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Interview with Vanessa Place

Vanessa Place is widely considered to be one of the figureheads of contemporary conceptual poetry, yet while books such as the seminal Notes on Conceptualisms, co-authored with Robert Fitterman, or Dies: A Sentence are very much works in the literary tradition, a great deal of Vanessa Place’s writings, makings and doings exist between art and poetry. Books like Statement of Facts, which reproduces Statements of Facts from some of Place’s own appellate briefs (she is also a criminal attorney), art exhibitions such as The Lawyer is Present, in which Place collected confessions from audience members while hiding behind a mirror and then performed the same with all identifying information removed, and projects such as retyping the novel Gone With the Wind on Twitter and performing silent readings of extracts that culminate in her vocalisation of the final line ‘After all, tomorrow is another day’, overflow categorisation as either poetry or art and ultimately renegotiate the borderlines separating the two.

 

One of Place’s latest endeavours, VanessaPlace Inc., is among other things a push to expropriate the territory of the conceptual from the (visual) art world, if not to explicitly appropriate said territory for poetry. Thus far, the company has released two products for sale: $20, a booklet of 20 one dollar bills that sold out at fifty dollars apiece, and PoetryPays, a small glass bottle containing a piece of earth, created ‘in commemoration of the 2013 groundbreaking ceremony for New York’s Museum of Language’.

 

After a few emails volleyed back and forth, Vanessa suggested that we ask VanessaPlace Inc.’s in-house philosopher Kyoo Lee, Professor of Philosophy at the City University of New York and author of the book Reading Descartes Otherwise: Blind, Mad, Dreamy, and Bad, to annotate our exchange. Below is our interview by correspondence, accompanied by Kyoo’s footnotes.

 

Q

The White Review

— What kind of company is VanessaPlace Inc.? Does it have a mission statement?{*}

 

{*}‘It is a puzzle. I am not puzzled but it is a puzzle…’ (Susan B. Anthony in Gertrude Stein)

A

Vanessa Place

— To quote from our website (http://vanessaplace.biz/about/): ‘VanessaPlace Inc. is a trans-national corporation whose sole mission is to design and manufacture objects to meet the poetic needs of the human heart, face, and form.’ Put another way, poetry is not the point, it’s the platform. 

Q

The White Review

— I hear an echo of Marshall McLuhan’s ‘the medium is the message’ in ‘poetry is the platform’ and it leads me to wonder if yours is intended to be as broad an assessment of poetry as McLuhan’s was of media or if the slogans of VanessaPlace Inc. are meant only to apply to this particular enterprise.{*}

 

{*} ‘Poetry is not the point, it’s the platform’: ‘it’, running on splittingly, pointing to poetry and not-poetry at once with contiguous ambiguity, becomes a ‘platform’ of some sorts. ‘Put another way’, it is or rather comes to be a (w)hole, the (w)hole of ‘a thing … a hole in a thing it is not’ (Carl Andre cited by Craig Dworkin, No Medium).

A

Vanessa Place

— Of course it is necessarily broad, even an indictment. Though I would note that at this point there is very little that is contemporary that is not primarily of the platform. Hirst being perhaps the easiest example of this.

Q

The White Review

— For fear of passing over too much in silence, would you mind expanding on those points?

A

Vanessa Place

— The work ‘For the Love of God’ was not the thing of the diamond-encrusted skull as object, but rather the Ding of the skull as platform, as the means by which many things could generate and circulate. So the work is the circulation of the signified signifier, the way the image serves as thing to buy tickets to see, to buy the merch to display, to read the articles about, to discuss and to disseminate. It is a matter of participation that differs significantly from the old model of spectacularisation. The platform is the point – and Hirst’s great work is his corporate platforming, most elegantly in the Dots series. And this is of course true in poetry as well. As elegantly demonstrated by VanessaPlace Inc.{*}

 

{*} The platform, a zone of ‘part-taking’ (a proto-Platonic puzzle of participatory identification), is where one comes to face ‘the book’ open(ed up) to the other, including and especially of one’s own, Facebook being one such platform… The poetic platform of ‘sobjectivity’ (Vanessa Place and Robert Fitterman, Notes on Conceptualisms) comes to act as a specular echo-chamber, a movable anchor. That is to say, ‘we are the world,’ or supposed to be(come), one platform folded into and expanding into a set of platforms.  

Q

The White Review

— This model of partaking in art via the consumption of commercialised goods serves to clothe the human face and form in various ways, but what would you say is its use value for the human heart? And what is it that VanessaPlace Inc. is looking to do in this mode of corporate platforming that is not already available on the market? 

A

Vanessa Place

— But you are wrong; it’s not consumption, it’s participation. What VanessaPlace Inc. does is offer, like other forms of social media, which are, again, mediums, a unique opportunity for the production of highly personalised, yet highly accessible, curated engagements with oneself and others. Or oneself as others, and vice versa, which is the very pith of an aesthetic object, and, if I may say, its use. Empire aesthetics, if you want a handle on it.

Q

The White Review

— I would argue that consumption is a kind of participation, as the Hirst example would suggest, but that may be beside the point. What is the impetus for making poetry – a much maligned, or worse yet, unread form of literature – in this ‘empire’ mode. Is this the meek making their inheritance bid?{*}

 

{*}Truly, poetry being this ‘strange art, the writing of which hardly costs money but then hardly makes money, either…’ (윤후명)

A

Vanessa Place

— And participation is a kind of consumption, yes? Meek? Hardly. As I’ve argued before, and will again, in the age of semio-capitalism, where what we trade are signs and signifiers, most precious of which is the fungible unit of the individual – to wit, Facebook, tumblr, mutatis mutandis – the poetic ‘I’ is the gold standard, the essential unit of exchange. Put another way, poets are the unacknowledged hedge fund managers of the world. Poetry pays.{*}

 

{*}‘Poetry pays’ in the circulation of various ‘codes’ in semio-capitalism that increasingly rests on the planetary fungibility of musical logos and pathos, for instance. What happens when a poem – an otherwise hardly known, barely read, almost unwritten piece – gets ‘incorporated’ into the lyrics of a pop song which would then turn into a ‘logo’, a distant, mythic, postmodern cousin of λόγος? A unification of some sorts, part of that ‘corporate platforming’, occurs via this measured coupling of capital & any ‘heart of the matter’; a brand gets established, money is made, and one goes on, and on. What next? Like it or not, the poetic ‘I’ would then turn into ‘the essential unit of exchange’, exchange of stylised hopes and datalogised desires, especially when ‘liked’ online, ‘face-valued’, so to speak; how likeable – in deed?! The rapidly mono-lingualised and market-diversified ‘genres’ of ‘apt/apped’ feelings get post-industrially ‘transindividuated’ (cf. Gilbert Simondon, Bernard Stiegler) to capital effects; often than not, iFeel some corporatised affects. To repeat: poets, the underdog archivists of future anteriority, are the underappreciated ‘linguistic hedge fund managers’, the underpaid readers and writers of ‘metadata without code’ (Charles Bernstein, Recalculating), and that is a fact, one that remains indeed strangely artistic, as ‘the lyric “I” is as fundamental to poetry as a pig to a sty,’ as Vanessa Place summates, rather post-Socratically, through this ‘Lament of the Makers: Conceptualism and Poetic Freedom’ (2013).      

Q

The White Review

— Indeed, to your first point. As for the place of poets in semio-capitalism, they seem less an elite cabal pulling strings to create a new world order than a Taiwan of the arts, seeking the recognition given to the true powerhouse platforms and platformers – social networks, cinema, the novel, and their practitioners. But to come back to the ‘fungible unit of the individual’, is this to say that Empire aesthetics – and VanessaPlace Inc. – are concerned with the transformation of the self and perhaps some non-transcendent sublime? If so, how so?

A

Vanessa Place

— You structure the world vertically in the first part of your first sentence, then contradict this with the horizontal structures embedded in the second part. Though thinking of the novel as a powerhouse of platforms, or the cinema as a relevant art, is very funny. I point this out only by way of underscoring that the medium of social media is where cultural capital lies – Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook, vimeo, YouTube, for the moment – and this is a medium that deals in the compression of signifiers that can be scanned, then read, if one likes. Poetry idem.

 

To come back to Empire aesthetics, then, it is not so much about a transformation of self, but the immanent properties thereof. What we know, and have known, ever since angels peopled pinheads and shadows sprung from caves, is that sublimity and transcendence (and we could have a picnic over their clingy coupling) is part of what we see as, if not in the last of us, at least in all of them. There is a long explanation about the way this snakes through the histories of poetry and criticism as each trails its own fingers across the river Styx. Souls, as it turns out, are as persistent as plague. I should know – I’ve been buying them.{*}

 

{*}Says the lawyer, renouncingly, who knows a thing or two about the properties to protect – for law (and logos by extension, says the philosopher, buttingly) ‘is a louche beast. The entire job of the law …] is to stuff ooze into prefabricated forms, to take unwieldy facts and act as if they are, like fiction, calculable, disposable in the sense of ‘consumed by its functional use’. The weak link is the case that exposes the inutility of the legal process qua processing plant, where ontology meets the dérive. i.e., that this disposability is not a question of utility or perfect consumption (facts in, law out) but rather of immateriality, the writing-off of what can’t be written (raising the question of whether it is the law itself that is the excrescence, or its undigested bits).’

 

Look for those undigested bits, the indigestible ‘I’ that voices without speaking or speaks in other ‘derivative’ voices: any heart of the poetic matter or the heart of any poetic matter. Move in, or move out, as necessary, making ‘it’ mobile ­– the poetic I, a vocal platform of non-self-same selves, in particular, often grammatologically singularizsed or ideologically singled out as ‘I/i,’ all subjected to the law of the Real/the performative logic of a byproduct where the real is transported. Place poetry there, leaving the infra-thin traces of poetry alone. 

Q

The White Review

— Speaking of buying and selling things that sidestep standard valuation, would you be willing to talk about the company’s first product, $20, and upcoming product launches? Also, how much does a soul go for these days?

A

Vanessa Place

— Souls are individually negotiated, as you might suspect. I only buy the souls of published poets, as they are more presumably precious (in terms of use value) than lesser noumenon. Those who are interested tell me their best price estimate, and we go on from there until we can agree on terms. One person eventually paid me $8 to take it off his hands. The chapbook, $20, was a beautiful book of pure liquid poetry, a frictionless fusion of art as life, life as art, capital by its many virtues excellent, and was, as you note, snapped up in a second. Forthcoming is Poetry Pays, a compact poem about the groundbreaking ceremony that VanessaPlace Inc., held outside New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art to dedicate the new Museum of Language. One of a series of engagements in which poetry informs art that inasmuch as art has relied on language to be its puppet since the birth of abstraction, poetry will now ventriloquise art. Poetry now being 15 minutes ahead of art.{*}

 

{*}Poetry goes ahead. Poet, go ahead. 

Q

The White Review

— What is at the heart of this distinction/competition between poetry and art for you? And, to follow up on the question prior, have you been looking into buying the souls of any dead poets, perhaps in the way the LDS Church converts the dead with proxy baptism? Buying Goethe’s soul would be quite the marketing coup if nothing else.

A

Vanessa Place

— The competition has been extant since Aristotle, though Lessing set the pith of its terms in Laocoön. Which has to do with medium superiority and how poetry works in time and painting in space. My position relative to VanessaPlace Inc. is to champion poetry as such. The relevant question here, however, is whether there remains any tenable difference in kind between poetry and art, or if there is only a distinction in discourse. Which is a matter of marketing, I believe. Otherwise, no distinction lies: time is space, space time – we scan both images and words and decide what we will read, which is to say, recode.

 

I only buy the souls of living (and published) poets. As an attorney, I am well aware that dead people don’t have the power of contract. But of course, what you are talking about is an artifact, an object. I am interested in the soul as another platform.{*}

 

{*}Remember: Let your lawyer handle this untimely mess, for your soul may, or may not, remain pure beyond reasonable doubt.

Q

The White Review

— Why then champion poetry over art if the difference between the two is a matter of marketing?

A

Vanessa Place

— I would like to increase the market-share of poetry. I am self-interested. And who isn’t? After all, why are we here?{*}

 

{*}See?

Q

The White Review

— Would you ever rebrand yourself as an artist rather than a poet, or is part of the pleasure transmuting bear into bull?

A

Vanessa Place

— Rebranding is a bit passé – multiplatforming, perhaps. Though you bring up an interesting distinction between the postmodern, which did champion the idea of hybridity (and there is a separately fascinating discussion between the difference between hybridity and metamorphosis in terms of each of their relationship to esse), and conceptualism, which occupies a flatter, albeit curved, plane. In other words, it’s not fusion or transmogrification, but the simultaneous occupation of cognitively disparate yet identical items, though they may not be observed as such – all time in time, as it were. There should be the sound of a purr at this moment. Or not.

Q

The White Review

— There is something eerily totalising about this ‘simultaneous occupation of cognitively disparate yet identical items’ that gives its sheen to the conceptual approach in general. Is conceptual art utopian in nature (what kind of utopia being another question) by dint of its capacity for assimilation?

A

Vanessa Place

— Or dystopian, depending on your view of purity.

Q

The White Review

— But does conceptual art require the repression of registers that do not fit neatly within the overarching discourse in order to be ‘frictionless’ as you put it earlier? If so, how should we evaluate such a mode of operation?

A

Vanessa Place

— Repression is in the ‘I’ of the beholder, as it were. It seems utopian itself to believe that such a repression is necessary – as if there was an instinctual or cultural imperative to protest or rub against the dominant order which is being somehow evaded in the work, or by the work. I submit that there is a deeper submission at work. Which is arguably part of the discomfort in this frictionlessness: there was recently a study that indicated Oreos were as addictive on a chemical level as cocaine. This is interesting only insofar by way of being an admission as to what we find delicious and/or delightful. Post-structuralism would point out all the various premediations and meditations involved, but one kind of aesthetic structuralism can afford to simply proffer a taste.

 

In this way, we could compare my buying of poets’ souls to Komar and Melamid’s We Buy and Sell Souls project in 1978. Mine is a niche market, overtly high-end. They went for a volume business. They lost money. I suspect it was because they did not understand the American taste for exclusivity, even (or especially) mass-exclusivity.

Q

The White Review

— Where does your incorporation and buying of souls distinguish itself from the We Buy and Sell Souls project other than the market targeted? What happens/will happen to the souls you buy (do you sell as well?)? And what does poetry pay in exchange?

A

Vanessa Place

— Poetry pays, exactly. It’s tautological, it’s bilingual, it’s a bit of a fart. In terms of the future of the souls we purchase, souls are by their nature a futures market, yes? That said, there is the problem of determining how each soul should face its particular future. This may be the telling difference between Komar and Melamid’s piece and VanessaPlace’s work: as noted, they were thinking collectively, in terms of bulk, or, to put it in more Soviet terms, the soul as the unit of minimum good. We are thinking of the poet’s soul as the blue chip stock of semiocapitalism. It’s where poetry comes from, and poetry is the paragon medium of social media.

Q

The White Review

How would you deal (or have you dealt) with the potentially conflicting interests of selling your own soul to the corporation? And why encourage semiocapitalism, even if you are critiquing it at the same time?{*}

 

{*}For, indeed, it would appear that ‘… ©onceptualism … is married to ruins. According to Vanessa Place, spokesperson for the new cynical avant-garde, it has no right even to seek a divorce. Writing is demonstrably inconsequential, and should accept its hollowness, the more so because nothing ever and anyway succeeds – progress is an illusion.’ (‘©onceptualism’ altered from ‘conceptualism’ | Copyright © 2014 Kyoo Lee)

A

Vanessa Place

— You are asking me whether I have stock in the corporation?

Q

The White Review

— I suppose that was an underlying assumption on my part. Do you not?

A

Vanessa Place

— Don’t we all?

Q

The White Review

— Does that affect your answer?

A

Vanessa Place

— Of course. The only question that you are not asking, which you cannot ask, is whether there is a semiotic soul independent of such an encouragement. This is along the lines of the unrepresentable or the unsayable, though from the other point of the dilemma, where there is too much articulation. The impoverishment of the baroque, that bulimic and consumptive hunger, versus the anorectic stance of previous linguistic regimes. To not say – now – that’s the real trick.

Q

The White Review

— And as to the other questions…
A

Vanessa Place

— As to the other questions, there can be no answer because there can be no proper resolution of the problems they contain. However, I would point out two potential faults in your framing: first, that encouragement cannot exist concurrent with critique, which is a common confusion among souls purer than my own. Second, that there is a conflict in in-house acquisitions, as what self-respecting CEO does not own stock in his own corporation? Or, in more soulful terms, is this not a matter of reaping what one sows? My soul is, if it is, as much for sale as anyone’s – and I reckon that if something can be sold, it must exist.{*}

 

{*}‘One does not love a place the less for having suffered in it, unless it has been all suffering, nothing but suffering.’ (Jane Austen, Persuasion)

 


ABOUT THE CONTRIBUTOR


is the author of Reading Descartes Otherwise: Blind, Mad, Dreamy, and Bad (2012) and Professor of Philosophy at the City University of New York. Trained in European Philosophy & Literary Theory, she writes widely in the intersecting fields of the Arts & the Humanities, and her current projects include three books on Daodejing (Laozi), The Passions of the Soul (Descartes), and The Second Sex (de Beauvoir). [www.kyoolee.net]



The Boston Review called Vanessa Place ‘the spokesperson for the new cynical avant-garde,’ the Huffington Post characterized her work as ‘ethically odious.’ A leading practitioner of conceptual writing, Vanessa Place was the first poet to perform as part of the Whitney Biennial; a content advisory was posted. Place is also a conceptual artist, a critic, a criminal defence attorney, and CEO of VanessaPlace Inc, the world’s first poetry corporation. Place lectures and performs internationally. [www.vanessaplace.biz]



Jacob Bromberg is an American poet based in Paris. He is a Contributing Editor to The White Review