Some quotations from Marjorie Perloff's "The Invention of Collage," in The Futurist Moment: Avant-Garde, Avant Guerre, and the Language of Rupture. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1986.
Collage composition, as it developed simultaneously in France, Italy, and Russia (and slightly later in Germany and Anglo-America) is distinguished from the "paste-ups" of the nineteenth century in that it always involves the transfer of materials from one context to another, even as the original context cannot be erased. As the authors of the recent Group Mu manifesto put it:
Each cited element breaks the continuity or the linearity of the discourse and leads necessarily to a double reading: that of the fragment perceived in relation to its text of origin; that of the same fragment as incorporated into a new whole, a different totality. The trick of collage consists also of never entirely suppressing the alterity of these elements reunited in a temporary composition. (34-35)
Or, in Louis Aragorn's words... ("The principle of collage is the introduction [into the painting] of an object, a substance, taken from the real world and by means of which the painting, that is to say the world that is imitated, finds its whole self once again open to question." (119) 47-48
Here it may be helpful to remember that collage, literally a pasting, is also a slang expression for two people living (pasted) together -- that is to say, an illicit sexual union -- and that the past participle collé means "faked" or "pretended." The word collage thus becomes itself an emblem of the systematic play of difference," the mise en question of representation that is inherent in its verbal-visual structure. 51
An intuitive grasp of how the world might be put together -- here is the mainspring of collage structure as the artists of the avant-guerre envisioned it...
Collage is, by definition, a visual or spatial concept, but it was soon absorbed into the verbal as well as into the musical realm. From Marinetti's Zang Tumb Tuum [which you can view at http://www.colophon.com - look for The Italian Futurist Book exhibit], it was just a short and perhaps inevitable step to Apollinaire's Calligrammes, William Carlos Williams' Kora in Hell or T.S. Eliot's [The] Waste Land, a poem whose collage composition is at least partially the result of the cuts made by Ezra Pound, himself the great master in English of collage form. 72
On the visual level, collage entails the loss of a coherent pictorial image; on the verbal, the loss of what David Antin calls "the stronger logical relations" between word groups in favor of those of similarity, equivalence, and identity. In collage, hierarchy gives way to parataxis -- "one corner is as important as another corner." Which is to say that there is no longer a central ordering system, that presence, as Rosalind Krauss puts it, is replaced by discourse, a "discourse founded on a buried origin." (38) 75
As the mode of detachment and readherence, of graft and citation, collage inevitably undermines the authority of the individual self, the "signature" of the poet or painter. 76
Indeed, to collage elements from impersonal, external sources-- the newspaper, magazines, television, billboards -- is to understand, as it were, that, in a technological age, consciousness itself becomes a process of graft or dictation, a process by means of which we make the public world our own. "L'art," says Louis Aragon in La Peinture au défi (1930), ...(Art has truly ceased to be individual, even when the artist is himself a confirmed individualist, for, even as we neglect individuals, we can trace across the moments of their separate thoughts, a vast argument that borrows from their conscious intervention only in passing.") (57)
But it does not follow that collage is essentially a "degraded" or "alienated" version of earlier (and presumably superior) genres. "...(There is born from these negations, an affirmative idea that has been called the personality of choice). (53) 77
Sources she cites:
Group Mu, eds. Collages, Revue d'Esthétique, nos. 3-4. Paris: Union Générale d'Editions, 1978.
Rosalind Krauss. The Originality of the Avant-Guarde and Other Modernist Myths. Cambridge and London: MIT Press, 1985.
Louis Aragon. Les Collages. Paris: Hermann, 1980.
Feb 4: Last week we touched briefly on definitions of collage; I revealed that mine would include the reuse of language in a way that alters its context. Today I was reading an on-going debate about "Google sculpting" (or flarfing) (in which you Google a phrase, or a word + a date, or whatever, and pull language not from the pages turned up, but from the partial sentences and broken up quotes Google displays on the search results page). By "on-going debate" I mean Tony Tost's essay about K. Silem Mohammad's Deer Head Nation, + an attack, by Dan Hoy, on both the review & the book, + Tost's reply to that. Anyway, the original review places the practices of collage in the wider contexts of Modernism and even in the context of the Muse -- which is, after all, a source outside the poet, reputed to inject the poet with language. Here, for example --
the idea of a generative outside source is an ancient one, from classical invocations to the muses to Milton entering William Blake's foot as a comet to dictate poetry to him. In Spicer's first Vancouver lecture, in June of 1965, he articulates his theories:
According to Spicer, an essential element of the outside source is its remoteness; the distance a poet (or the source) must travel is a sign of the message's claim to urgency. To illustrate this ideal, Spicer famously referred to the poet as a kind of radio: “essentially you are something which is being transmitted into.”9 The importance of technology is notable here, whether it is the invention of the radio which allows Spicer's Martians to dictate messages to the poet or whether it is the evolution and popularization of the Internet to such a degree that the Google search engine allows Mohammed to access social climates and circles that – whether because of geography, race, class or inclination – he would not otherwise access.
These articles are rather long -- especially Hoy's -- and spend rather too much time trawling the mud of literary posturing (yes, I know it's an outrageously mixed metaphor; but it's more interesting than three guys blowing hot air in each other's faces). (Actually, Tony Tost tries hard to be civil.) Anyway, despite that aspect the whole discussion should be useful for anyone interested in collage, or in technology and its intersections with poetry, politics, and ethics.
So here's Tony Tost's essay, in Fascicle --
And here's Dan Hoy's attack in Jacket on the world of Google sculpting, Tost & Mohammed included --
And here's Tony Tost's response to that, on his log --
If it's archived by the time you look for it, its opening line is "An odd read here. I'm on about my fourth time..."
And here's a discussion of Google sculpting taken from the Buffalo Poetics Listserv, collated by Charles Bernstein & posted on a course syllabus under the title "The Flarf Files" --
619: 001: Special Topics in Writing:
George Mason University
George Mason University
English 619:002Spring 2006
David King Hall 2054
Robinson A 455A
R 5:30-6:45 &
Our Writing Exercises