In April I will be taking part in Reading for Reading’s Sake, a four day event at the Islington Mill in Salford, exploring “reading as activity.” As part of my preparation for that event, I have been gathering together ideas, texts, quotations and notes concerning acts of reading.
One aspect of this work is finding particular performance structures for the reading of certain texts. The structures seem to be ways of finding public modes for private acts of reading, thereby proposing a space where reading is “published.” I am interested in the transformations and translations evidenced by this act into showing and telling.
The following text is a script for reading Kurt Schwitters’ poem Wound Roses Roses Bleed (1918). Recent interest in Schwitters has often been based around the methodological implications of the Merzbau. Focussing on the poems, highlights a different set of concerns. I use them to create group structures over space and time, propose forms of (dis-)sociality, and elucidate how poems can be active plans, texts, and sources, in the same way as the notes, re-constructions, and images of the Merzbau’s various incarnations.
(1) I am interested in vocal performances; (2) In voices working together without bodies; (3) The process of making a performance being an illustration of the process of the group; (4) Arriving somewhere, meeting people and the group formation taking place through reading; (5) Through the performance through the text; (6) Through the text through the performance; (7) No rehearsal; (8) The process of the group orienting itself to itself is foregrounded; (9) Foreground and background both; (10) Therefore I propose the following:
A SCRIPT FOR READING
I will arrive on _____/_______/______ at __ __. There will be a space available for us to work in. By “us” I mean myself and whoever is there. Each of us will be provided with a name badge labelled “KURT”.
All of us will answer to the name of “Kurt” for the duration and only speak to one another through this name. As an introduction, I – Kurt – will read the following text whilst copies of the poem are distributed:
Hallo Kurt! Kurt here. Kurt must spend an hour performing the text according to the time constraint indicated. Kurt may speak any word from the script at any time in any order within the time constraints listed. Have you got that Kurt? Kurt should focus on reading at all time and Kurt must be attentive to how reading is also a speaking and group process. Thank you Kurt. Kurt, we start now. Thank you. The text, Kurt, is:
KURT SCHWITTERS WOUND ROSES ROSES BLEED
Poem 23 circa 1918. Time durations have been added.
Wound roses roses bleed
Wound colossus wound wound
Roses languish languish roses
Torrid wound torrid torrid
Languish roses languish languish
Wound torrid wound wound
Roses torrid torrid roses
Embers trickle trickle ember
Embers trickle trickle ember
Bleed roses wound torrid
Languish wounds rose blood
Night languish roses night
Night wound blood blood
Night bleed night
Blood night blood
Silence trickle blood
(1)Because the reading of this text constitutes an act of construction in time and space, it may be useful for readers to consider the following assessment – by Pierluigi Nicolin – of why Schwitter’s Merzbau has proved so popular amongst contemporary artists and architects:
the new and irresistible fascination of the incomplete… the act of assembling a multitude of plastic forms and materials, found objects, “spoils and relics” that were enclosed and partly walled up so that they could serve as records of previous states. Incomplete on principle, growing, changing constantly… The theme of assemblage has become a basic condition of the new globalized world… Taken as components to be assmbled rather than designed from scratch, the various frames, curtain walls, escalators, elevators, ceilings, floors, etc. and sometimes even pre-packaged models of buildings represent an archive of solutions for the deisgner of metropolitan megacomplexes… composed of accidental patterns… Lateral motion, three-dimensionality, fortuitousness… emphasizing horizontal structures… creating symbols of centrality rather than aiming at convergence at a point, the new Merz architecture emphasizes tangents, vanishing points, twists, and crossings, without renouncing the expression of a certain Piranesian drama in the predisposition of its new figures.
SOURCE TEXT: Hans Ulrich Obrist and Adrian Notz eds. Merz World: Processing the Complicated Order (JRP Ringier. 2008), 22.
(2) Because when I read this text it immediately suggested this process. Actually I didn’t read the Kurt. I just saw Kurt on the page, saw the Kurt systems of repetitions, bleedings from Kurt to Kurt. I saw this as a massive extension in Kurt folded in upon itself with a system of linear Kurt extension in time that was also simultaneously compressing and enfolding Kurt in and out of Kurt. For this reason a glimpse of Kurt torrid on the page was also to imagine an experience in its own Kurt time, dizzy, uncertain of its acoustic Kurt-space wound. In the reading aloud of the text Kurt was for the first time reading Kurt fully for the first time as Kurt reading. Prior to this I had hardly absorbed the specificities of Kurt structure, the lines before Kurt and the single space following Kurt around.
(3) When the hour ends all Kurts share a meal together during which Kurt identity is eaten and participants return to their prior names then exit.
(4) TRANSLATION BY JEROME ROTHERNBERG in Jerome Rothernberg and Pierre Joris eds. Kurst Schwitters pppppp poems performance pieces prose plays poetics (exact change, cambridge, 2002), 9.