An outtake from Murat Nemet-Nejat's review of Bill Berkson's Sudden Address, to be published in The Poetry Project Newsletter:
The history of the second half of 20th century art, from painting to poetry to photography to film to television to video and computer arts can be understood through an in-depth understanding (here is the first contradiction!) of the idea of skin; in other words, envisioning, speculating on a metaphysics of skin. On the one hand, there is the tautological impulse that the skin is just a skin, a surface, a piece of cardboard, etc., a reinforced surface of its material flatness, words are words. In this impulse, seemingly so proud of its material realism, reduced to its reductive extreme, a surprising transformation occurs. The skin dissolves, into a plethora of words, in a kind of radioactive decay. In this process, the internet is the medium without a skin, with no muscle tone. Kasey Mohammad, for instance, plucks docile words from the net, which do not scream or resist as they do in Dante’s Inferno, being pulled out of their specific locations, to create a parallel, flat (ironic!) surface of words. Starting with Clement Greenberg’s essays on the absoluteness (rather than the ambiguous materiality) of a flat surface to Conceptual Art, Mohammad’s poetry presents the apotheosis of this tautological impulse as the skin/canvas is transformed, swallowed totally through the passion of his art into the body of words. Of course, that passion, besides its religious overtones, has, due to the pure malleability of the canvas it embraces, the qualities of an inflatable doll. I do not mean by that the net by its very nature is only amenable to such treatment. For instance, the passion of Alan Sondheim’s art derives from his obsessive pursuit to make the net grow a skin, in his words, by a legerdemain of his imagination to make the digital become an analog. Looking at his images in the web, this critic at least is constantly forced to ask where do these images come from. His digital action figures create a dance which keeps their mysterious autonomy; they resist to be totally appropriated. I also avoided to use the word “flarf” because some flarf members practice an art the very reverse of Mohammad’s tautological poetry. For instance, in Gary Sullivan’s enchanting comics books series, Elsewhere I & 2, the visual field of the comic, arrived at slowly and painstakingly almost in real time (in Elsewhere II this takes the form of a walk down a Brooklyn Street full of store signs, reminiscent of a walk down a Manhattan street in a Frank O’Hara poem or a Rudy Burckhardt photograph) the skin of the visual field retains its autonomy, letting words out grudgingly. Sullivan must inscribe his own words over them (that is the significance of the comics form), creating two parallel texts where the eye, “the complexity of seeing and its motions in the visual field, has precedence over the ear, words, rather than the other way around. This primacy of the eye and its perceptual motion over the flat surface of a painting is also at the heart of Bill Berkson’s poetry, of the poetics implicit in Sudden Address.
In the collaborative internet novel Swoon also, Sullivan falls in love with Nada Gordon’s writing, addressing it through e-mails. Nada Gordon, the person behind the writing, responds to them resistantly. There are silences between e-mails. The novel is a dance through which Nada, gradually, reveals herself, finally, in a letter of her own tells of her dream of a sleek, beautiful tiger.