Stop Making Sense: Words Over Here, Words Out There, by Thom Swiss
Words over here, words out there
In the air and everywhere
“Wordy Rappinghood” by Tom Tom Club
This piece about experiments with song lyrics experiments itself with the form of the essay. It does not proceed in traditionally linear fashion; instead, it engages the contingent, the associative, and the inter-textual by linking interviews and academic writing, images, song lyrics, and other materials. It does so in part because a fragmented approach to writing mirrors my topic: relationships between lyric-making and surreal, conceptual, and generative literary- and art-based practices. Among my tutor texts for this experiment are scholar John Law’s book, After Method: Mess in Social Science Research; Roland Barthes’ work in which he deploys fragments as a series of interruptions with cumulative aesthetic surprises; and various art practices including, most recently, remixing.
Over the last few decades, interdisciplinary methods such as performance approaches, the analyses of visual and sounded materials typically thought of as peripheral to academic research, and an understanding of methods as poetics or interventions have become increasingly visible in many fields. In contrast to traditional approaches to academic knowledge, some of these new methods also make use of interdisciplinary techniques, including collaboration, games, cut-and-paste, the automatism of digital technologies, and so on, as alternative modes for the production of knowledge. Following Barthes and others, who have argued that one cannot produce new ways of doing criticism without changing the structures that govern it (see SZ), my approach here is to create an assemblage: a gathering of found materials.
My ad hoc process of collecting and editing the items that follow emphasize the ad hoc and active processes at work in “art” methods for composing song lyrics. I’ve generally titled the sections of the assemblage by borrowing a word or phrase from the passage that follows. Many of the fragments are verbatim, although typically snipped from larger blocks of lyrics or prose; some are edited for clarification by the internal logic of this assemblage as a whole.
An assemblage is not a fixed arrangement; it’s an open-ended, uncertain process. Assemblages are objects (like this ‘‘finished’’ piece), but they are also activities. The texts I have remixed here demonstrate that the meanings of individual fragments can constructed not only within the social context in which they first appeared, but inter-textually through their relationships with other texts. Individual fragments are overlapping and iterative while the structure of the whole attempts to pay attention to unintended effects.
Barthes, Roland. SZ: An Essay. Hill and Wang, 1975.
Law, John. After Method: Mess in Social Science Research. London: Routledge, 2004.