Spend enough time chatting with literary folks, i.e. professional readers and writers, and you may (as you can bet your ass I did) get frustrated with the many sophisticated forms that reference has adopted– there are asterisks, there are endnotes, there are headers and footers, there are bibliographies, and there are (let’s not forget) parentheses. And more. I put this simple question forward to Charlotte once: what is the difference between referencing something in a footnote and in parentheses? Further, what’s so taboo about simply inserting a paragraph starting with “As an aside….” and forgo footnotes entirely? The answer was disarmingly honest: the concession that these various forms are more than just aesthetic choices, but beyond the empirical realm they each hold their own unique tones and rhythms. And because of this, a good writer needs to be very much in aware of the nuances associated with each and make decisions according to how she wants her essay to sound and flow. It’s not all that different in the end from any other aesthetic choice. There is the danger, of course, of excessive referencing, where her own work may get lost, and as a good DJ may string together dozens of perfect pieces of music, it may be well composed but ultimately bring nothing new to the table. Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves skirts on this surface, mocking it, but luckily I was glad to come to the personal conclusion that the book was in fact just a love story cleverly hidden at the center of a hedge maze of a myriad of otherwise fascinating references. The references themselves manage to construct a new entity. Forest Gospel has a couple of images. Artistically, it is what began with the audacity of Duchamp, formalized with the constructivist likes of Hannah Höch and continued to the singular Robert Rauschenberg. In a very short while, creating works out of preexisting material was entirely legitimized.
Fountain by Marcel Duchamp. Image via wikiart.
Hannah Höch, Cut with the Kitchen Knife Dada Through the Last Weimar Beer Belly Cultural Epoch of Germany, 1919. Image via Wikimedia Commons.
Robert Rauschenberg, Retroactive II, 1963. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

Oftentimes we find ourselves, as creators, at odds between extremes– streaming either towards conceiving of something purely of our own, something unique, or towards ‘creating’ something ‘plucked’ from the surrounding world, with as little interference on your part as possible. Both are legitimate. Both present debatable ideas. Both are also impossible.
As I have already stated, there is no such thing as pure creation, out of nothing. (Our definition of concepts like space clue us in on this: O. F. Bollnow refers to Aristotle and the German language [“Raum”: creating a clearing, esp. from a forest and esp. for settlement.] to produce proof that space is not at all infinite and objective, as Newton said, but rather more like an infinitely thin membrane which surrounds life. Lived space. Space experienced. Human space.) Every work arrives at this stage; when it needs to decide: footnote or parentheses, and address this duality, as it has entered the collective eye of the audience and they will inquire of it eventually.

By the.vonz.himanen

Ivan Himanen is an architect, writer, and artist based in New York City.

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