PRINT December 2014


Mira Schor

In Paul Chan’s 2006 documentary Untitled Video on Lynne Stewart and Her Conviction, the Law, and Poetry, former civil rights attorney Lynne Stewart reads from poems of special significance to her, by John Ashbery and William Blake, among others. Whenever she does so, the screen cuts from footage of her speaking to flat fields of color—black, purple, blue, red, orange. I’ve never forgotten the powerfully moving effect of these twinned aesthetic anomalies in an artwork with a political subject: a lawyer who uses poetry in court, a video whose documentary progress is shattered and enlightened by abstraction. This confidence in aesthetics matched with a long-term commitment to activist politics at the level of community organizing also characterizes Chan’s writings, collected in Paul Chan Selected Writings 2000–2014 (Schaulager, Laurenz Foundation, and Badlands Unlimited). Many of the texts articulate, in a prose that is at once dialectical, aphoristic, and limpid (and which wears its theoretical underpinnings lightly), the artist’s refusal to reject the value of art within a political project and a concomitant notion of aesthetics that values contingency and collaboration over sutured perfection. Here, as in the Stewart documentary, exposition is punctuated by abstraction—by way of mysterious short stories, scatological poems, and typographic experimentation—featured in a section of gray-bordered pages titled “Fonts and Works” that constitutes an artist’s book nestled within a book by an artist.

Mira Schor is a New York–based painter and writer. She is the author of A Decade of Negative Thinking: Essays on Art, Politics, and Daily Life (Duke University Press) and the blog A Year of Positive Thinking, and a coeditor of M/E/A/N/I/N/G online.