Bard Campus Calendar

[Experimental: Language Writing, Two Whales, and a Dream of the Future]

Experimental Humanities Program, Division of Languages and Literature, and American Studies Program Present

Monday, March 12, 2018

Experimental: Language Writing, Two Whales, and a Dream of the Future

RKC 103
5:00 pm – 6:00 pm

A Lecture by Natalia Cecire, Lecturer of English and American Literature, University of Sussex 

The standard line on “experimental” writing—sometimes called “innovative” writing—that we have inherited from the 1970s and ’80s is that it “disrupts” linguistic norms and thus destabilizes a damaging political status quo. But what do we do when “innovation” and “disruption,” far from changing anything, self-evidently belong to the standard tool kit of neoliberal policy, as they do now?

In this talk I argue that the aspiration for an “experimental writing” encapsulates many of the 20th century’s fundamental conflicts about history, knowledge production, and who gets to belong to the future. Experimental writing epitomizes the late-20th-century expectation that language can intervene in the world and explain everything powerful, from defense strategy to DNA, and at the same time seeks to counter that expectation on its own terms. Centering on the San Francisco Bay Area in the 1980s, I juxtapose language writing’s countercommunicative “politics of form” with a more mainstream meditation on the materiality of language, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (dir. Leonard Nimoy, 1986). The creation of “experimental” writing as we now understand the term, I suggest, allowed a fiction of scientific autonomy to fill the role once occupied by (modernist) aesthetic autonomy in ways that embedded structural whiteness in the experimentalist canon.

In the last few decades, so-called “experimental writing” has faced a reckoning with its own complicity with white supremacy, which many have attempted to explain away as a “blind spot” or a matter of incorrectly accounting for the “experimental” artists of color who were there all along (yet mysteriously excluded from the coteries that constitute networks of power and patronage). While taking seriously experimentalism’s aspirations, I also outline how an attachment to a fictive epistemological autonomy left radical poetics of the 1980s indebted to a specific dream of futurity that has come to be revealed as increasingly untenable.

For more information, call 845-758-6822, or e-mail

Time: 5:00 pm – 6:00 pm

Location: RKC 103