European Network for Avant-Garde
and Modernist Studies
University of Helsinki, Finland
29–31 August 2015
“Language Writing’s Concrete Utopia: From Leningrad to Occupy”
Language writing has a differential, both concrete and critical, relationship to the horizon of utopia—which, we should remember, is a “nonplace,” an alternative time and space that is only momently (or eventally) possible as lived experience. “Language” itself offers an expansive and holistic medium for poetry as a ground for combinatorial fantasy and potential agency that simultaneously invokes radical particularity, material opacity, spatial alterity, and temporal deferral; “language” is a poetic nonsite that may be powerfully transformative, if not finally utopian, in its radical potential. In this paper, I will chart the relationship of Language writing to the horizon of utopia at four specific moments: 1) in its development of poetic practice in radical formal terms, as a social formation, and as a collective practice (seen in terms of the material history of its publications and performances); 2) on the occasion of four Language writers’ participation in a conference on avant-garde poetics in Leningrad, in the former Soviet Union at the end of Perestroika (1989), and our subsequent multiauthored account, Leningrad: American Writers in the Soviet Union (1991); 3) with the completion of the multiauthored The Grand Piano: An Experiment in Collective Autobiography by ten Language writers who met in San Francisco in the 70s (2006–10); and 4) after the performance and reception of The Grand Piano in a series of readings in the Bay Area during the Occupy movement of 2011 and the convergence of certain tendencies of the Occupy movement with avant-garde poetries such as Language writing. The convergence of Language writing with the events of Occupy, and their continuation as a radical democratic, anticapitalist politics, is an exemplary instance of concrete utopia.