Introduction: What is "Interesting Writing"?
In this project, "interesting" means avant-garde or otherwise innovative in relation to some tradition—initially, that will be forms of contemporary art history. Sometimes I also mean "interesting" to denote "experimental," as in postmodern and contemporary experimental writing. (The term "experimental" is nearly as problematic as "interesting"; it is discussed in the companion project to this one, Writing with Images.) The important thing is that the writing in question knows itself to be in an unusual relation to what ever is taken to be normative or expected writing practice in the discipline, genre, or mode in question—again, initially that will be art history. There has to be a feeling of resistance or discontent: something that is being departed from, a practice that seems inadequate for some reason. The writers I consider are either thinking about what might be the best future or optimal form for the discipline, or else they are not proposing their work be counted as disciplinary art history. I will work on those characterizations as I go: for the moment I just want to register the essential quality of dissatisfaction or distance. I think the same can be said for experimental writing when the qualifier "interesting" is applied to contemporary conceptual writing, flarf, constrained writing, language poetry, spam lit, code writing, or intentionally "unoriginal" writing: each of those practices presents itself as different from some other practice that is taken as normative.
Hence a crucial criterion for the texts I consider here is that they attempt to diverge from some specifiable prior or existing practice of art historical writing. This criterion is meant to exclude two kinds of writing in and around art history that otherwise might be pertinent: first, writing that is normative or unremarkable or does not present itself as anything other than clear and eloquent (examples can be found in any art history journal, such as The Art Bulletin); second, writing that is non-normative but not in relation to any specifiable model or practice (this happens, for example, in artist's books that take art as their subject matter). The first of those exclusions will be apparent enough in all the selections I make in this project. The second is more problematic, I think, because it means I will usually not be looking at the very large field of artist's books—but that is an issue for the second project, "writing with images."
"Interesting" is a critical judgment made against a certain history. The impetus to write with attention to the words, the writer's voice, the narrative, the form, the rhetoric, and the possibilities of language does not come from a generalized ambition. It springs, for me, from two historically determined sources: the conviction, since poststructuralism, that writing engulfs all our best attempts at rigor, objectivity, and control; and a growing awareness, on my part, of an unsettling gulf between writing's sad closeted existence in disciplines such as art history, and its flourishing life in contemporary fiction, theory, and literary criticism.