Dick Higgins: “A book is . . . a phenomenon of space and time and dimensionality”

Affinities, Ray Johnson

October 15th, 2014


For the next blog post in our series on Ray Johnson, we have compiled a selection of quotations from Dick Higgins, founder of Something Else Press and original publisher of The Paper Snake by Ray Johnson (for a complete biography of Higgins, head to the Getty Research Institute). This collection of quotes from online sources serves a particular kind of orientation to Higgins’s ideas: just as his makes connections between seemingly disparate things and admires the spaces between them, we hope this set of distillations provokes further exploration of the complexities of his work.     —Patrick Disselhorst



Since a change in style is a change in meaning, [The Paper Snake] is a translation of Ray Johnson into Dick Higgins; reading these is like reading over Dick Higgins’ shoulder, or hearing him read them aloud.

—William S. Wilson, preface to The Paper Snake




A book, in its purest form, is a phenomenon of space and time and dimensionality that is unique unto itself. Every time we turn the page, the previous page passes into our past and we are confronted by a new world.

—from “A Book,” New Wilderness Letter 11, 1982





A stack of Something Else Press books. (Image from the blog Artists’ Books and Multiples)



When asked what one is doing, one can only explain it as ‘something else.’ Now one does something big, now one does something small, now another big thing, now another little thing. Always it is something else. We can talk about a thing, but we cannot talk a thing. It is always something else. One might well emphasize this. It happens, doesn’t it? Actually, everybody might be in on this Something Else, whether he wants it or not. Everyman is.

—from “A Something Else Manifesto,” Great Bear Pamphlet, 1966




I see a performance by an unknown dancer; I empathize with her moves. The form puzzles and challenges me. I sense that she is doing as she is doing because she must. I look for the source of that compulsion; I discover in it a new language of movement? I learn to understand that language if not to speak it, and I am enriched. I will return for more. The name on the program is no longer merely the name of the woman; it is now the name of a part of that language, a point in a new trajectory of satisfactions.

—from Horizons, 1984


Intermedia-Dick-HigginsDick Higgins’s Intermedia diagram.

Image originally published in Dick Higgins, A Dialectic of Centuries: Notes Towards a Theory of the New Arts, Printed Editions, 1978




The desire to fuse seems to be a part of our biological nature as living beings. Paramecia ‘conjugate’—i.e., they fuse, and some of the substance of one passes into the substance of another. People fuse, not just in the act of love, but also in the state of being in love. Perhaps it can even be argued that to some extent they fuse in friendship, with its give and take and deep involvements. Naturally such a fusion is less likely to be permanent than it is to be temporary or ‘marginal’ or ‘liminal’ (from limen, the Latin word for ‘threshold’)…We cannot experience, with all our attention, music or theater or philosophical principles or sex or even religion twenty-four hours a day. But we do return from the liminal experience enriched.

—from Horizons, 1984




It is hard to say where I came from; certainly my parenthood is uncertain, and I’ve always thought of myself as something of a mongrel. I have always belonged to many worlds, and the world we live in now is always suspicious of such divided loyalties. I seem to pass in and out of fashion the way a weaver’s shuttle moves across the loom, always moving from in to out, from warp to woof. In any case, it seems to me that my history does not begin with conception but with perception, whatever the reaction to me may be.

—from “A [very short] Autobiography of Originality,” Something Else Newsletter, Vol. 3, No. 2, 1984




The best of art (visual and plastic, I mean) is really about seeing, not about looking at. Music is about hearing, not about listening to. And in the absence of a pure brain wave communication, literature is about understanding, not about mere words… it’s only when you have a real interplay between understanding and the mechanical means—words, grammar, heard and/or seen elements—that literature can begin.

—from “Seen, Heard, and Understood,” Something Else Newsletter, Vol. 2, No. 5, 1972




If I say, “Come rosa in su la spina presto vien e presto va..” the rose is being used very concretely—as we normally do—to provide a useful metaphor. Same with “Gather ye rosebuds while ye may.” But with Gertrude Stein’s “A rose is a rose is a rose,” we enter the world of the blank image. It didn’t have to be a rose. It could have been a cat. And the insight into cats would have been fully as fresh as the insight into roses, because the point—the real meaning—is not to tell us here but to show us things actually being as they are.

—from “Blank Images,” Something Else Newsletter, Vol. 2, No. 1, 1971




The_Paper_Snake_Ray_Johnson-Dear-DickImage from The Paper Snake by Ray Johnson (Something Else Press, 1965 and reprint Siglio, 2014)




If one is consistent and inconsistent often enough nothing that one does is one’s own, certainly not a form, which is only a part of speech in one’s language. One must take special care not to influence oneself. Tomorrow one will write Schubert’s Fifth Symphony, cook some kohlrabi, develop a non-toxic epoxy, and invent still another kind of theater; or perhaps one will just sit and scream; or perhaps…

—from “A Something Else Manifesto,” Great Bear Pamphlet, 1966



“The Mail-Interview with Dick Higgins”, conducted by Ruud Janssen, 1995.

“An Interview with Dick Higgins”, 1971. Interview for KPFA with Richard Friedman and Anthony Gnazzo, regarding Higgins brief tenure at CalArts.

Youtube: “Dick Higgins on Dick Higgins”. Video excerpt from The Endless Story of FLUXUS, 1986/2013.

Youtube: “Dick Higgins and Something Else Press publications”. Artpool 1993.


Horizons, Southern Illinois University Press, 1984, republished by ubu Editions.

An excerpt from Pattern Poetry, Guide to an Unknown Literature, State University of New York Press, 1987.

Synesthesia and Intersenses: Intermedia, with an appendix by Hannah Higgins.

A Book,” and a poem, “The Morning Songs of Jordan Brown,” New Wilderness Letter, 1977-1984, ed. Jerome Rothenberg. Reissued by Jacket2.


Great Bear Pamphlets. Includes “A Something Else Manifesto” and A Book About Love & War & Death, Canto One.

Something Else Press Newsletters, 1966-1983. Republished by Primary Information.