Dick Higgins reviewed in the Times Literary Supplement: “Betweenness”


June 27th, 2019

(Review) Intermedia, Fluxus and the Something Else Press: Selected Writings by Dick Higgins




Originally published March 12, 2019

Dick Higgins was a precocious child (his first word, reputedly, was “hypotenuse”) and a true polymath: a composer who studied with Henry Cowell, he was equally dedicated to painting and printmaking, drama, translation and poetry. As much as he crossed boundaries, he also had an impulse to taxonomize. So the opening flyleaf figure in this substantial new collection is emblematic: a Venn diagram of overlapping practices – from conceptual art to concrete poetry, performance art to graphic novels, and everything in between.

Betweenness is central to Higgins’s interest in the “intermedia” bordering traditional disciplines. The genres featured here include manifestos, catalogues, epistles, newsletters, advertisements, etc. Higgins pursued the poetic potentials of such non-literary modes in addition to more scholarly essays on visual poetry and sound poetry. Moreover, he raised curation itself to an art form with Something Else Press (titled after Alison Knowles, spurning his proposed name, told him to “call it something else”). Fittingly, a comprehensive, illustrated checklist of Something Else titles forms the centrepiece of the collection. Most revealingly, it includes the books Higgins planned to publish, even when his ambition outpaced practical exigencies (the press went bankrupt in 1974).

In addition to sturdy, case-bound volumes, Something Else issued a seminal series of pamphlets featuring artists associated with Fluxus, the neo-Dada movement that Higgins co-founded after attending what must be the single most important class ever taught: John Cage’s 1958 interdisciplinary New School course in composition. Under the sign of Cage, Fluxus embraced chance, playful experiment, process, and the quotidian. The work is still challenging today, as evinced by programmes this year at the Museum of Modern Art, the Getty and the LA Philharmonic. Higgins recounts much of the Fluxus story in his unique mode of critical autobiography, exemplified by “Postface” (most of which appears in facsimile, although it’s a shame the editors missed the chance to republish the entire work). For those intrigued by Fluxus, this collection would be an engaging introduction; for the cognoscenti it offers a handsome compendium of some key documents.

One hopes Siglio has paved the way for reprinting other key documents from Higgins’s own plays, poems, scores, choreographies and fictions. Highlights include: foew&ombwhnw, a four-column collage juxtaposing different genres, printed on bible paper and bound like a prayer book; Buster Keaton Enters into Paradise, which derives its vocabulary from a round of Scrabble games; the narrative deformation of a grammatical template in the “long short novel” Cat Alley; and “event scores” like his “Danger Music #17” (1962), which consists of the imperative “Scream!” repeated seven times (try it; it’s harder than it sounds).

Read the original post here.