In Conversation with Paul Chan: his own private Alexandria (v.1)

NEWSgrist - April 21, 2006
In Conversation with Paul Chan: his own private Alexandria (v.1)

Artist Paul Chan has a new audio project up online. He talks about it in a
recent email conversation with NEWSgrist (below):

My own private Alexandria (v.1)
Free DIY MP3 audio-essays | Over 16 hours of readings | 2006

I'm so tired of this war and numb from the fear of the slightest sound and
shadow. I just want to leave. Escape. So I read. It helps to think about the
history of philistinism and the uses of silence and how color is sex but
it's not enough. So I start to record myself reading. And I realize how
little I know the reading I'm reading. It gets better. I can't pronounce
German, French, Russian, Chinese, Brazilian, Latin, not even English
sometimes. I don't care. A task is what I want: to measure the time spent
escaping into words that string together sentences that become essays about
potatoes and trousers and aesthetic revolutions. I listen and they sound
okay. I even like the stammers. But they need music. So I make some. I love
Garageband. Here they are:

New York City


Paul Chan in conversation with NEWSgrist (Mar-Apr 2006):

NEWSgrist : To perform the words of these late greats (in "competent English
and mangled French, Chinese," etc.!) and make them freely available is a
really cool thing: it functions simultaneously as an archive, a public
service, an homage, and as performance. Making the readings available online
calls up copyright issues including the ongoing file sharing wars and the
recent Google Print controversy, yes, but it does so in a most interesting
way, with a twist. It's personal and it's an artwork; the parameters and
choices you've made have to do with the writers and thinkers who have
influenced you. This is your art. You are not selling anything, except maybe
other people's ideas, and then only figuratively speaking. You are promoting
and distributing the copyrighted expression of their ideas free of charge,
where no one else has.

The project as a whole is a remix: an archive of remixed performance. Or:
Personal Archive as Remix if you prefer. On the other hand, the fact that
the citations are accurate and genuine, even providing ISBNs, makes it very
much like a library or archive (you are providing access), but instead of
amassing and organizing actual books and offprints, you have amassed and
organized your performances of excerpts. Most important, you are forming a
bridge, contributing to the education of the "Ipod Generation"; you are
providing a unique kind of access to otherwise remote texts to a certain
demographic of listeners who consume information in a certain way…
PC: You're right about all of it. I will only add all of these ideas
swirling around the project came later. In the beginning, there was only one
idea: to remember someone who had died, or rather, their work. And that
person was Susan Sontag. There's no reason to think that her work will be
out of print any time soon. But what is important is that her ideas went
beyond her books. She engaged outside the book. She was called a public
intellectual. But it might be better to say that she felt at home with the
world enough to quarrel with all of it, every pleasurable and difficult bit.
So what does it mean, then, to remember someone who gave the gift of herself
beyond the book? And this is what I came up with.

NG: …This project reminds me of a seminar talk at NYU given by a "forensic
musicologist" [Lawrence Ferrara] who consults for both record labels and
musicians alike, and who worries privately about the effect of copyright law
on the creative process. There is a real fear that artists won't be able to
make work that even tangentially touches on our increasingly commercialized
world because every part of it has been bought up and copyrighted. What do
you think about this idea of using copyrighted material as part of the work
and the legal battles against cultural "ownership"?

PC: I think of this not in terms of Law, but Aesthetics. Theodor Adorno
believed how we could tell if something is beautiful or not, or even more
fundamentally, whether something is art or not, by a certain relationship
the work has with nature. It doesn't mean Adorno only championed landscapes
filled with trees and rivers. Only that like Kant, Adorno believed we can
only judge the force of art by how much it takes in certain notions we get
from nature; namely a kind of overwhelming plenitude that escapes our
dehumanizing exchange relations. This was a time, of course, when people
thought they couldn't own mountains, or the water we drink, or air. A time
when nature still had territory not polluted (in the environmental and
commercial sense) by us. Nature provided the philosophical model for
articulating the almost speechless sense we feel in front of art worthy of
that name: something that–as we experience it–perpetually renews itself
and gives us, without asking for anything back, a sense of boundless
plentitude and potentiality. In other words, Art as an image of absolute

But now we have a very different relationship to nature. In fact it is
almost impossible to find nature without a frame of culture. On the other
hand, Culture has become so pervasive that it in fact feels like a kind of
"overwhelming plenitude" that we once associated with mountain ranges and
oceans that stretch beyond our vision.

This might seem so obvious but worth stating: our nature (now, at least for
my generation) is in fact culture. The illegal DVDs being sold in Chinatown
are like so many pieces of coal harvested from the mines in Allentowns
everywhere. And the fight about who owns culture and who gets to use its
resources is like the early 18-19th century battles to control and colonize
natural resources.

NG: Do you know of Ubu Web?

PC: Sure do. Economy of the gift is certainly one of the things I'm thinking
about. I think Ubu is wonderful, not only as a site but an ethic.

NG: Ubu is wonderful. Funny, when I was first poking around online in the
90s, discussing on various list-serves, the gift economy was
discussed endlessly… and now? the discussion has shifted away from social
ideals and alternatives for the "future of the web"….

PC: The future of the web is bright. It belongs to contraband.

April 21, 2006 at 11:20 AM in Books, Copyfight, Intellectual Property,
Interviews, Open Source, Philosophical…, Publications | Permalink |
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