Formal Transgressions by Ren Weber

In light of CW’s most recent unit on Experimental Writing with Momo Wang, I’ve been interested in what defines and limits transgressive and experimental writing. In her unit, Momo juxtaposed two literary transgressions: writing bound by set limitations and constraints, and writing with very little or no literary constraints that may use stream-of-consciousness and interiority. The examples she brought in on writing with limits and restrictions (restraining word choice, structure, or verse form) intrigued me the most.

Momo showed us many pieces that included elements of constrained writing, such as A Void by Georges Perec, a novel that entirely excludes the letter “e.” Perec is a self-proclaimed Oulipian, belonging to a group of artists who define themselves as “rats who must build the labyrinth from which they propose to escape.” They essentially attempt to use constrained writing methods to create works of art. A Void is particularly interesting to me because of the sheer amount of time and dedication it must have required; it’s difficult to imagine composing a few paragraphs of an “e”-less narrative, nonetheless a 300-page novel!

I often find myself trying to avoid limitations and constraints in creative writing. I like writing pieces that are sometimes incoherent and not bound to proper formatting, line spacing, or narrative structures. This being said, I think it would be a very interesting experience to try and write a piece in which I am limited by a vowel or verse form, and I think experimenting with this might help me hone in on the actual content of the piece. I am grateful for Momo Wang’s guidance over the week and hope to explore experimental writing in the future!

Ren Weber, class of 2020

Bruce Connor: It’s All True by Ren Weber

“I am an artist, an anti-artist, no shrinking ego, modest, a feminist, a profound misogynist, a romantic, a realist, a surrealist, a funk artist, conceptual artist, minimalist, postmodernist, beatnik, hippie, punk, subtle, confrontational, believable, paranoiac, courteous, difficult, forthright, impossible to work with, accessible, obscure, precise, calm, contrary, elusive, spiritual, profane, a Renaissance man of contemporary art, and one the most important artists in the world. My work is described as beautiful, horrible, hogwash, genius, maundering, precise, quaint, avant-garde, historical, hackneyed, masterful, trivial, intense, mystical, virtuosic, bewildering, absorbing, concise, absurd, amusing, innovative, nostalgic, contemporary, iconoclastic, sophisticated, trash, masterpieces, etc. It’s all true.”
–Bruce Conner

It’s All True at the SFMOMA is a collection of Bruce Conner’s work over fifty years as a Bay Area artist. It’s an almost overwhelming exhibit: a combination of experimental film, photographs, collages, paintings, etc. My vivid recollection of this exhibit is due not only to Conner’s ability to stretch far across many genres and medias, but also how well he carried it out.

His first film, A MOVIE, is a twelve-minute edit of old newsreels. The non-narrative film is similar to others in the collection: incorporating a washed-out, hazy black and white style and also having no story, rather a collection of images or one long shot. CROSSROADS, made in 1976, is an extremely slow-motion replay of an underwater nuclear test at Bikini Atoll in the Pacific. The intense slow-mo gives the audience room to capture every detail as the mushroom cloud descends towards the camera, expressing a deliberate destruction. Conner, who is clearly a fan of replaying and rewinding clips, includes this in BREAKAWAY, my favorite in the exhibit. The five-minute movie is a black and white rendition of Toni Basil (known for “Oh Mickey, you’re so fine”) dancing to her song, “Breakaway.” The entire film is made up of very quick shots of Basil, rapidly changing from close-up to far away, all moving quickly so she looks feathered and a flurry of white against the black background. When the song is done the clip and track rewind, becoming an eerie, indistinguishable gurgle.

Besides the films, Conner showcased his paintings and assemblages, which often include different textures created with netting or fabric layered on photo collages. These pieces as well as his ink drawings have a distinct color scheme: monochrome, dusty brown, or beige. The exhibit has a wall dedicated to punk rock show photos, appropriately gritty and faded, and in the next room the “angels,” gelatin silver prints of human silhouettes with hands outstretched towards us. These collections of photographs, as well as his avant-garde films, relay a signature style of white figures against a black background.

With many artists these days, I feel there is an underlying fear of “stretching oneself out too thin” in art. At SOTA, with separate departments, the idea is furthered that we should hone one art. However, if anything, Conner’s art disproves this in a way. His work is a full, vivid, synchronized range of art that surpasses the limitation of genres, blurring the lines and filling the gaps between them.

Ren Weber, class of 2018

A Discussion on Sappho and Commas by Ren Weber

Today the entirety of Creative Writing had a long and passionate conversation about the American school grading system (and the problems that entail). Then, with only forty minutes of class left, CWII left with Maia and the rest of us remained with Heather. She told us a story about rediscovering a book with Sappho poetry, and thus we began the reading.

First we read the foreword that included this Latin phrase: “Non omnis moriar, magnaque pars mei vitabit Libitinam.” With the power of the blessed Internet and temperamental school wifi we learned that this meant, “Not all die, and a great part of me will escape the grave.”

Something quite a bit of us realized early on about Sappho’s poetry is that each one is about 3-4 lines (at least, the poems we read). Another thing I found interesting about the process of annotating and discussing short poems, though, is that they held incredible amount of things to talk about in those short lines. Her poetry writing felt (in Heather’s words): “Sweet, sensual, luxurious.”

Then the topic came to the line in Sappho’s poem “Standing by my bed,” and it goes: “In gold sandals / Dawn that very / moment awoke me.” With short poems like this, there were so many different ways to understand it. Is the narrator waking up standing by the bed? Does the narrator sleepwalk? Is it Dawn standing by the bed? Is the poet personifying the Dawn?

Eventually we came to one understanding of the poem as Dawn wearing gold sandals, standing by a bed. Then we thought about how there could be a comma between “Dawn” and “that”. Upon remembering that these poems were written in (if I recall correctly) 3 BC, we asked ourselves: Were there even commas back then?

With another round of research we learned that commas didn’t exist at that time. Later we realized that commas could be found in other poems in the same collection, and those were simply the result of the poems’ translation.
Only two days in the Poetry Unit, days and lessons like these make me feel very excited for what is to come.

Ren Weber, class of 2019

Lit Critiques by Ren Weber

Today in class Maia Ipp came in to teach us about Lit Critiques. For those who don’t know, Lit Critiques are papers written to extrapolate literary devices/analyze a piece of writing. Accompanying the essay is a creative response that demonstrates some of the literary devices in the poem, fiction, etc. that was analyzed. For the first lit critique of the year we work on the essay with our writing buddies, which I feel really helps the freshman become less confused. We need to complete one per marking period (six per year) so these papers are an anticipated and vital part of CW, and as a freshman I felt somewhat anxious about making my first one.

Maia first explained what a lit critique was supposed to do and have, and then told us the different between form and content (shown in the photo). She gave us examples of literary devices, which really made it easier for me to understand what to write for a critique. Then we split up into our writing buddies and showed each other the pieces that we could choose. My writing buddy, Clare (’17), and I came to a consensus on the piece we would work together on, and got to work analyzing the poem (“The Poplar” by Vladimir Nabokov).

Overall, today was a great day. I’m excited about writing my first (of many) lit critiques, thanks to Maia.

Ren Weber, Class of 2019

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