "He saw himself rise and go." Well actually, no: first
     he rose and stood--then sat--then rose. Then, he went. Actually,
     no: then he started to go. No again: then on unseen feet he
     started to go. The logic of progression from statement to
     statement is paradoxically propelled by a series of invisible
     objections continually jerking us backwards, resulting in
     writing that continually calls attention to itself as lacking
     even as it steadily accumulates. Because units of meaning are
     constantly shifting behind one another, Beckett's use of
     language performs a stacking of multiple temporalities, an
     overlapping of instaneities and durations, rather than a linear
     progression in time.

  8. Like Stein's style in the period of Making of the Americans,
     "Stirrings Still" becomes syntactically dense or complex while
     remaining minimalist in diction. As in the case of Homer's
     "timeless" language, its language is marked by the absence of a
     "sequence of cause and effect," producing the effect of delay,
     fatigue, or "temporary paralysis." This discontinuity is
     generated within the speech or text itself, as well as
     experienced by its interpreter as an interruption of
     understanding. What Poe, West, and Beckett suggest in different
     ways is that when language "thickens" it suffers a "retardation
     by weak links"[1]: it slows down or performs a temporal delay
     through the absence of causal connectives. It is this change in
     temporal organization that in turn slows down the
     interpreter--as if the loss of "strong links" within the
     original text or narrative paradoxically strengthens the link
     between it and the reader, enabling the transfer of the former's
     emotional value.

  9. To acknowledge and attempt to understand one's own experience of
     "stupefaction" by a text or language, as Legrand and Tod do
     (which gives them endurance and enables them to go on as
     interpreters in spite of "temporary paralysis"), is not the same
     as projecting stupidity onto the text instigating this
     relation--as Leo Stein does, turning his emotional response to
     Stein's writing into an attribute of the writing in itself.
     Attempting to analyze the linguistic factors informing this
     dynamic, rather than dismiss the objects involved as senseless,
     both interpreters identify: (1) a breakdown of formal
     differences and a proliferation of modal ones; (2) a "thickness"
     or simultaneous layering of elements in place of linear
     sequencing; resulting in (3) the disruption of normative syntax
     and its patterns of temporal organization. A similar logic
     presides in contemporary writer Dan Farrell's prose poem 366,
     1996 (1997), which bears some stylistic allegiance to the
     "thick" uses of language in Beckett and Stein:

          Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday,
          Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday,
          Saturday, going into the woods, Sunday, Monday, typical
          trees, Tuesday, typical grass traces, Wednesday, Thursday,
          typical excitations, Friday, typical regional sounds,
          Saturday, Sunday, why slow rather than slowest, Monday,
          clouded height, Tuesday, some same ground, Wednesday,
          Thursday, Friday, Saturday, left and possible, Sunday,
          right and possible, Monday, Tuesday, could what there is
          not to be believed be asked, Wednesday, Thursday... (57)

     Consider also this passage from Kenneth's Goldsmith FIDGET, a
     poem/conceptual art piece performed at the New York Whitney
     Museum in 1997:

          Tongue and saliva roll in mouth. Swallow. Tongue
          emerges through teeth and lips. Tongue lies on lower
          lip. Teeth click tongue. Lower jaw drops away from upper.
          Flesh folds beneath chin. Repeats. Upper lip sucks. Rubs
          against lower. Swallow. Saliva gathers under tongue.
          Teeth tuck inside jaw. Gather saliva. Swallow. Left hand,
          grasping with three fingers, moves toward mouth. Swallow.
          Arm drops. Arm lifts. Swallow. Arm drops. Swallow.
          Arm lifts. Arm drops. Eyes move to left. Left hand hits.
          Arm lifts. Swallow. Arm drops. Right leg crosses left...

     Just as Beckett's poem stylistically enacts a form of discursive
     exhaustion or fatigue, Farrell and Goldsmith's deliberately
     stupefying poems relentlessly focus on the tedium of the
     ordinary: the monotony of daily routines organized by calendar
     headings, the movements of a body not doing anything in
     particular. Simultaneously astonishing and boring, the
     experiment in "duration" is taken in each to a structural
     extreme: Farrell's poem incorporates every single calendar date
     of the year named in its title (366); Goldsmith's documents the
     writer's impossible project of recording every single bodily
     movement made in a twenty-four hour period (Bloomsday).[2] Using
     a similar conceptual framework, Judith Goldman's poem "dicktee"
     (1997) described by the author as "a study in the logic of
     paranoia" and its strategies of negation, is composed of every
     single word in Melville's Moby Dick that begins with the prefix
     un-, in the exact order in which they appear:

          under, unite, unless, unpleasant, universal,
          uncomfortable, unaccountable, under, unbiased,
          undeliverable, under, underneath, universe, unequal,
          understanding, unaccountable, unwarranted,
          unimaginable, unnatural, unoccupied, undress,
          unobserved, unknown, unwarrantable, unknown,
          unaccountable, understand, uncomfortable, unsay,
          unaccountable, uncommonly, undressed, unearthly,
          undressing, unnatural, unceremoniously,
          uncomfortableness, unmethodically, undressed,
          unendurable, unimaginable, unlock,
          unbecomingness, understand, under, unusual,
          unrecorded, unceasing, unhealing, unbidden,
          universal, unstirring, unspeakable, unnecessary,
          unseen, unassuming, unheeded, unknown, until,
          uncheered, unreluctantly, unto, unwelcome, unto,
          unearthly, uncouthness, unbiddenly, unite, unite,...

     In a dramatization of modal differences usurping formal ones,
     the poet converts Moby Dick into moby dictation, producing a
     hyperbolic version of the collage of quotations compiled by the
     Sub-Sub-Librarian in Melville's novel. If for Melville the
     Sub-Sub is always already a small subject encompassed by a big
     and relentless system (hence in many ways a "postmodern"
     subject), Goldman comically positions herself as an even smaller
     one. The exaggeration of language's citability and iterability
     (for Goldman, against conventional poetic lyricism) is similarly
     enacted in Goldsmith's encyclopedic No. 111 2.7.93-10.20.96
     (1997),[3] a collection of linguistic materials compiled over
     the period of three years (including lists, phrases,
     conversations, found passages, and entire pieces of fiction)
     that all end on the sonority of the schwa (rhyme) and then are
     laboriously ordered by syllable count, from a series of
     one-syllable entries to a piece containing precisely 7228
     (meter). Taking a more traditional versifier's attention to
     prosodic constraints to an extreme, Goldsmith's Sub-Subish work
     also results in what Raphael Rubinstein blurbs as "a weirdly
     constructed Baedeker to late 20th Century American society." In
     MDCLXXXVI, whose title reflects the number of syllables
     determining its order in the volume, constative fatigue is
     hilariously performed through an overdetermined
     self-referentiality and use of "literary devices" as clichés.
     Or, in persistently subsuming content to the ruthless demands of
     its self-imposed, unusual rhyming pattern and metrical
     structure, does a text which self-referentially appropriates a
     prototypically postmodernist text in its own parody of
     postmodern appropriation and self-referentiality exhaust the
     parodying of these devices as well as the devices themselves?[4]

          This is the first sentence of the story. This is the second
          sentence. This is the title of the story which is also
          found several times in the story itself. This sentence is
          questioning the intrinsic value of the first two sentences.
          This sentence is to inform you in case you haven't already
          realized it that this is a self-referential story
          containing sentences that refer to their own structure and
          function. This is a sentence that provides an ending to the
          first paragraph. This is the first sentence of a new
          paragraph in a self-referential story. This sentence
          comments on the awkward nature of the self-narrative form
          while recognizing the strange and playful detachment it
          affords the writer. Introduces in this paragraph the device
          of sentence fragments. A sentence fragment. Another. Good
          device. Will be used more later. This is actually the last
          sentence of the story but has been placed here by mistake.
          This sentence overrides the preceding sentence by informing
          the reader... that this piece of literature is actually the
          Declaration of Independence but that the author in a show
          of extreme negligence (if not malicious sabotage) has so
          far failed to include even ONE SINGLE SENTENCE from that
          stirring document although he has condescended to use a
          small sentence FRAGMENT namely "When in the course of human
          events" embedded in quotation marks near the end of the
          sentence... (Goldsmith 565-66)

     In extremely different ways, the conceptual work of Farrell,
     Goldsmith, and Goldman continues a tradition of poetic
     experimentalism grounded in the work of Stein--including her
     interest in affectively reorganizing the subject's relationship
     to language through stylistic innovation. Though such diverse
     texts should not be reduced to a common equation, each could be
     described as simultaneously astonishing and (deliberately)
     fatiguing; much like the signifying logics at work in Beckett's
     late fiction, or the experience of reading The Making of
     Americans. Through hyperbolic uses of repetition, reflexivity,
     citation, and clichés, the poems perform a doubling-over of
     language which, as in the case of Legrand's confrontation with a
     layered configuration, actively interferes with the temporal
     organization dictated by conventional syntax. When words or
     glyphs are placed "behind" each other, instead of after, "The
     mind struggles to establish a connection--a sequence of cause
     and effect--and, being unable to do so, suffers a species of
     temporary paralysis" (Poe 305). Yet "temporary paralysis" is not
     merely a state of passivity; rather, it bears some resemblance
     to what Stein calls "open feeling," a condition of utter
     receptivity in which difference is felt rather than qualified or
     assigned a particular value. The next section examines ways in
     which contemporary artists engender this affective dynamic
     through their work.

     From Stupefaction to Stuplime Poetics

          Words are too crude. And words are also too busy--inviting
          a hyperactivity of consciousness that is not only
          dysfunctional, in terms of human capacities of feeling and
          acting, but actively deadens the mind and senses.

                              --Susan Sontag, Styles of Radical Will

          quaqua on all sides then in me bits and scraps try and hear
          a few scraps two or three each time per day and night
          string them together make phrases more phrases

                                         --Samuel Beckett, How It Is

 10. The sudden excitation of "shock," and the desensitization we
     associate with "boredom," though diametrically opposed and
     seemingly mutually exclusive, are both responses that confront
     us with the limitations of our capacity for responding in
     general.[5] Both affects are thus frequently invoked in
     responses to radical art usually dismissed as unsophisticated;
     few savvy, postmodern readers are likely to admit to being
     "bored" by The Making of Americans and perhaps even less likely
     to being "shocked" by Jeff Koons or Cindy Sherman. By pointing
     to what obstructs critical response, however, astonishment and
     boredom ask us to ask what ways of responding our culture makes
     available to us, and under what conditions. As "dispositions"
     which result in a fundamental displacement from secure critical
     positions, the shocking and the boring usefully prompt us to
     look for new strategies of engagement and to extend the
     circumstances under which engagement becomes possible. The
     phenomenon of the intersection of these affective dynamics, in
     innovative artistic and literary production, will thus be
     explored here as a way of expanding our notion of the aesthetic
     in general.

 11. As Stein acknowledges, "Listening to repeating is often
     irritating, listening to repeating can be dulling" (Making 302).
     Yet in the taxonomy or system for the making of human "kinds"
     that is The Making of Americans, repeating is also the dynamic
     force by which new beginnings, histories, genres, and genera are
     produced and organized. As Lacan similarly suggests, "repetition
     demands the new,"(Four 61) including new ways of understanding
     its dulling and irritating effects. It thus comes as no surprise
     that many of the most "shocking," innovative, and/or
     transformative cultural productions in history have also been
     deliberately tedious ones. In the twentieth century,
     systematically recursive works by Warhol, Ryman, Johns, Cage and
     Glass bear witness to the prominence of tedium as aesthetic
     strategy in avant-garde practices; one also thinks of the
     "fatiguing repetitiveness" of Sade[6] and the permutative logics
     at work in the writings of Beckett, Roussel, Perec, Cage, Mac
     Low, and of course, Stein. This partnership between tedium and
     shock in the invention of new genres is not limited, however, to
     avantgardisms. The same intersection of affects can be found in
     the modern horror film, which in its repetitive use of a limited
     number of trademark motifs replicates the serial logics of its
     serial killers, and the pulsating, highly enervated, yet
     exhaustively durational electronic music known as techno or
     house which completely transformed musical subcultures in the

 12. Though repetition, permutation, and seriality figure prominently
     as devices in aesthetic uses of tedium, practitioners have
     achieved the same effect through a strategy of what I call
     agglutination; quite simply, the mass adhesion or coagulation of
     data particles or signifying units. Here tedium resides not so
     much in the syntactic overdetermination of minimalist dictions
     (as in Ryman's white paintings), but in the stupendous
     proliferation of discrete quanta held together by a fairly
     simple syntax or organizing principle. This logic, less mosaic
     than congealaic, is frequently emphasized by sculptor Ann
     Hamilton in her installations, which have included 16,000 teeth
     arranged on an examination table, 750,000 pennies immobilized in
     honey, 800 men's shirts pressed into a wedge, and floors covered
     by vast spreads of linotype pieces and animal hair (Wakefield
     10). A similar effect is achieved by Gerhard Richter's Atlas
     (1997), which confronts the spectator with 643 sheets of over
     7,000 snapshots, newspaper cuttings, sketches and color fields,
     each arranged on white rectangular panels. While here the
     organization of material is primarily taxonomic rather than
     compressive in its grammar, the accumulation of visual "data"
     induces a similar strain on the observer's capacities for
     conceptually synthesizing or metabolizing information. In this
     manner, the fatigue of the responsivity Atlas solicits
     approaches the kind of exhaustion involved in the attempt to
     read a dictionary.

 13. This mode of tedium is specifically foregrounded in Janet
     Zweig's computer/printer installations, where rhetorical bits
     and scraps are automatically produced in enormous quantities,
     then stacked, piled, enumerated, weighed in balances, or
     otherwise "quantified." To make Her Recursive Apology (1993),
     for example, four computers, each hooked to a dot-matrix
     printer, were programmed to randomly generate apologies "in the
     smallest possible type" on continuously-fed paper. As Zweig
     notes, "The printer apologized for two weeks, day and night.
     Whenever a box of paper ran out, the computer displayed the
     number of times it had apologized. Because the apologies were
     randomly chosen by the computer, no two sheets of paper are
     alike. I arranged the pages in a recursive spiral structure,
     each stack one sheet larger than the next" (Zweig 248-9).
     Pushing the boundary between the emotive and the mechanical, and
     ironically commenting on the feminization of apologetic speech
     acts, Her Recursive Apology stages the convergence of gendered
     subject and machine not via fashionable cyborg, but through a
     surprisingly "flat" or boring display of text, its materiality
     and iterability foregrounded by the piles of its consolidation.
     Zweig's work points to the Lacanian notion that language is
     precisely the site where subject and system intersect, as Stein
     similarly demonstrates through her own vast combinatory of human
     types--a text in which new "kinds" or models of humans are made
     through the rhetorically staged acts of enumerating, "grouping,"
     "mixing," and above all repeating. For both Stein and Zweig,
     where system and subject converge is more specifically where
     language piles up and becomes dense.

 14. Like the massive Making of Americans, the large-scale
     installations of Zweig, Hamilton, and Richter register as at
     once exciting and deenervating, astonishing yet tedious.
     Inviting further comparison with Stein's taxonomy is the fact
     that each of these installations functions as an information
     processing system--a way of classifying, ordering, and
     metabolizing seemingly banal "bits" of data: newspaper
     clippings, snapshots, teeth, words and phrases, repetitions. To
     encounter the vastness of Stein's system is to encounter the
     vast combinatory of language, where particulars "thicken" to
     produce new individualities. As an ordering of visual data on a
     similar scale, what Richter's Atlas calls attention to through
     its staggering agglomeration of material it is not so much
     information's sublimity, but the sublimity of its ability to

 15. Yet "sublime" seems an inappropriate term to use here, even in
     spite of its critical voguishness today, which marks the
     persistence of an older aesthetic tradition where it was
     typically invoked in response to things overwhelmingly vast or
     massive and large (mountains, seas, the infinite, and so
     forth)--things that threaten to crush the subjectivity out of
     us, as the works of Stein or de Sade similarly do, and point to
     the limits of our psychological and cognitive faculties. In this
     sense, the term seems fully applicable. But while the sublime
     encompasses the feeling of awe or astonishment The Making of
     Americans solicits from its reader, it fails to circumscribe the
     concomitantly solicited effect of boredom. This response,
     invoked in tandem with the feeling of awe, is absolutely central
     to Stein's quasi-scientific experiment in narrative, which
     deliberately forces the reader to participate in its
     accumulation, enumeration, organization, and interpretation of
     human "data." Though useful as an index of the general value of
     affectivity in the negotiation of aesthetic experiences,
     sublimity becomes a profoundly unsatisfactory way of
     characterizing the particular kind of affective relationship
     configured by twentieth-century agglutinations such as Atlas or
     Americans, since here the experience of being aesthetically
     overwhelmed involves not so much fear, terror, or even euphoria,
     but something much closer to an ordinary fatigue. In this
     relationship, a similarly negative emotivity is summoned, one in
     which the self is made aware of his or her own powerlessness or
     impotence, but one conspicuously less romantic, or auratic. How
     the observer encounters a work like Atlas thus approaches the
     experience of reading Stein and Joyce, whose postmodernisms
     avant le lettre similarly seems to call for a rethinking of what
     it means to be aesthetically overpowered: a new way of
     theorizing the negatively affective relationship to stupefying
     objects previously designated by the older aesthetic notion of
     the sublime. One way of calling attention to the affinity
     between exhaustion and the astonishment particular to the
     sublime, invoking the latter while detaching it from its
     previous romantic affiliations, is to refer to the aesthetic
     experience I am talking about--one in which astonishment is
     paradoxically united with boredom as the stuplime.

 16. Though criticism continually relies on and returns to older
     aesthetic categories, even in its engagement with radically
     different forms of cultural production, these often call for new
     terms for describing our responses to innovative works, new
     dictions to be used in the work of critically commenting on
     them. An encounter with The Making of Americans does seem to
     approach the experience of the sublime, yet also very much not.
     Upon first encounter it astonishes and awes, yet like the
     "bottom natures" it inventories, draws us down into the
     agglutinative domain of language and its dulling and irritating
     iterability. The same could be said for the scatological sludge
     in How It Is, in which the subject is literally pulled face
     down. Hamilton's vast spreads of hair or typographical rubble
     seem to deliberately invite yet ultimately veer away from their
     characterization as such. What constitutes the stuplime will
     become increasingly clear below, but for now I will briefly
     describe it as a syncretism of boredom and astonishment, of what
     "dulls" with what "irritates" or agitates, of excessive
     excitation with extreme desensitization or fatigue. Whereas the
     former traditionally finds a home in the lyrical or tragic, the
     latter could be said to more properly belong to the artificial,
     the dirtier environments of what Stein calls "bottom humor."

 17. Like the Kantian sublime, the stuplime points to the limits of
     our representational capabilities, not through the limitlessness
     or infinity of concepts, but through a no less exhaustive
     confrontation with the discrete and finite in repetition. The
     "bits and scraps" of what surrounds the self on all sides is
     what Beckett calls "quaqua," the discursive logic of a larger
     symbolic system. As such, "it expresses a power peculiar to the
     existent, a stubbornness of the existent in intuition, which
     resists every specification by concepts no matter how far this
     is taken," (Deleuze 13) a characterization mirroring a claim
     made in Kierkegaard's comic discourse on repetition: "Every
     general esthetic category runs aground on farce" (159). Unlike
     the sublime, the stuplime paradoxically forces the reader to go
     on in spite of its equal enticement to surrender, inducing a
     series of comic fatigues or tirednesses rather than a single,
     earthshattering blow to one's conceptual apparatus, thus pushing
     the reader to constantly formulate and reformulate new tactics
     for reading. Confrontations with the stuplime bear more
     resemblance to the repetitive exhaustions performed by
     Kierkegaard's Beckmann, Buster Keaton, or Pee-Wee Herman than
     the instantaneous breakdown dramatized in encounters with
     elemental forces. In the stuplimity of slapstick comedy, which
     frequently stages the confrontation of small subjects with the
     large Systems encompassing them, one is made to fall down
     (typically in an exaggerated expression of inexpressiveness)
     only so as to get up again, counteracting tragic failure with an
     accumulation of comic fatigues. Significantly, Deleuze's prime
     example of this blockage of the sublime and the surrender it
     induces is words, as these "possess a comprehension which is
     necessarily finite, since they are by nature the objects of a
     merely nominal definition. We have here a reason why the
     comprehension of the concept cannot extend to infinity: we
     define a word by only a finite number of words. Nevertheless,
     speech and writing, from which words are inseparable, give them
     an existence hic et nunc; a genus thereby passes into existence
     as such; and here again extension is made up for in dispersion,
     in discreteness, under the sign of a repetition which forms the
     real power of language in speech and writing" (Deleuze 13).

 18. In this manner, stuplimity pulls us downward into the denseness
     of language rather than lifting us upwards toward
     unrepresentable divines--a realm much like the mud in How It Is,
     where bits and scraps accumulate in being transmitted through a
     narrator who only quotes what he receives from an external yet
     infiltrating source: "I say it as I hear it." This mud is both
     the site enabling the series of arrivals and separations that
     comprise the basic movements in the narrative, and yet an
     inertial drag or resistance that renders them exhaustingly
     difficult or slow: each act of "journeying" and "abandoning"
     thus involves a laborious and (as William Hutchings notes)
     peristaltic crawl (65), leading us through "vast tracts of time"
     (Beckett, How 39). Stein's writing operates through a similarly
     anal dynamic, as Lisa Ruddick argues, of "pressing" and
     "straining" (81). While Beckett's mud obstructs or slows the
     physical movements of individual characters toward and away from
     one another, it also seems to enable a process of cohesion, by
     which the discrete extensions of Pims, Boms and Bems, "one and
     all from the unthinkable first to the no less unthinkable last"
     come to be "glued together in a vast imbrication of flesh
     without breach or fissure" (Beckett, How 140). The social
     community it creates is thus one of discursive condensation, as
     visually suggested through the absence of punctuation.

 19. Here, finitely large numbers substitute for the infinities we
     associate with the sublime, yet the effect of these enumerations
     is to similarly call attention to representational or conceptual
     fatigues, if not destructions. Such tiredness results even when
     the narrator subdivides the enormity of what we are asked to
     imagine into more manageable increments: "a million then if a
     million strong a million Pims now motionless agglutinated two by
     two in the interests of torment too strong five hundred thousand
     little heaps color of mud and a thousand thousand nameless
     solitaries half abandoned half abandoning" (Beckett, How
     115-116). Though the narrator often resorts to such calculations
     to negotiate his relationship to this mud, and to facilitate
     understanding of the "natural order" or organizing principle of
     the system he lives in (one legislated by its "justice" or the
     disembodied, external "voice of us all" from which he receives
     the words of his narration), these acts of enumerating, grouping
     and subdividing only produce further fatigues; thus the double
     meaning of the narrator's comment "I always loved arithmetic it
     has paid me back in full" (Beckett 37). Attempting to make sense
     of his situation by finding smaller, more easily manipulable
     systems of ordering within the larger one, the narrator finds
     these micrologics ultimately subsumed and thwarted by what
     encompasses them. We see this in his attempt to describe how
     information is exchanged in the world he inhabits: to understand
     the ordering principle behind this we are asked to take twenty
     consecutive numbers, "no matter which no matter which it is

          814326 to 814345

          number  814327  may  speak  misnomer  the  tormentors
          being  mute  as  we  have  seen part two may speak of
          number  814326  to  number  814328  who  may speak to
          him  to  number  814329  who  may  speak  of  him  to
          number  814330   and  so  on  to  number  814345  who
          in  this  way  may  know  number  814326   by  repute
                                             (Beckett, How 119)

          similarly number  814326  may  know  by repute number
          814345    number 814344   having  spoken  of  him  to
          number 814343 and this last to number 814342 and this
          last to  number  814341  and so back to number 814326
          who in  this  way  may  know  number 814345 by repute

          but question to what purpose

          for when number  814336  describes  number  814337  to
          number  814335  and  number  814335  to  number 814337
          for example he is merely in fact describing himself to
          two lifelong acquaintances

          so to what purpose
                                              (Beckett, How 120)

     As in the case of the repeated pratfalls of the slapstick
     comedian, stuplimity emerges in the performance of such
     fatigue-inducing strategies, in which the gradual accumulation
     of error often leads to the repetition of a refrain: "too
     strong"; or "something wrong there." In this manner, every
     attempt to account for or explain the "natural order" or "logic"
     of the encompassing system (and the acts of movement,
     information exchange, narration, and violence it determines) by
     means of a smaller logic paradoxically culminates in the
     understanding of the wider principle being blocked. There is a
     multiplicity of such attempts, ranging from Euclidean geometry
     describing the trajectory of subjects (based on a circle and its
     division into chords "AB" and "BA"), to simple arithmetic
     describing the durations, distances, and velocities involved:

          allowing  then I  quote  twenty years for the journey and
          knowing  furthermore  from  having heard so that the four
          phases  and  knowing  furthermore  from  having  heard so
          that  the  four  phases  through  which  we  pass the two
          kinds  of  solitude  the  two  kinds  of company  through
          which  tormentors  abandoned  victims  travelers  we  all
          pass and pass again  being regulated thus  are  of  equal

          knowing  furthermore  by  the  same  courtesy   that  the
          journey is accomplished in stages ten yards fifteen yards
          at the rate of say its  reasonable to say  one  stage per
          month this  word  these  words  months   years  I  murmur
                                                 (Beckett, How 125)

     We are thus brought to a series of calculations which in this
     case lead to a finite solution--if our fatigue permits us to
     follow them. In spite of its empirical faultlessness, however,
     on the page the accumulation of figures visually suggests

          four by twenty  eighty twelve  and  half  by  twelve one
          hundred and  fifty by twenty  three thousand  divided by
          eighty thirty-seven  and a half  thirty-seven to thirty-
          eight say forty yards a year we advance
                                                 (Beckett, How 125)

     The linguistic environment of How It Is thus provides a model
     for better understanding stuplimity as an aesthetic strategy in
     contemporary practice, insofar as it entails an affective
     reorganization of one's relationship to language, as well as a
     veering away from the older category of the sublime. Unlike the
     instantaneous or sudden defeat of comprehension instigated by
     the latter, the stuplime belongs to a different temporal and
     emotional register, involving not an abrupt climax of excitation
     in terror, but rather an extended duration of consecutive
     fatigues. What facilitates this relationship is an encounter
     with the finite (though vast) operations of a symbolic order,
     the artificial system or "justice" encompassing the subject who
     confronts it, rather than an encounter with radically external
     and uncontrollable forces of Nature. In experiencing the sublime
     one confronts the infinite and elemental; in stuplimity one
     confronts the machine or system, the taxonomy or vast
     combinatory, of which one is a part. Recalling Stein's
     fascination with "mushy masses" in The Making of Americans, How
     It Is also suggests features specific to the anti-romantic
     environment of the stuplime text: linguistic bits and scraps,
     discarded "cultural" waste (torn sacks, empty food tins, dropped
     can openers), and the dross or mud in which all acts of
     socialization and communication occur and subjects find
     themselves partially submerged. The discursive economy supported
     by this mud, the basis for all relationships and social
     organization, is one of rhetorical "incoherencies" (gasps and
     pants, babble or quaqua), enumerations, repetitions,
     permutations, retractions and emendations, agglutinations,
     measurements and taxonomic classifications, and rudimentary
     arithmetical and algebraic operations (grouping, subdividing,

 20. Since the forms of exhaustion described above are related to
     tedium in a highly particular way, Beckett's example indicates
     that there are different kinds or uses of tedium in general,
     necessitating some differentiation between them. What stuplimity
     does not seem to involve is the kind of spiritualistic,
     mesmerizing tedium aimed at the achievement of "higher" states
     of consciousness or selfhood, as engendered by metaphysical
     plays of absence against presence in the work of Meredith Monk,
     Brice Marsden, or Donald Judd. In this case, tedium assumes a
     seriousness and a transcendence more proper to the sublime than
     the stuplime, to an absorptive rather than anti-absorptive
     agenda. Stuplimity also evades the kind of wholly
     anti-absorptive, cynical tedium used to reflect the flattening
     effects of cultural simulacra, as in the work of Warhol and
     Koons. Here tediousness is frequently adopted as aesthetic
     self-stylization or mannerism, which often registers as smugness
     or self-satisfied irony. Whereas the first type of tedium is
     auratic or hypnotic, the effect produced by works utilizing
     tedium in this manner could be described as euphoric.

 21. What stuplime productions do rely on is an anti-auratic,
     anti-euphoric tedium which at times deliberately risks seeming
     obtuse, rather than insist upon its capacity for intellectual or
     spiritual transcendence and/or clever irony. Rather than being
     centered around grandiose questions of being or the
     proliferation of larger-than-life iconography, this boredom
     resides in relentless attention to the abject and the small, the
     bits and scraps floating in what Ben Watson has called the
     "common muck" of language (223). The stuplime resides in the
     synecdochal relationship between these minute materials and a
     vast ecology of repetition and agglutination, the system
     ensuring that parapraxes, portmanteaus, and clichés (rotting
     metaphors) continue to be made. As Beckett writes, "What more
     vigorous fillip could be given to the wallows of one bogged in
     the big world than the example of life to all appearances
     inalienably realised in the little?" (Beckett, Murphy 181).
     Absurdity and black humor play significant roles in this
     aesthetic use of tedium to facilitate linguistic questioning,
     even when such inquiry leads to direct confrontations with
     questions of violence and suffering, as evinced in much post-WW
     II writing. The particular use of "obtuse" boredom as means of
     engaging in linguistic inquiry is also demonstrated in the
     following anecdote, told by Lacan in his 1959 seminar to
     introduce a definition of das Ding as "that which in the real
     suffers from the signifier":

          During that great period of penitence that our country went
          through under Pétain, in the time of "Work, Family,
          Homeland" and of belt-tightening, I once went to visit my
          friend Jacques Prévert in Saint-Paul-de-Vence. And I saw
          there a collection of match boxes. Why the image has
          suddenly resurfaced in my memory, I cannot tell.

          It was the kind of collection that it was easy to afford at
          that time; it was perhaps the only kind of collection
          possible. Only the match boxes appeared as follows: they
          were all the same and were laid out in an extremely
          agreeable way that involved each being so close to the one
          next to it that the little drawer was slightly displaced.
          As a result, they were all threaded together so as to form
          a continuous ribbon that ran along the mantelpiece, climbed
          the wall, extended to the molding, and climbed down again
          next to a door. I don't say that it went on to infinity,
          but it was extremely satisfying from an ornamental point of

          Yet I don't think that that was the be all and end all of
          what was surprising in the collectionism, nor the source of
          the satisfaction that the collector himself found there. I
          believe that the shock of novelty of the effect realized by
          this collection of empty match boxes--and this is the
          essential point--was to reveal something that we do not
          perhaps pay enough attention to, namely, that a box of
          matches is not simply an object, but that, in the form of
          an Erscheinung, as it appeared in its truly imposing
          multiplicity, it may be a Thing.

          In other words, this arrangement demonstrated that a match
          box isn't simply something that has a certain utility, that
          it isn't even a type in the Platonic sense, an abstract
          match box, that the match box all by itself is a thing with
          all its coherence of being. The wholly gratuitous,
          proliferating, superfluous, and quasi absurd character of
          this collection pointed to its thingness as match box. Thus
          the collector found his motive in this form of apprehension
          that concerns less the match box than the Thing that
          subsists in a match box. (Seminar 113-14)

     Lacan uses this "fable" as illustration of his formula for
     sublimation ("[the raising] of an object to the dignity of the
     Thing" [112]), but it works equally well as an example of
     stuplimation, as the concatenation of awe (inspired by "the
     truly imposing") with what refuses awe (the "wholly gratuitous,
     proliferating, superfluous and quasi absurd"). The description
     of the array of matchboxes and their internal voids seems meant
     playfully to recall an earlier moment in the seminar, where
     Lacan claims that the Thing, das Ding, "has to be identified
     with the Wieder zu finden, the impulse to find again that for
     Freud establishes the orientation of the human subject to [a
     lost/absent] object" (Seminar 58). The impulse to find again is
     an impulse towards repetition, one centered around and organized
     by negativity. In the fable above, the repetition which Lacan
     finds simultaneously imposing and ridiculous, threatening and
     non-threatening, leads him straight to this Thing, enabling "the
     sudden elevation of the match box to a dignity that it did not
     possess before" (Seminar 118). Yet this elevation is
     paradoxically achieved through a lowering or abjection, an
     emphasis on the undignified or "wholly gratuitous... superfluous
     and quasi absurd" status of the collection through the
     proliferation of bits and scraps. As the producer of
     "multiplicities," repetition seems to do opposite things
     simultaneously in this anecdote: elevate and absurdify. In
     conjoining these divergent dynamics (raising and lowering,
     trajectory upwards and trajectory downwards), the repetition in
     the fable recalls a similar conjunction of rising and falling in
     the stuplime, through its syncretism of excitation and
     enervation, extreme "selected attentiveness" and deficit of the
     same. Lacan's stuplime array also recalls the structure of a
     typical sentence from The Making of Americans, in which the
     tension created by slightly overlapping phrases performs the
     functions of both disjunction (that which calls attention to the
     spaces between signifying units, figured in the image of "the
     little drawer" exposed) and what Peter Brooks calls the
     "binding" action of repetition (the agglutination expressed in
     "threaded together") (101). And as in the case of Stein, its
     particular kind of tedium also seems willing to risk a certain
     degree of shock value, unlike metaphysical boredom, which risks
     none, and cynical boredom, which demands more than we are often
     willing to give.

 22. The aesthetic differences between sublimity and stuplimity call
     attention to the fact that not all repetitions are alike, a
     point also foregrounded in Kierkegaard's Repetition. When the
     young man on a quest for "real repetition" in Kierkegaard's
     narrative euphorically (and erroneously) believes he has found
     it in the final outcome of his unconsummated love, "[His]
     perhaps disturbing enthusiasm is expressed in terms that only a
     little earlier in aesthetic history were standard when
     describing the sublime: 'spume with elemental fury,' 'waves that
     hide me in the abyss... that fling me up above the stars'"
     (Melberg 76). Significantly, these prototypical invocations of
     sublimity involve the image of elevation, situating the young
     man's relationship to the "ocean providing his 'vortex of the
     infinite'" as an experience of verticality and depth (222). In
     contrast, having chosen to pursue repetition in a
     comic/materialist rather than tragic/romantic arena, Constantin
     Constantius's description of farce as a "frothing foam of words
     that sound without resonance" (Kierkegaard 156) ironically
     references this sublime imagery only to flatten or deflate it,
     reconfiguring the experience of genuine repetition as one of a
     superficial and almost abject horizontality.

          Thus did I lie in my theater box, discarded like a
          swimmer's clothing, stretched out by the stream of laughter
          and unrestraint and applause that ceaselessly foamed by me.
          I could see nothing but the expanse of theater, hear
          nothing but the noise in which I resided. Only at intervals
          did I rise up, look at Beckmann, and laugh so hard that I
          sank back again in exhaustion alongside the foaming stream.
          (Kierkegaard 166)

     In a satirical twist of the young man's invocation of the
     sublime, Constantin's description of his stuplime encounter with
     farce places him not in the elemental fury of a vast and abyssal
     sea, but rather horizontally alongside a mild and insipidly
     picturesque stream; it depicts him not as a mortal body
     engulfed, but as a pile of garments discarded by an absent body.
     Instead of the roaring or crashing of oceanic waves in which one
     becomes lost, we have "plaintive purling" of a small brook on
     the site of the family farm (166). As a "frothing foam of words
     that sound without resonance," farce finds its structural
     counterpart in the mode of its reception: laughter. This
     laughter foams and flows by a self with no substantive content
     or body. Much like the "mushy mass," "flabby mass," or "lax
     condition" Stein attributes to "the being all independent
     dependent being in possibility of formation" in The Making of
     Americans (386), the self who experiences farce is described as
     a body's outline gone flaccid, one having lost its original
     form. In laughter, the self becomes "stretched out" like the
     Steinian sentence itself, which would seem to generate a
     linguistic foam of its own through the cumulative build-up of
     repeated phrases and the repeated abutment and overlapping of
     clauses against others.

 23. Unlike the upheaval of waves that fling the young man towards
     the sky, linguistic "foam" would seem to cling by cohesion to
     the ground, often in accumulated lumps. It is the "vast sea"
     slaver or waste product: the dross of the sublime. Since to
     froth is to produce foam and foam is what froths, Constantin
     Constantius's phrase "frothing foam" is itself a repetition
     (like his own name); one accordingly used by him to characterize
     the form of comedy he finds most repetition-friendly. One seeks
     repetition in what foams or bubbles; thus the comic genius
     Beckmann is described as a "yeasty ingredient" (Kierkegaard
     165). The littoral environment of farce in which Constantin
     pursues repetition might here recall the importance of "foaming"
     language to Stein's comic taxonomy of human "types" in The
     Making of Americans, as exemplified in this description of
     "bottom nature"--where bottom is literally "ground" in the sense
     of dirt:

          The way I feel natures in men and women is this way then.
          To begin then with one general kind of them, this a
          resisting earthy slow kind of them, anything entering into
          them as a sensation must emerge again from through the slow
          resisting bottom of them to be an emotion in them. This is
          a kind of them. This bottom in them then in some can be
          solid, in some frozen, in some dried and cracked, in some
          muddy and engulfing, in some thicker, in some thinner,
          slimier, drier, very dry and not so dry and in some a
          stimulation entering into the surface that is them to make
          an emotion does not get into it, the mass then that is
          them, to be swallowed up in it to be emerging, in some it
          is swallowed up and never then is emerging. (343)

     If Constantin seeks repetition not in the vast sea, but on a
     ground covered by its dross, Stein pursues it in the "slow
     resisting bottom" of language: a relentlessly materialist
     environment of words which similarly summons, yet ultimately
     deflates, the traditional romanticism of the sublime.

 24. Since for Stein, as for Deleuze, all repetition is repetition
     with an internal difference ("a feeling for all changing"
     [Making 301]), for "getting completed understanding [one] must
     have in them an open feeling, a sense for all the slightest
     variations in repeating, must never lose themselves so in the
     solid steadiness of all repeating that they do not hear the
     slightest variation" (294, my emphasis). In contrast to the
     sublime's dramatic awes and terrors, "open feeling" is also
     described as an emotion of indeterminate emotivity, a state of
     utter receptivity that actually slows or impedes reactivity, as
     both astonishment and fatigue are wont to do:

          Resisting being then as I was saying is to me a kind of
          being, one kind of men and women have it as being that
          emotion is not poignant in them as sensation. This is my
          meaning, this is resisting being. Generally speaking them
          resisting being is a kind of being where, taking bottom
          nature to be a substance like earth to someone's feeling,
          this needs time for penetrating to get reaction. Generally
          speaking those having resisting being in them have a slow
          way of responding, they may be nervous and quick and all
          that but it is in them, nervousness is in them as the
          effect of slow-moving going too fast... (Making 347-48, my

     The "open feeling" of resisting being is thus an
     undifferentiated emotional state, one which lacks the
     punctuating "point" of "poignancy." Skepticism is to be expected
     here: how can an affective state exist prior to the making of
     affective distinctions or values? Since, as Greimas and
     Fontanille point out, we tend to automatically assume and
     "reiterate uncritically the notion that living beings are
     structures of attractions and repulsions," it becomes quite
     difficult to imagine how "phoria [might be] thought of prior to
     the euphoria/dysphoria split" (3). Yet stuplimity as "open
     feeling" could serve as an example of the phoria or
     "not-yet-polarized tensive horizon" Greimas and Fontanille ask
     us to imagine; a realm of "gluey" emotivity [Stein] which could
     perhaps be described as "the individual's possibility
     [wandering] about in its own possibility" (Kierkegaard 155).[7]
     It is important to note here that Stein describes the kind of
     subject with "open feeling" as "that kind of being that has
     resisting as its natural way of fighting rather than... that
     kind of being that has attacking as its natural way of fighting"
     (Making 296, my emphasis). As a mode of "open feeling"
     engendered by the syncretism of shock and boredom (that is,
     engendered by an encounter with difference prior to its
     conceptualization), stuplimity also functions as state of
     receptivity that paradoxically enables this tactics of
     "resistance" as a form of critical agency; one which the next
     section attempts to elaborate.

     Linguistic "Heaps"

 25. In one of his most influential and much-discussed essays,
     Frederic Jameson describes postmodernism as an "aesthetic
     situation engendered by the absence of the historical referent,"
     or as an ongoing process of simulacratic spatialization
     disabling our capacity for temporal organization and hence
     relationship to "real historical time" (25). The here and now
     becomes the erewhon of the simulacrum, which "endows present
     reality and the openness of present history with the spell and
     distance of a glossy image" (21). As Jameson continues,

          Yet this mesmerizing new aesthetic mode itself emerged as
          an elaborated symptom of the waning of our historicity, of
          our living possibility to experience history in some active
          way. It cannot therefore be said to produce this strange
          occultation of the present by its own formal power, but
          rather merely to demonstrate, through these inner
          contradictions, the enormity of a situation in which we
          seem increasingly incapable of fashioning representations
          of our own current experience. (21)

     The subject is described as impotent in this regard, having lost
     the ability to "organize [his or her] past and future into
     coherent experience" (Jameson 25, my emphasis).

 26. Since coherent representations of current experience are what
     Jameson (in 1984) finds most lacking in postmodernism as an
     "aesthetic situation engendered by the absence of the historical
     referent," we might take a closer look at how these breakdowns
     in reference and coherence are described, and what types of
     production they are said to result in (25). A good place to do
     so is where Jameson begins to delineate a common feature of
     postmodern textuality, or the "schizophrenic" writing he later
     associates with Cage, Beckett, and Language poetry:

          If, indeed, the subject has lost its capacity actively to
          extend its pro-tensions and re-tensions across the temporal
          manifold and to organize its past and future into coherent
          experience, it becomes difficult to see how the cultural
          productions of such a subject could result in anything but
          "heaps of fragments" and in practice of the randomly
          heterogeneous and fragmentary and the aleatory. These are,
          however, very precisely some of the privileged terms in
          which postmodernist cultural production has been analyzed
          (and even defended, by its own apologists). They are,
          however, still privative features... (25, my emphasis)

     The language of this passage clarifies what Jameson understands
     and expects coherence to be, and what forms he assumes it can
     take. In the movement from "heaps of fragments" to "the
     fragmentary," used to relate a specific kind of production back
     to the practice engendering it, what gets eclipsed from the
     sentence (and the theory) is the heap.

 27. Effaced perhaps in the desire to emphasize fragmentation in
     general (as privation) over its potential effects, this heap
     disappears from the critique of postmodernity just as the
     historical referent is said to do within the aesthetic situation
     it engenders. According to the logic of the paragraph, then,
     "heaping" does not appear to be a valid means of cohering, nor a
     proper form of organization. Yet insofar as for something to
     cohere is for it "to hold together firmly as parts of the same
     mass; broadly: STICK, ADHERE," a heap does seem to be a
     coherence of some sort. The difference seems to be the degree of
     "firmness" involved in the act of sticking, though this is only
     a difference of degree; a less than firm consolidation of parts
     would still be a proper coherence. We might think here of the
     "slowly wobbling," "flabby mass of independent dependent being"
     that is Stein's Martha Hersland, or the "slimy, gelatinous,
     gluey" substance that is "attacking being" disguised as
     "resisting being" (Making 349). As Stein insists, "[s]ome are
     always whole ones though the being in them is all a mushy mass."
     Thus Jameson seems to have a more specific, dictionary
     definition of "coherence" in mind when he excludes from it acts
     of holding-together in general. Insofar as it does not seem to
     cover particular forms of adhesion perceived as loose, limp, or
     unstable (such as heaps or mushy masses), what constitutes a
     legitimate form of coherence here would seem to be the process
     of making "(parts or components) fit or stick together in a
     suitable or orderly way," implying "systematic connection,"
     especially in "logical discourse" (Webster's 216, my italics).
     In its orientation toward (phallo)logical firmness, this
     definition would seem to disavow limpnesses or flaccidities as
     equally viable organizations of matter.

 28. An obvious point that must be stressed here is that what
     constitutes "logical consistency" or "logical discourse" is
     always a standard imposed by the cultural status quo. Might not
     unpredicted and seemingly "accidental" ways of cohering,
     then--even those resulting in unsightly heaps, lumps, and flabby
     masses--point to the possibility of new systems, enabling us to
     critique traditional assumptions about what "systematic
     connection" should look like?

 29. Thus if we follow the logic of Jameson's passage, "coherence"
     appears to be something that can only be imposed from without,
     an abstract concept rather than active manifestation, a
     stabilizing, fixed idea of order dictating in advance how
     particles might be molded or organized, rather than a particular
     activity or becoming by which things are brought together, made,
     into some order. Yet if coherence must imply suitability and
     orderliness as well as adhesion, then how does one describe the
     way hair, teeth, and linotype pieces come to accumulate in
     Hamilton's installations, or words and phrases in the poetry of
     Kenneth Goldsmith? As a noun rather than a verb, the radical
     potentiality of "coherence" to generate new forms and new
     theories of formation becomes limited, restricted to the safe
     domain of the suitable, the orderly, and the aesthetically

 30. Both Jameson's and Stein's notions of coherence are informed by
     and diverge precisely around this question of "consistency."
     Whereas for Jameson the term would seem to imply regularity or
     conformity to a particular ideal, an absence of variations or
     contradictions, consistency for Stein is a matter of
     irregularity and constant flux, as well as a matter of matter:

          There must now then be more description of the way each one
          is made of a substance common to their kind of them,
          thicker, thinner, harder, softer, all of one consistency,
          all of one lump, or little lumps stuck together to make a
          whole one cemented together sometimes by the same kind of
          being sometimes by the other kind of being in them, some
          with a lump hard at the centre liquid at the surface, some
          with the lump vegetablish or wooden or metallic in them.
          Always then the kind of substance, the kind of way when it
          is a mediumly fluid solid fructifying reacting substance,
          the way it acts makes one kind of them of the resisting
          kind of them, the way another substance acts makes another
          kind of them the attacking way of them. It and the state it
          is in each kind of them, the mixing of it with the other
          way of being that makes many kinds of these two kinds of
          them, sometime all this will have meaning. (Making 345, my

     Hilarious and stuplime, this description usefully eludicates the
     main differences between the two notions of coherence. For
     Stein, coherence is a mode of substantiation--a material process
     of making rather than a value or ideal imposed on things made.
     As such, it involves an active potentiality or
     becoming--pointing not just to the creation of new "kinds," but
     of futural meanings. Secondly, coherence structurally
     complexifies, as a process diverse and varied in the ways in
     which it can occur, and the forms in which it may appear.
     Thirdly, coherence functions as a vast combinatory, in which new
     consistencies are produced through the "mixing" or hybridization
     of others.

 31. We can also see that different kinds of material consistency are
     emphasized in the two notions of coherence: firmly constituted
     versus mushy or gelatinous; graspable versus slimy. Generally
     speaking, Jameson's notion of coherence seems a lot less messy
     than Stein's--free of heaps, masses, and lumps. In the passage
     above, the disappearance of the "heap" seems related to the fact
     that Jameson very much wants to see the heaping of fragments as
     indicative of privation rather than accrual--perhaps because the
     accrual implied is so, well, unsightly. Yet as those with
     agricultural, laundry, postal, or waste disposal experience
     might attest, a heap is an organization, though perhaps a not
     particularly organized-looking one.

          This coming together in them to be a whole one is a strange
          thing in men and women. Sometimes some one is very
          interesting to some one, very, very interesting to some one
          and then that one comes together to be a whole one and then
          that one is not any more, at all, interesting to the one
          knowing the one. (Stein, Making 382)

     This passage suggests that how things cohere or come together is
     of intellectual interest to Stein, perhaps more so than the
     actual entities produced through this process. Following her
     lead we might similarly ask, how do the fragments in Jameson's
     "heap of fragments" get heaped? "Practices of the randomly
     heterogeneous and fragmentary and the aleatory" would seem to
     account for the fragments themselves, but leaves the question of
     their particular accumulation unexplained. To further elucidate
     this characterization of late twentieth-century experimental
     writing, Jameson refers to what he calls Lacan's "schizophrenic"
     theory of language, as a "linguistic malfunction" or breakdown
     of the relationships between signifiers in the signifying chain
     that ultimately results in "the form of a rubble" (27). While
     this reference to Lacan seems to elaborate causes for the
     fragmentation discussed above, it nevertheless continues to
     evade, or withhold acknowledgment of, the particular structure
     or organization these fragments assume. Just as the heap in
     "heap of fragments" disappears from critical scrutiny, so does
     the form in "form of rubble." One wants a less reductive or
     dismissive analysis of "breakdown" here, as well as less narrow
     definition of "coherence." Are there not, as Stein suggests,
     multiple and various ways of heaping and cohering?--as well as
     different kinds of linguistic or semiotic rubble? An isolated
     fragment may be an "inert passivity" (Jameson 31), but a heap of
     fragments is more accurately described as a constituent
     passivity, or "passive synthesis"--a term Deleuze applies to the
     work of repetition for itself (72).

 32. Significantly, Jameson finds the waning of historicity endemic
     to postmodernism (as reflected in its textualities) concomitant
     with "a waning of affect" and negative affect in particular.
     Thus "concepts such as anxiety and alienation... are no longer
     appropriate in the world of the postmodern" (14); rather,
     Jameson sees them displaced by euphoria, which he describes as a
     "joyous" or "hallucinatory exhilaration" (33), an ecstasy or
     high. Yet anxiety and alienation in their most hyperbolic
     manifestations--shock and boredom--converge in attempts to
     negotiate historicity by Beckett and Stein, writers Jameson
     himself considers "outright postmodernists" (4). For Stein, the
     work of "telling" or "making" history is inseparable from the
     labor of making of subjects ("kinds of men and women"), which
     itself entails the tedious labor of enumerating,
     differentiating, describing, dividing and sorting, and mixing
     within the chosen limits of a particular system. Such making
     does have its moments of exhilaration, but more generally takes
     place as a painstakingly slow, tiring, and seemingly endless
     "puzzling" over differences and resemblances. Temporal and
     taxonomic "organization" becomes marked by a series of fatigues
     rather than of euphoric highs. Stein accordingly acknowledges
     the number of failures occurring in this struggle for coherence
     (also described as "learning" or "studying" of a new discursive
     system), as well the alienation and anxiety it induces: "Mostly
     every one dislikes to hear it" (Making 289). With this
     projection of a less than receptive audience, writing becomes a
     seemingly isolating enterprise for the taxonomist-poet, who
     finds herself forced to announce "I am writing for myself and
     strangers. This is the only way I can do it" (289). This address
     can be read as a more inclusive formulation of audience,
     however, rather than a restriction of one, if we perceive
     Stein's writing itself as a process of "strangering," of forming
     community based on something other than the satisfactory
     fulfillment of membership conditions.

 33. Reflecting an essentially constructivist world view, everyone
     for Stein is a "kind of," and thus strangered. Yet the
     alienating effects of this subjection are themselves perceived
     as valuable subjects for study: "Mostly always then when any one
     tells it to any one there is much discussing often very much
     irritation. This is then very interesting" (Making 338). Thus
     the narrator finds herself able to continue even at moments
     where she finds herself "all unhappy in this writing... nervous
     and driving and unhappy" (348). For above all, the making of
     "completed history" that is the self-consciously impossible (and
     thus unhappy) fantasy of The Making of Americans, which even
     more impossibly depends on the consolidation of the completed
     history of every single subject, is absolutely synonymous with

          Often as I was saying repeating is very irritating to
          listen to from them and then slowly it settles into a
          completed history of them... Sometimes it takes many years
          of knowing some one before the repeating in that one comes
          to be a clear history of such a one. Sometimes many years
          of knowing some one pass before repeating of all being in
          such a one comes out clearly from them... This is now more
          description of the way repeating slowly comes to make in
          each one a completed history of them. (292)

     Stein's comment that "sometimes many years pass" before
     repeating slowly comes to make a "completed history" finds
     contemporary realization in On Kawara's One Million Years (Past)
     (1970-1972), a series of ten black, official-looking ledgers,
     each containing 2000 pages listing 500 years per page, from
     998031 B.C. to 1969 A.D.[8] The sublimity of such a vast amount
     of time is trumped by its organization into bureaucratic
     blandness; comprehension of one million years is rendered
     manageable, if also tedious, when consolidated in a set of ring
     binders bearing some resemblance to the complete Starr Report.
     Yet this tedium turns back into astonishment when we come to
     realize the amount of time and labor it took (two years worth)
     to make such a severely minimal product. Dedicated to "All those
     who have lived and died," what this piece records is not so much
     a completed "history," though it certainly speaks to the fantasy
     of or desire for this, but the time spent in the attempt to
     organize one even in the most stark and reductive way. The hic
     et nunc postmodernism of Kawara may be very different from
     Stein's avant le lettre variety, yet the comparison points to
     how The Making of Americans deliberately stages its own failure
     by setting itself against an impossible fantasy of absolute
     historical coherence or explicitness, usually imagined as an
     incipient future: "Sometime there will be here every way there
     can be of seeing kinds of men and women. Sometime there will be
     then a complete history of each one" (290); "Sometime then there
     will be a complete history of every one who ever was or is or
     will be living" (283). Or even more hyperbolically: "Sometime
     there will be a description of every kind of way any one can
     know anything, any one can know any one" (311); "sometime there
     will be a completed system of kinds of men and women, of kinds
     of men and kinds of women" (334).

 34. While stuplimity offers no fantasy of transcendence, it does
     provide small subjects with what Stein calls "a little
     resistance" in their confrontations with larger systems. The
     fatigues generated by the system which is The Making of
     Americans may be "nervous and driving and unhappy," but such
     fatigues can also be darkly funny, as Beckett's Molloy, Keaton,
     Harpo Marx, and Pee Wee Herman remind us by their exhausting
     routines: running endless laps around a battleship, trying to
     enter a door, falling down and getting up again, collapsing in
     heaps. Significantly, the humor of these local situations
     usually occurs in the context of a confrontation staged between
     the small subject and powerful institutions or machines: thus we
     have Chaplin versus the assembly line; Keaton versus military
     engines such as The Navigator (a supply ship) and The General (a
     locomotive); Lucille Ball versus domesticity. Here we might add:
     Stein versus her own taxonomy. Critics have persuasively
     suggested that Stein's refusal of linear for cyclical or
     repetitive time signals a rejection of official (male) history
     for a temporality specific to feminine subjectivity, formulated
     by Kristeva as "the eternal recurrence of a biological rhythm"
     (113). Yet this preference for the cycle, one of "driving"
     excitations and fatigues, could equally suggest Stein in Chaplin
     drag. By adopting this particular cultural role, Stein chooses
     the artifice of comedic "types" over the seriousness of
     "biological rhythm" as a preferred strategy for feminist and
     linguistic change.

 35. Just as in Kierkegaard's Repetition, where Constantin describes
     himself, consumed by laughter at a farce, as a pile of discarded
     clothes, the "kinds" of subjects produced in The Making of
     Americans function like garments without bodies, heap-like
     outlines, as it were, waiting to be "filled up" with the
     repeating (the discourse) that makes them "whole ones."
     Whole--but loose as opposed to firm. In The Autobiography of
     Alice B. Toklas, Stein calls attention to the male comedian's
     use of misshapen or "misfit" clothes "later so well known on
     Charlie Chaplin," clothes that "were all the delight of Picasso
     and all his friends" (qtd. in Wagner-Martin 75)--i.e., Stein
     herself, well known for her own loose and flapping garb. We see
     here again the role of limpnesses or "flabby masses" in
     counteracting an oppressive System's fantasies of phallic
     virility: the clothes worn by Chaplin so admired by Stein are,
     of course, always falling down. Hence slackness becomes
     underscored by slacklessness. Stein's love of the wobbling heap
     or mushy mass similarly recalls the strange fascination with
     dough in Chaplin films. As if in anticipation of Oldenberg's
     soft and puffy typewriters and other machines, or Yayoi Kusama's
     squishy penis-shaped pillows covered with polka-dots, Chaplin
     shapes flabby substance into handcuffs and missiles (Dough and
     Dynamite, 1914). Perhaps to ask us to imagine: what might happen
     to the machine when the exaggeratedly obedient cog within it,
     while continuing to maintain its function, goes limp? As when
     the characters played by Chaplin or Keaton, continually in
     confrontation with the larger systems enclosing them, repeatedly
     fall into heaps? Here we might also imagine the incontinent
     Molloy, collapsed under his bicycle, or Murphy, overcome by the
     "total permutability" of his biscuit assortment ("edible in a
     hundred and twenty ways!") (Beckett, Murphy 97).

 36. In the tradition of Beckett and Stein, formulating a materialist
     poetic response to the "total permutability" of language is
     perhaps what is most at stake for poets like Farrell and
     Goldsmith, as well as visual artists like Zweig. For these
     postmodern practictioners, the staging of "accidental
     concretions," as Constantin describes the comic character in
     farce [Kierkegaard 163], strategically enables us to find new
     forms of "coherence" in an incoherent world--such as seen in
     Alice Notley's feminist epic poem, The Descent of Alette (1996):

          "When the train" "goes under water" "the close tunnel" "is
          transparent" "Murky water" "full of papery" "full of
          shapelessness" "Some fish" "but also things" "Are they made
          by humans?" "Have no shape," "like rags" "like soggy
          papers" "like frayed thrown-away wash cloths"... [16]

          "There is a car" "that is nothing but" "garbage" "Shit &
          spittle" "dropped food" "frayed brownness" "dirty matter"
          "pressed down & flattened" "Paper piled" "piled on the
          floor" "heaped on the benches" "Napkins yellowed" "tampons
          bloody"... (17)

     Each quoted phrase, in being presented as a citation, becomes
     "thick" and carries with it a behindness or prior
     context--creating a series of halts or delays in the narrative
     produced through their accumulation.[9] There's clearly nothing
     "accidental" about this concretion of language, yet the poem
     nevertheless seeks to look like one. For like the massive
     accumulations of "dirty matter" in Hamilton's installations,
     Stein's mushy masses, and the lumps formed by comic actors in
     their continual collapses and falls, such concretions challenge
     existing notions of form and aesthetic order. We can see how
     unsightly "heaping" offers what Stein might call a "little
     resistance" strategy for the postmodern subject, always already
     a linguistic being, hence always a small subject caught in large
     systems. For as Deleuze suggests,

          There are two known ways to overturn moral law. One is by
          ascending towards the principles: challenging the law as
          secondary, derived, borrowed, or 'general'; denouncing it
          as involving a second-hand principle which diverts an
          original force or usurps an original power. The other way,
          by contrast, is to overturn the law by descending towards
          the consequences, to which one submits with a too-perfect
          attention to detail. By adopting the law, a falsely
          submissive soul manages to evade it and to taste pleasures
          it was supposed to forbid. We can see this in demonstration
          by absurdity and working to rule, but also in some forms of
          masochistic behaviour which mock by submission. (5)

     This "too-perfect attention to detail" is the main strategy
     utilized by Notley, Goldsmith, and Farrell, all of whom
     exaggeratedly follow structural laws in their work; Farrell the
     days of the calendar ("Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday... "),
     Goldsmith the mechanisms of the body ("Swallow. Arm lifts. Arm
     drops... "). It appears also the main strategy used by Stein's
     endlessly classifying and subdividing narrator in Making of
     Americans, as well as by the comic in farce. For as Deleuze also
     notes, while one can oppose the law by trying to ascend above
     it, one can also do so by means of humor, "which is an art of
     consequences and descents, of suspensions and falls" (5, my
     emphasis). Like other "falsely submissive souls" before them,
     some postmodern American poets follow this path in their
     confrontations with the systems encompassing them, formulating a
     stand-against by going limp or falling down, among the bits and
     scraps of linguistic matter.

           Department of English and American Literature and Language
                                                   Harvard University






     1. I've imported this expression from Duchamp's TRANS/formers,
     Lyotard's study of Duchamp's Large Glass. Lyotard's analysis of
     Duchamp's aesthetics as underwritten by a logic of "inexact
     precision" and "intelligent stupidity" seems very much in
     attunement with the poetics of Stein and contemporary Steinians.

     2. Quotations are taken from the FIDGET website, which is
     sponsored by the Whitney Museum of American Art, Printed Matter,
     and Stadium, and is available at
     <>. FIDGET was originally
     commissioned by the Whitney Museum and was performed in
     collaboration with vocalist Theo Bleckmann on June 16, 1998 at
     the Whitney. A book and compact disc were issued by the Maryland
     Institute of Art in 1998.

     3. As Raphael Rubinstein notes in his blurb for this volume,
     "Goldsmith's epic litanies and lists bring to the textual
     tradition of conceptual art not only an exploded frame of
     reference, but a hitherto absent sense of hypnotic beat. Under
     its deceptively bland title, No. 111 2.7.93-10.20.96 attempts no
     less than a complete reordering of the things of the world."

     4. For those curious about the (original?) text claiming to
     "appropriate" the Declaration of Independence which Goldsmith
     edits for incorporation into his own conceptual framework, the
     self-referential story is written by mathematician David Moser
     and cited by Douglas Hofstadter in Metamagical Themas, 37-41.
     Ultimately, however, what determines this text's positioning
     between MDCLXXXV and MDCLXXXVII in Goldsmith's poem?
     encyclopedia? Baedeker? is the fact that it contains the
     appropriate number of syllables, and, like the other rhymed
     "verses," ends with a sound related to the sound "R": "Harder
     harder" [568]. Yet the point is not simply to dramatize a
     privileging of form over content, since the hetergenous
     assortment of works chosen to build this aggressively prosodic
     text pointedly direct us to the untotalizable linguistic world
     of the late twentieth century.

     5. Frederic Jameson makes this point about boredom alone in
     "Surrealism and the Unconscious," his chapter on video in
     Postmodernism, or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism:
     "Boredom becomes interesting as a reaction to situations of
     paralysis and also, no doubt, as defense mechanism or avoidance
     behavior" (71-72). Deleuze suggests similar possibilities in
     noting that "fatigue is a real component of contemplation" (77).

     6. I am convinced this characterization is Sontag's but have
     been unable to find source.

     7. This description by Constantin of farce and its effect on
     spectators suggests that its "frothing foam of words" is yet
     another modulation of nonpolarized "phoric tension": "Seeing a
     farce can produce the most unpredictable mood, and therefore a
     person can never be sure whether he has conducted himself in the
     theater as a worthy member of society who has laughed and cried
     at the appropriate places" (Kierkegaard 160); thus farce enables
     the viewer to "maintain himself in the state in which not a
     single mood is present but the possibility of all" (161). Farce
     obstructs the "unanimity" of emotional impressions "and,
     strangely enough, it may so happen that the one time it made the
     least impression it was performed best" (160, my emphasis).

     8. Exhibited at PS 1, Deep Storage. New York, 1998.

     9. In the Author's Note to The Descent of Alette, Notley offers
     "A word about the quotation marks. People ask about them, in the
     beginning; in the process of reading the poem, they become
     comfortable with them, without necessarily thinking precisely
     about why they're there. But they're there, mostly, to measure
     the poem. The phrases they enclose are poetic feet. If I had
     simply left white spaces between the phrases, the phrases would
     be rushed by the reader—read too fast for my musical intention.
     The quotation marks make the reader slow down and silently
     articulate—not slur over mentally—the phrases at the pace, and
     with the stresses, I intend. They also distance the narrative
     from myself, the author: I am not Alette. Finally they may
     remind the reader that each phrase is a thing said by a voice:
     this is not a thought, or a record of thought-process, this a
     story, told."

                               Works Cited

     Beckett, Samuel. How It Is. New York: Grove Press, 1964.

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