Hartmut Abendschein: e-books, Rorschach-Test, 50 % Flarf

INTERVIEW: In her article from October 2015 for one of the major German newspapers F.A.Z., Elke Heinemann writes that you see the future of literary weblog publishing not in the curated e-book as a form of  assemblage of rhizomatic texts but in no less than “the internet” itself. This already sounds outdated enough, looking at bots, Twitter, Instagram, and literature apps and games. How do you keep up? Do you maybe consider yourself as “first generation”? What are blogs today?

Questions of this kind are often asked by columnists who mainly regard the e-book as an independent phenomenon, joining a hype that stages e-books as something completely different and new. I’ve never quite understood why the e-book (or rather, reading one) has been presented as such an important cultural and technological surprise and shift. Basically, e-books (and their devices) try to make us forget that we are not reading a book. One could say that by making them “social”, such as by adding a comment function or by including special characters which give hints of a former semantic intention of the scaled text, reading habits as well as text production have been changed in a profound way. These all seem like nice concepts and buzzwords – but where is the emancipatory potential? In the end, it boils down nevertheless to the text being basically reaffirmed as a closed unity. At the other extreme, there are stacks of novels in bookstore shelves. When blogs started off as a common tool for writing texts (I mean the literary weblogs as a complex work of art), I had that feeling that something changed. Suddenly it seemed possible to cope with works or text streams which were not self-contained entities, but essentially open. In return, it was possible to create forms that could be taken as manifestations of a specific character or tone of voice. You could observe writing processes and at the same time be a part of it and, although they were volatile works in progress, you could label them as literature. Some writers hoped to realise and refurbish early Romantic concepts such as the idea of “Universalpoesie” (“universal poetry”), including myself.

(c) H. Abendschein
(c) H. Abendschein

Depending on the conceptual approach of a blog, there were quite remarkable and multifaceted works created (e.g. www.litblogs.net). And they are still alive and kicking. Meanwhile, “Blog” has become an ugly and milked-to-death word.  We certainly don’t talk about blogs anymore. The term is still in use though – mainly with the subtext of self empowerment and independency. However, I have always been more interested in the techno-aesthetic aspects of blogs, seeing them more commonly as specifically designed databases. And I wanted to see them (depending on their poetics) as referential workpieces. Or as public but at the same time private text repositories, archives, storage, able to connect in many different ways so that texts can be set in different relationships and new cofigurations: ready-mades or surprising aesthetics could be generated. I certainly include and appreciate all software with which one can produce such effects. Whether it is a TiddlyWiki file, a Prezi installation, a hypertext work or examples of ergodic literature. (Bots, Twitter and co., are rather communication strategies for me, but let’s include them, why not …)
Overall, I think the (literary) public was more interested and curious about such experiments before the e-book had been widely accepted and so to my mind, it is partially responsible for enforcing conservative literary concepts.

On my own blog I used to post about narrative approaches, too. But for some years now I tend to produce mainly and systematically small text elements, which are intended for later use in conceptual works. By the way: these elements can be used again and again, or can be modified and reposted. After all, it is rather about the implementation of concepts than finishing optimized products, which are  overpolished anyway by a manyfold production chain.

I didn’t get it. For your latest book “Flarf Disco: Popgedichte”, published in your own publishing house, you use the techniques of montage and appropriation. You draw on the sources of pop culture references mainly provided by the selection made by the biggest and most influential pop (discourse) magazine called “Spex”. What kind of techniques did you use? Can you explain in detail?

“Flarf Disco” is also the result of a conceptual approach. (By the way: early text stages of this project have also been published on the blog.) As the title implies, the book includes 50% Flarf and 50% disco … But we don’t have to recalculate that. It is rather about its methods of combining elements, the handling of a determined corpus of text with the manipulation possibilities of contingent, but also arbitrary text.

I am interested in contemporary (pop & alternative) music and in possession of the complete collection of over currently 130 CD samplers from the magazine Spex. Eventually I realised that the titles of the samplers taken together create a new text that tells little stories. I assume that this was intended by the editors. But I wondered, how to push the boundaries even further? Could I conceptualise a complete collection of poems and thereby give the material a new twist? So I extracted all the songs, juxtaposed them. I regard this material as a symptomatic archive of contemporary pop language. The term corpus poetics, which I read again recently, comes in to be quite convenient.

(c) H. Abendschein
(c) H. Abendschein

I was using various methods of assemblage and techniques of compression created in a multistage process. The generated poems and verbal images are about topics such as youth/age, sex/gender, music, identity, urbanity etc. I can’t explain here in detail how and in what order the material was rearranged without exposing, so to speak, a kind of algorithm. But the following interventions I made have been applied in a quite systematic way:

Translation of text material into German (if necessary), identification of suitable images (and leaving them or not). Techniques of manipulation: permutation of the text. Classical cut-up. Reduction of text. Paraphrasing. Synonymisation. Change of grammatical flections.  Repetitions (as we know it in music; refrain, loop, remix etc.) Combinatorial and aleatoric approaches. Reordering of bigger text blocks. Harmonisation of grammatical subjects. At the end: choreography of the  60 generated poems into 6 chapters.

The concept of authorship in these texts is a bit iffy as sometimes in my works my aim was to create a kind of meta- or framework plus a homogeneous style or what one might call: a specific sound. A medley with déja-vu moments but also a coherent song.

Pop is often and especially in Spex already a juxtaposition of cultural codes and references, a farewell to deeper meaning and a buoyant suspension of a greater narrative context – finally creating a perfect surface. It is easy and it is already echoing culture in polyphony. In other words, montage is inherent to pop as are potatoes in pommes frites. I just have to ask the only question that is so un-pop but: Why, pray tell, why did you do “Flarf Disco”?

Language and code practices (in pop) are in fact often linked with irony. This is where Flarf Disco comes in. Nevertheless, I would argue that there’s a double state of irony. Since I’ve chosen a classical presentation and publication format for this new material: a very straight and structured poetry book, I think these references and this attitude get neutralised. The book in the hands of readers is innocent. Each one has to decide if the texts have to be read with its irony or not.

(c) H. Abendschein
(c) H. Abendschein

In a review (Julian Gardener: “Der hohe Ton des Funkenkönigs”, literaturkritik.de, 27.8.2015), the reviewer does an extensive interpretation of a poem (“im raum bochum deiner ferienwohnung”). That worked out extremely well and I was deeply impressed by the aplomb of the review and the kind of tools of literary criticism he would use. Simultaneously it enlightened me about what Flarf Disco is also useful for: as a collection of material for language poetry determinded to test techniques of modern hermeneutics.

You do a lot of interesting experimental things without explaining why or how you produce the experiments. How is “my daily Rorschach” done?

That’s true. I tend to publish uncommented material on my blog or in clouds. Usually after some months or some years even the intended meaning unfolds eventually on its own. For “my daily Rorschach” I will make an exception this time and tell you about where it heads to.

(c) H. Abendschein
(c) H. Abendschein

“My daily Rorschach” is a sub or side project, for which every morning I create an inkblot in a paper roll apparatus that I built only for that reason. The inkblot is then photographed and uploaded online. It is a kind of daily exercise, until the roll is spent. That will be over 1000 serial blots by then. Perhaps one can regard this final object as a film spool, which could even be “played” under certain circumstances. But I am also aiming for something else: I’ll use this inkblots or pseudo Rorschach tests and apply them to text, because I’m interested in the question of how a given text contour influences a text. How is the semantic of a text affected, when it adopts its shadowy forms. Or, to put it differently: what kind of aesthetic shapes emerge? A few examples will be published with the title “nicht begonnenes fortsetzen – Text und Schatten” in the next issue of IDIOME.


You also take on the role of a publisher. It actually suits your way of writing as appropriation. So, you are a writer by being a publisher and a publisher by being a writer, one could say? Is being a publisher the consequence of being a writer who faces Big Data and turns into some kind of dj/curator?

My small edition – which is actually getting larger and larger with currently over 30 authors – is in a way a meta-literary conceptual project. It systematically develops a collection of literary samples and examples, in different media and with different strategies of representation. And a certain librarian thoroughness. Very often we read and talk about the literary substance of a work. In my view, such substance in the form of gained knowledge is generated by the friction of different text types interacting with each other. As such, I am “a writer by being a publisher” as I enable these types of literatures and their controlled clashes. And maybe a Dj or curator when the choreography, selection and volume is right.

Leave a Reply