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The Importance of Source Texts?

I've been reading Poetry On & Off The Page by Marjorie Perloff and I am really enjoying it. Perloff is so lucid and engaging. One of the essays in her book, The Music of Verbal Space, really got me thinking about source texts. In this essay she discusses John Cage's "What You Say. . . ," I have only read a little of John Cage's compositions/poetry and did not have much of a context for what he was doing (other than a general notion of musicalizing language). Cage's mesostics interest me in terms of the verbalvisual play (as Finnegan's Wake fascinates me with its play with sound), but after reading Perloff's essay I am a lot more fascinated. In particular, I am fascinated by the idea of a written through text and its relationship to the source text. For example, Cage's "What You Say . . .," takes Jasper John's statement at the end of a Geelhaar interview and minaturizes it ( as well as sending it through various "chance operations" such as the Mesolist and IC programs).

The results are fascinating (if results is even the right term). On its own, it is interesting in terms of sound (of course) and mesostics, but it is even more fascinating in connection to the source text. In the source text Jasper Johns talks about dealing with space and time and proposes the question:

"Does one have something; move into it; occupy it; divide it; make the best one can of it? I think I do different things at different times and perhaps at the same time."

Cage's writing through this text does exactly that. He occupies, divides, and creates music at different and same times. The sound structures are elaborate. Verbivocovisual (as Joyce would say).

Yet, if I were coming to Cage's "What You Say . . . ," without the source text (and perhaps a nice introduction by Perloff) I might see his texts as "new" and "interesting" and "revolutionary." Permissive and full of possibilites, yes, but I would mostly see texture and not the multidirectional (or multifunctional) aspects of his work.

If someone else came to Cage's text with no familiarity of the context he is coming out of (the rich tradition of avant garde art) they might think his texts are just random but perhaps cool (as in new). In other words, put it in Fence magazine along with some sonnets by Gerald Stern and viola a nice open-minded mix of various texts.

Note: Is it possible to distinguish between strong and weak contexts? Or more specifically, how might the context (all texts have contexts right?) of Fence magazine weaken the potentials of a John Cage text?

So, the larger question is: How important is access/awareness of the source text to the work of Jackson Mac Low, John Cage (and others)? What is lost without the source text (and perhaps the larger context in general)?

In a more contemporary vein, how important are the search terms of flarf generated poetics?

For me, my awareness of the string/search words doesn't really enhance my reading of flarf texts. But maybe I am wrong. Maybe more pure flarf texts would benefit from knowing the process/search terms.
In my own writing practice I use flarf with a heavy hand. So perhaps it is not flarf, but merely google.
I randomly google two words that are suggesting themselves in a current stream of writings and then cut and paste the first two lines of the results from google, rearrange and restructure them, then insert them into various poems (thus creating theme strings or narrative strings). Other times I might start with flarf generated texts as a touchstone and let the energy spead from those chance texts (a writing though?)

But, so far, in almost all cases, the flarf generated texts are half (or more) submerged into the poems. Not quite seamless, but I certainly don't think a knowledge of the word strings would add much to possible readings of the poems. I am of course at least half-blind to my own work!





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