Conceptual Healing: "I'll Drown My Book" and Experimental Women Writing
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I'll Drown My Book is a project raising funds for a 500-page anthology of experimental women writers (64 women from 10 countries!) addressing the question, "What is conceptual writing?"
It is not, contrary to my coworker's initial understanding, a project about an actual book drowning. To be fair, the project video, a short film described as "a reaction to the book" is overlaid with words from Virginia Woolf's novel The Waves, is pretty "out there." (In other words, a must watch. Right up there! Just scroll up a little.)
In fact the whole project feels pretty out there. It's full of ambition and a list of contributors that would make any experimental writing nerd (or poetry nerd, or Gender Studies major) tremble. There's Bernadette Mayer, Rosmarie Waldrop, Renee Gladman, Kathy Acker, and dozens more. All women, for 500 pages, and published by a tiny press based in Los Angeles called Les Figues, that, like most, probably couldn't justify printing a 500-hundred page book by anyone (or anyone whose name doesn't end in "Foster Wallace").
That this is no small feat will be apparent to any hardened publishing vet, who've heard these phrases on repeat: anthologies don't sell, 500-page books don't sell, experimental writing doesn't sell, an anthology of experimental writing with a list of all-women contributors will not sell, and an anthology centered around an underlying theme — conceptual writing?? — that even the most theory-loving lit nerd would be hard-pressed to articulate, really is just Unpublishable.
Having more than vested interest in this project, I did a bit of reading up on this whole conceptual writing thing (Hi, Ubuweb! Been awhile!) and I have to tell you: I'm still not sure what it is. Some argue it's a "know it when you see it" type of thing, which I support. The book's designer tells us that the editors aren't even sure if all the stories in this anthology really qualify as conceptual writing, but that the ambiguity is the point. I can get on board with that! The guy who invented the term, Kenneth Goldsmith, seems to argue that conceptual writing is all about the idea, and not about the getting it down, or the writer's talent, or the material we read it in.
I gave up when I found myself googling "Derrida, haunted mirror."
I decided that maybe we should let this anthology give me a sense of what conceptual writing is or isn't. Maybe we let the writers tell us, all tucked away together in this big old book that the publishing world might otherwise have to say no to, albeit with much regret, again and again, until its editors sighed and threw up their hands and maybe wrote a blog post apologizing to everyone about it.
And yet here it is.