Tag Archives: conceptual writing

The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psycho-analysis: A Selection


Hi all,

For the past 16 months, I’ve maintained an Instagram account @selected.works dedicated (mostly) to showcasing pages from my artist’s book The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psycho-analysis: A Selection (which was in fact completed and printed some time earlier). I used the account to highlight and quote from pages of Jacques Lacan’s original The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psycho-analysis that I felt were relevant to my project; in the process, I learned a lot about Lacan, my own creative work, and the world of Instagram (or at least the parts of it I connected with).

Since I’ve reached the end of my volume (though it is, of course, only half the size of Lacan’s), I’ve decided to bring the project to a close, at least for now, and to think about turning @selected.works towards new ends. To mark the occasion, I’ve also decided to make available some additional documentation pertaining to A Selection: specifically, a short artist’s statement I wrote nearly two years ago to collect some of my motivations for and reflections on the project. That statement is copied below. If you’ve been following the project, I hope it’ll provide you with some intriguing background material. And if you’ve never seen A Selection before, I hope this will entice you to dig into the Instagram posts!


The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psycho-analysis: A Selection

Artist’s Statement


The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psycho-analysis: A Selection is a typographical artwork inspired by appropriation art, conceptual writing, and visual poetry. In its complete form as a 142-page printed book, the project operates as a “selection” of Jacques Lacan’s classic text (first published in English in 1977) in at least two senses: first, as an editorial selection of approximately half the lectures included in the original volume; second, as a graphical erasure of approximately half the ink used in the original publication of the selected sections, a result achieved by typesetting the volume in a font variation (designed by the artist) which renders visible only part of each printed letter. Thus the scope of the project spans, on one end, the editorial and visual reproduction of Hogarth’s original publication of Lacan’s text and, on the other, the development of the “Manque” font variation, which could be applied to any text.

The project’s methods draw inspiration from several sources. Its use of appropriation and material reproduction is inspired by the work of appropriation artists such as Richard Prince, especially his reproduction of Random House’s first edition of The Catcher in the Rye. Conceptual writing’s focus on the materiality of text, the labour of reproduction, and radical mimesis provides additional context for these techniques. Meanwhile, the design of the “Manque” font variation draws inspiration from the processes of erasure poetry as well as the visual styles of asemic writing and non-Latin scripts.

Lacan’s The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psych-analysis emerged as an ideal source text for the project for a variety of reasons; in many ways, in fact, the text seemed to suggest the parameters of the project of its own volition. Superficially, the project mimics the format of Bruce Fink’s first translation of Lacan’s Écrits (also the first work of Lacan’s to be published in English), which included only a selection of Lacan’s original essays and was subtitled as such. The publication history of The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psycho-analysis also offers an excellent case study of the problems of reproduction and translation explored by A Selection. Originally presented by Lacan as an oral seminar, the lectures that constitute The Four Fundamental Concepts were first collected as a printed text (and given their popular title, which was not Lacan’s) under the editorship of Jacques-Alain Miller, who has since been accused of distorting Lacan’s voice and thought. As Alan Sheridan’s translation of the French text puts the 1977 Hogarth publication at yet another level of remove from its supposed origins, the book’s appearance in English carries with it a deep suspicion of the status and value of these origins even before its reproduction in A Selection. That Lacan is often considered fundamental to the line of postmodern thinking obsessed with this suspicion is perhaps no coincidence. Finally, the thematic structure of Lacan’s seminar provided a ripe target for editorial re-imagining: by “selecting” approximately the first half of the book for republication, A Selection redesigns Lacan’s seminar to culminate with his discussions of the image and the gaze, foregrounding his most direct commentaries on the visual effects of the “Manque” font variation. In a sense, the project attempts to prove the relevance of Lacan’s comments on mimicry (as presented on page 99 of the text, the only page rendered in regular type in A Selection) to the relationship between textuality and visuality: concerning the limit beyond which a script ceases to signify and becomes no more than a picture, “It is not a question of harmonizing with the background but, against a mottled background, of becoming mottled—exactly like the technique of camouflage practised in human warfare.”

The name of the font variation “Manque” references Lacan’s famous manque-à-être, a neologism derived from the French word for “to miss” or “to lack” but rendered in English as “want-to-be” by Lacan himself. Alongside its application of manque-à-être to the field of the letter (itself an important agent within the unconscious, according to Lacan’s well-known essay), “Manque” thus also incorporates the problems and history of translating Lacan’s thought into its very identity.

John Nyman
January 7, 2016





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Microlit review of Zane Koss’s Warehouse Zone at The Town Crier

Hi everyone,

I’ve already shared this on social media, but I wanted say a few more words about the “microlit” review of Zane Koss’s Warehouse Zone I wrote for The Town Crier (The Puritan‘s “bloggy appendage), which was published last Wednesday. The review is part of (the first part of, in fact) an ongoing series of microlit reviews the blog introduced last week; rather than try to define the term “microliterature” or the mission of the series myself, I’ll refer you to this introductory post written by The Town Crier’s editor, Jason Freure, which does a really excellent job of framing the extended project. It’s probably needless to say that I’m 100% behind it.

If you haven’t read it already, I hope you do take a look at my review of Warehouse Zone, which is really an amazing work of post-conceptual writing. I also hope the review might lead a few more people to read the complete chapbook, however difficult that may be; the project was printed in a very limited run last summer by Publication Studio Guelph and has not been widely advertised since. I’ve been told that the book will be available at the brand-new Publication Studio webstore very soon, so you should definitely be on the lookout for it. And if you’re really anxious, you should be able to get a copy sent to you (for only $5, + shipping and handling) by emailing PS directly, as noted on the book’s listing here.

Aside from the opportunity to review Warehouse Zone specifically, I’m also super-proud of the strong showing Guelph is making in the microlit scene, at least as far a The Town Crier defines it. It so happens that the blog’s second microlit review was written by my friend Jeremy Luke Hill at Guelph’s Vocamus Press on the fantastic Fenylalanine Publishing, who I released a chapbook with earlier this year. It’s also worth pointing out that Zane Koss is a founding member of the &, collective, a really excellent bunch of young poets I’ve been working with since September and will be releasing a chapbook with very, very soon (so stay tuned for that).

As usual, it won’t be long before I have more news. Until then, keep reading microlit!

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Players review in Northumberland Today

Hi all,

If you’ve got a second, I want to draw your attention to an excellent review of Players in Northumberland Today, written by Wally Keeler. There isn’t much I could say to supplement Keeler’s insights, but I do want to thank him (and the other folks working behind the scenes in Coburg’s poetry community) for his insights, and especially for touching on some of the aspects of Players I’m most proud of. To my eyes, at least (and I really have no idea how meaningful that is), the piece was incredibly illuminating.

If Keeler’s review whets your appetite for more from Players, make sure you catch me at one of my upcoming readings in Toronto (May 31) or Coburg (June 2)!

Happy reading!

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Performance at The Quilliad’s first chapbook launch March 31, with printed copies of euNoia

Howdy folks,

I’ve already gushed about my love for The Quilliadfabulous print magazine, inspiring small press, and home of the inexplicably awesome Poetry Parrot–in previous posts. Luck would have it that the press’s Editor-in-Chief, Sarah Varnam, has invited me to perform at The Quilliad’s first chapbook launch and retrospective! The event features the launch and a reading of Geoffrey Nilson‘s We Have to Watch, as well as short sets by past Quilliad contributors (including me!). It’s all happening this Thursday, March 31, 7pm at Betty’s on King in Toronto. $5 cover gets you either a back issue of The Quilliad or half the sticker price of We Have to Watch.

Of course, I’m mostly excited to take a gander at Nilson’s chapbook this Thursday. But I’m also excited to (1) share some pieces  from my debut poetry collection, Players, which is launching in JUST ONE WEEK, and (2) to show off the long-awaited printed edition of my typographical remix chapbook, euNoia, which was published online by Fenylalanine Publishing earlier this year. See you Thursday!

P.S. If you’d like to own a copy of euNoia for your coffee table or zine shelf (a great fit for either, I think), they’ll be on sale for the super-cheap price of $5! The printed edition even comes with this exclusive cover, designed and databent by yours truly.

cover FP15 euNoia (chapbook) v2


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euNoia and Fenylalanine Publishing

Happy New Year!

It looks like 2016’s starting off with a bang: just today, my poetic remix euNoia was released online with Fenylalanine Publishing, a Guelph-based press headed by David J. Knight. euNoia is, I’d like to think, a unique work, combining influences from conceptual poetry, remix culture, and typographical art. The chapbook’s procedure is nonetheless fairly straightforward: it features precise reproductions of the first page of each chapter of Christian Bök’s Eunoia, but with the capitalization adjusted to highlight each section’s vowels and consonants, alternatively. I’ve always been enamoured with the visual patterns formed by the typography of Eunoia‘s chapters (which, if you’re not familiar with the book, each employ only one of English’s five vowels), and I imagined that a minimal change in the text’s presentation could bring those pattern out in a new way. euNoia is Fenylalanine’s fifteenth publication; you can see the full document on Fenylalanine’s wordpress page here.

Fenylalanine Publishing itself is a pretty interesting project to dive into. I had the pleasure of meeting David, the press’s founder, this past December at its first in-person launch event (although many online editions had already been published in 2015). Speaking off the cuff about Fenylalanine’s mission, David stressed that literacy, as far as he understands it, means reading the spaces in between the reference points established by existing genres and categories; as such, Fenylalanine aims to publish works that resist classification. Its output to date has included artworks and ephemera from verse poetry to asemic writing to found photography, highlighting projects that straddle the boundaries between image and text, and between page and screen. I highly recommend browsing some of Fenylalanine’s publications, either on the wordpress page linked above or through the posts on their facebook page.

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Brick Books Celebration of Canadian Poetry piece on Conceptual Writing and Rachel Zolf posted today

Howdy folks,

Anyone interested in conceptual writing or the work of Rachel Zolf (and especially her new book, Janey’s Arcadia) might be interested in reading my contribution to Brick Books’ Celebration of Canadian Poetry, which was posted online earlier today. The piece is several months in the making: a while back, Brick Books’ wonderful general manager Kitty Lewis asked if I would be interested in writing about Canadian conceptual writing for the series; having just familiarized myself with Zolf’s body of work, I took up the offer gleefully. At the same time, I really felt that I couldn’t do justice to conceptual writing and its circle of practitioners and techniques without addressing the controversy raised around the genre earlier this year. I’ve heard a lot of strong positions (both offensive and defensive) on conceptual writing articulated over the past few months, both in my local environment and on a larger scale; ultimately, I hope that my small contribution to the discourse might begin to do justice to the political and ethical stakes of poetry (conceptual or otherwise) without drawing the conclusion of outright condemnation. In any case, you can read my piece for yourself here.

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