Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Approaches to Writing

Last week I visited the University of British Columbia, curious to see the recently completed Audain Art Centre, which, like everything else that is new on campus, is taller than it is wider.

While en route I popped into the under-reconstruction UBC Bookstore, where I looked in horror at the Creative Writing Program's assigned titles. But then, what did I expect?

Despite founder Earle Birney's mid-60s forays into concrete poetry, and Robert Harlow's curiosity about the postmodern novel, UBC Creative Writing has never been a place for formal innovation, certainly not since George McWhirter and his deans made it a "success-oriented" program, as opposed to a site of experimentation. (At least the University of Victoria had the good sense to drop "Creative" from their Department of Writing.)

As I neared the exit I saw in the discount bin a book I had lent out years ago, but never saw again: a "50th Anniversary Edition" of Josef Albers's Interaction of Color (1963). Needless to say I scooped it up and am happy to report that the colo(u)r plates are, as one might expect with today's technology, most excellent.

Those familiar with Albers will know that the artist left Germany for the United States in 1933, after the Nazi's effectively closed down the Bauhaus. It was around this time that Nathalie Serraute began to write her first "tropisms".

Recall what Serraute says in yesterday's post about perceptions of the "Nouveau Roman" writers (of which she was associated) as "cool calculators who began by constructing their theories, which they then decided to put into practice with their books. This explains the fact that their novels have been described as 'laboratory experiments'."

Here is Albers (from Page 1) on that same subject:

This book, therefore, does not follow an academic conception
of "theory and practice."
It reverses this order and places practice before theory,
which, after all, is the conclusion of practice.

Now consider these writings in relation to the writings of visual artists associated with the Conceptual art of the 1960s and 70s, many of whom (such as Dan Graham and Douglas Huebler) are included in the inaugural exhibition at the Audain Art Centre's as-yet unnamed gallery, an exhibition which itself is an anniversary "re-issue" of an exhibition that happened at the UBC Fine Arts Gallery thirty-four years ago.

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