Conceptual Writing's Daddy Issues

For Conceptual Writing, there has always been the issue of the work itself, the status of its existence, oscillating somewhere between the necessity figured in the specificity of its procedure and the contingency as to its ancillary status in relation to that procedure. The work of Conceptual Writing is supposed to be its concept, so its realization exists as a kind of bastard object, a by-product, a parte maudite, or even, a necessary evil.

The following passage from Blanchot's Literature and the Right to Death challenges the supplementary status of the realization of the work of Conceptual Writing, finding its actual, sensuous unfolding through time and space to be central to the effect of the work and in every way preceding that effect insofar as it exists no longer at the leisure of the originator who turns the concept around in his mind like a sweet lozenge he longs to crush but whose sweetness is incomparable to a delectable self-denial. Following a thread from Hegel, Blanchot writes:

But if the work is already present in its entirety in his mind and if this presence is the essence of the work (taking the words, for the time being, to be inessential), why would he realize it any further? Either as an interior project it is everything it ever will be, and from that moment the writer knows everything about it that he can learn, and so will leave it to lie there in its twilight, without translating it into words, without writing it—but then he won't ever write; and he won't be a writer. Or, realizing that the work cannot be planned, but only carried out, that it has value, truth, and reality only through the words which unfold it in time and inscribe it in space, he will begin to write, but starting from nothing and with nothing in mind—like a nothingness working in nothingness, to borrow an expression of Hegel's.

So if we give the theorists of Conceptual Writing the benefit of the doubt and agree for the moment that the concept is unrelated to its realization, then what does the writing actually bring about? What does it produce?

We might say that such an empty writing produces a writer, a kind of purified example of such, which discovers in the nullified process of composition only the empty nonrelation that is at its origin. But if we consider that this nonrelation posited by the conceptual writer is at best a cover up and at worse a kind of ideological blindspot, then we must inquire what of the concept in its alleged purity and wholeness is nonetheless realized solely in the spatio-temporal composition of the work.

What is produced is not the thing that writes, that is the writer, but the thing that guarantees the consistency of the concept from a position outside of the concept, indeed outside of the law--a quintessentially sovereign position. Quite simply, then, what Conceptual Writing produces in the reluctant but (secretly) necessary 'realization' of the concept or procedure is an author, or even, the author. Thus, Conceptual Writing's hystericization of the death of the author issues quite ignominiously from the guilty conscience of the pure desire to be an author.

Not a desire to be a writer, which is itself only the echo of the prolix vacuity of desire, not even a desire to be a conceptualizer, delighting in the pure, self-realization of the concept, unsullied by any movement toward the concrete and particular. No, the desire that animates Conceptual Writing is the desire for authority, for auctoras, for a master who would finally put an end, by fiat alone, to the endless echoic call of desire.