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‘Not Nothing’ Tries to Capture the Artist Ray Johnson - NYTimes.com
"The Siglio book, edited by the poet Elizabeth Zuba, spans most of this history. The first entries, from the mid-1950s, are pure text, blocks of single-space typed prose. Gertrude Stein’s cut-and-paste approach to language is an obvious influence, jazzed up by Johnson’s penchant, verging on compulsion, for associative wordplay and puns.

Even when his work was text-intensive, though, he had an eye alert to shaping it visually. In a second 1950s piece composed of lists of isolated phrases — “Virginia gets tomahawk,” “regards têtes” — he slanted the lists diagonally across the page and turned half the phrases upside down, a graphic that could have been realized only by a radical reimagining of what a typewriter could do.

Johnson had his art heroes — Joseph Cornell, Kurt Schwitters, Allan Kaprow, the Fluxus founder George Maciunas — whom he acknowledged in his correspondence work, placing their names alongside those of pop stars, art world potentates and personal friends. Name-dropping, if that’s what this was, is a recurrent feature of Johnson’s art, but it’s different than Warhol’s celebrity chasing.

Like Warhol, Johnson had an appetite for glamour and the politics of who-knows-who. But he was impatient with hierarchy. Warhol was a worshiper, Johnson a collector, a cataloger. In his work the same plane of importance is occupied by Marcel Duchamp, Anita O’Day and Toby Spiselman, a Long Island friend. It’s hard to imagine Warhol heading up an Anna May Wong fan club, but Johnson did. There’s a sense that for him all names are equivalent in value, are all collage elements, all “nothings,” or rather somethings, equally useful and even soothing in their sameness.

This is not to say that Johnson’s correspondences are embracing and warm. “Every letter I write is not a love letter,” he once wrote, and he wasn’t kidding. Wary distance was Johnson’s default position. When writing to people he didn’t know — Jacques Derrida, say — he could sound jumpy and twisty or haughty. Even in letters to close friends, like the historian William S. Wilson, his most astute biographer, Johnson tended to dance around difficult, intimate subjects.

He would almost certainly have leveled a cool stare at the 21st-century interest — amounting to a faith — in collectivity, collaboration and social practice as utopian models. Mail art, on the surface, looked democratic, nonelitist, even populist; theoretically, anyone could join in. Yet Johnson’s reports from New York Correspondence School meetings speak of members who were summarily banished from the roster for some infraction or other. Johnson himself, in what feels like a punitive spirit, dropped people from his mailing list. Was such policing meant to be tongue-in-cheek, mocking how the real world operated? Impossible to say. Johnson wore ambiguity like a shield.

Occasionally, though, we see him let down his guard, as in a 1975 letter: “I just can’t take it. Overload. My history is too much for me. By the way, the big emotional event of the year is the departure of Richard Lippold with a young Italian.”

For all the zany exuberance surrounding Johnson’s role as mail-art webmaster, there’s a lot of darkness in the book. Death is a running theme, in Johnson’s tight-lipped bulletins on the demise of artists (Albers, Eva Hesse) and weirdly repeated mentions of dead cats. He describes, with gusto, crushing insects in his apartment, and recounts, with bizarre hilarity, the killing of a rooster he witnessed at a boozy art party. His attitude in the telling is beyond irreverence, close to delight.

But was it really? Any conclusions drawn about Johnson’s psychology from his writing must be provisional. He was a master at covering his tracks. Even friends like Mr. Wilson, a frequent presence in his correspondence, felt they barely knew him. He might as well have been the E. T. that he sometimes looked like. We read the correspondences of artists and writers in search of some truth beyond what they give us in their work. But the only sure truth about Johnson is the work: pioneering, stimulating, witty, angry, exasperating and like no other. If there’s a lot we can’t know, that’s O.K. Mystery is part of his beauty and his lastingness."

[See also: https://pinboard.in/u:robertogreco/b:31e2f33614a6
http://kaleidoscope-press.com/2014/06/readray-johnsons-bookspublished-by-siglio-press/
http://sigliopress.com/book/not-nothing/
http://sigliopress.com/book/the-paper-snake/ ]
rayjohnson  collection  catalogs  lists  namedropping  hollandcotter  104  elizabethzuba  blackmountaincollege  bmc  mailart  art  overload  nothings  happenings  concretepoetry  poetry  writing  letters  fluxus  georgemaciunas  allankaprow  josephcornell  kurtschwitters  hierarchy  horizontality  death  irreverence  newyorkcorrespndenceschool  collectivity  collaboration  socialpracticeart  collectivism  ambiguity  2014  books 
august 2014 by robertogreco
What Google Can Learn from the Long History of Information Management | New Republic
"What is missing in this story is an examination of the inherently Promethean quality of mastering and organizing massive amounts of data. No matter how sophisticated, information management does not always work. In spite of super cross-referencing computers and epic algorithms, the most basic financial data or political intelligence can fail to get to the desk of the right analyst. Experts, scholars, and administrators practice the remarkable human activity of ignoring the data in front of them, or the very systems that they have designed to manage it. Leibniz makes a good case in point. Three hundred years before Einstein, he, too, kept a messy desk. A father of mathematics, a famous historian and philosopher, the builder of calculation machines and scrinia literaria, and the librarian of the massive ducal collection in Wolfenbüttel, Leibniz was nonetheless very bad at organizing his papers. Indeed, while he was a librarian, he attempted to catalogue the more than 200,000 books in Wolfenbüttel. Each title was written on a scrap of paper. He placed the almost 120,000 reference scraps (still only half the library) not into an organized scrinia, but into a bag. Many were misplaced or spilled, and at Leibniz’s death, in 1716, the failed project had succeeded only in closing down the library for nine years. The catalogue was not finished until years after his death.

Why did a figure such as Leibniz fail to use his own tools? Perhaps messiness was the source of his creativity. This is a fact of intellectual originality with which Google must still grapple—libraries, after all, allow for the type of manageable disorder which is often the spark of creativity. Or maybe Leibniz resisted the very order of things, over which his calculus gave him a unique mastery. If anything, the rejection of systematized information handling methods could be as common as their adoption. Humanists had the tools and even the concepts to invent the cross-referenced thematic library catalogue, but they did not do so. We do not know why it took several hundred years and the Italian director of the British Museum, Antonio Panizzi, to create a truly modern reference catalogue through his “Ninety-One Cataloguing Rules” in 1841."
messiness  organization  2011  google  cataloging  expertise  creativity  catalogs  systems  systemsthinking  libraries  manageabledisorder  disorder  cross-referencing  antoniopanizzi  leibniz  alberteinstein  scrinialiteraria  collections  memory  references  data  via:ayjay 
september 2013 by robertogreco
TO BE DESIGNED
"A multidisciplinary group of thinkers, makers and near future speculators will spend three days in Detroit to “do” science fiction: tangle up in fact and fiction and engage in curious crosstalk about the things that could be. The goal, then, is to Design Fiction and turn talk into deliberate actions and artifacts; to swerve the present by telling the story of a near future we imagine can be possible.

What we aim to create — to spur conversations about the things that will matter in the near future — is a near future product catalog. For example, a SkyMall, or Sears Wish Book or McMaster-Carr catalog for the near future. Think of it as a near future science fiction sourcebook of products. It’s a collection of stuff , as if that collection of stuff existed as routinely as Sasquatch garden statuettes, inflatable neck pillows, combination USB thumb drive nail clipper laser pointers, battery-powered screwdrivers, allen wrench sets and flat tire repair kits…"
production  conversation  artifactsfromthefuture  artifacts  storytelling  detroit  catalogs  skymall  nearfuture  sciencefiction  crossdisciplinary  multidisciplinarythinking  multidisciplinary  interdisciplinarity  aaronstraupcope  cezannecharles  chriswoebken  johnmarshall  jamesbridle  emmetbyrne  christiansvkolding  karldaubman  marcgreuther  tombray  mokapantages  nickfoster  raphaelgrignani  marcusbleecker  nicolasnova  julianbleecker  brucesterling  designfiction  nearfuturelaboratory 
october 2012 by robertogreco
WorldCat Mobile -- Search libraries from your phone [WorldCat.org]
"# Search for library materials—Enter search terms such as keywords, author or title
mobile  worldcat  iphone  libraries  cataloging  catalogs  geolocation  library  search  books 
november 2009 by robertogreco
[WorldCat.org] Search for books, music, videos, articles and more in libraries near you
"the world's largest network of library content and services...WorldCat.org lets you search the collections of libraries in your community and thousands more around the world...Search many libraries at once for an item and then locate it in a library near
aggregator  books  libraries  database  journals  catalogs  research  search  onlinetoolkit  collections  online  resources  databases  searchengine  cataloging  worldcat  bibliography  literature  reference  library  music  catalog  free 
october 2007 by robertogreco
Open Library (Open Library)
"Imagine a library that collected all the world's information about all the world's books and made it available for everyone to view and update. We're building that library. Search it:"
academia  archive  bibliography  biography  books  catalogs  free  collaboration  collections  commons  copyright  culture  digital  directory  ebooks  education  english  entertainment  freeware  reference  reading  portal  opensource  online  catalog  libraries  literature  sharing  onlinetoolkit 
july 2007 by robertogreco
Thingology (LibraryThing's ideas blog): Libraries as Conversations: Gorman, Hives and Catalogs
"important learning and knowledge are conversation [that we ascend to over our lives through] *encyclopedias, books of facts *monographs (really "arguments") *academic journals *conferences Conversations work because they know/produce more than their memb
classification  conversation  education  information  knowledge  learning  libraries  reference  dialog  catalogs  folksonomy  communication  academia  dialogue 
june 2007 by robertogreco

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