What can words do for Stuart Sherman. What can a word do. What can WORD do. What can W O R D do.
He was born in 1945. In 1967, having attended Antioch, he spent six months reading to novelist Carson McCullers. In 1975, he debuted Stuart Sherman Makes a Spectacle of Himself in his apartment, then performed it on the set of Richard Foreman’s play Pandering to the Masses: A Misrepresentation (in which he pedaled a stationary bicycle). In all, there were twenty “spectacles” (a dramatic public display, an object of curiosity, eyeglasses [with words or images for lenses]), most solo with TV tray and objects. He abbreviated Hamlet, Oedipus, Faust, Chekhov, Strindberg, Brecht; staged Lem’s Solaris and Dickinson. In 1992–93, he published quasi-monthly issues of the photocopied Quotidian Review (his writing, his performance, his art, his life). In 1999, he wrote eight mostly “unhelpful” reviews on Amazon.com. He wrote a poem a day through 2001, the year of his death.
In the early ’70s, mostly, before he began performing, Sherman wrote/drew/typed/gridded hundreds of sheets of what NYU’s Fales Library calls “diagram poems,” twenty of which follow. Each of these 8.5-by-11-inch pages is an analogue to Sherman’s TV tray: a rectangular surface for rules (prescribed actions, straight lines). On the tray, Sherman would add objects, manipulate objects, remove objects; he would play back words with a tape recorder or spell them out with refrigerator magnets. On the page, words are the objects and the actions. Words, words as letters, letters as the words that comprise them.
Also included here are the five performance descriptions Sherman published as “Six Performance Pieces” in the second Quotidian Review (October 1992). In both performances and poems, Sherman’s gestures have a syntax. He placed one thing after another, A then B then C, but “then” is no simple or logical term. Or as Mark Bradford, Sherman’s executor, wrote, “What if making a = b was your job? And it was a struggle?”1
5 = 6? Magritte not Duchamp? Molloy and his sucking stones? How to do things with words?
Remove gluestick cap (place in breast pocket), indicate action of rubbing glue on right side, left side, and center of bare (black-topped) table in front of you. Then say: “I do not want to see my right hand stuck to the table,” “rub” right eye with gluestick, close right eye. Say “I do not want to see my right hand stuck to the table,” “rub” left eye with gluestick, close left eye. Remove gluestick cap from breast pocket, re-cap gluestick and set it upright in center of table (“Pritt” logo facing audience). Then say “I want to see my right hand stuck to the table,” open right eye and set (“stick”) right hand, palm down, on right side of table. Say “I want to see my left hand stuck to the left side of the table,” open left eye and set (“stick”) left hand, palm down, on left side of table. Say “I want to see both my hands unstuck to the table,” remove (“unstuck”) both hands from table. Take hold of gluestick with right hand, feign trying to lift it off table, say “Please.” (Gluestick remains “stuck” to table.) Take hold of gluestick with left hand, feign trying to lift it from table, say “Please.” Gluestick remains “stuck” to table. Take hold of gluestick with both hand, say “Pritty please,” lift gluestick from table.
Take wax paper with one self-sticking black dot adhered to its center. Remove dot, place on cap of gluestick (on whose circle-top it fits perfectly). Hold gluestick lengthwise between two fingers of right hand, lift gluestick up and down (as if lifting and lowering a bar-bell), then flex and feel right bicep. Place gluestick between two fingers of left hand, lift up and down (like bar-bell), flex and lift left bicep. Remove dot from gluestick and replace on wax paper. Take thin wooden stick and point at dot, say “Dot’s absurd,” point again, say “Dot’s ridiculous,” repeating action several times, pointing and saying random (but appropriate) phrases beginning with “Dot’s…,” finally saying “Dot’s enough.” Then drop wax paper with dot and break stick in half over knee.
Hold broken pieces of stick together. Vertically, side by side (pretend to) spit on their ends, take Elmer’s glue and (pretend to) squeeze glue onto the stick’s ends. Hold stick-pieces together lengthwise, lift it up and down, bending knees and straightening up (like a weight-lifter, weight-lifting), drop stick—its two pieces break apart and fall to the floor. Pick up pieces, hold them together vertically, side by side, “spit” on their ends, pretend to squeeze Elmer’s glue into your eardrums, then hold stick-pieces up, one in each ear (horizontally positioned and in a straight line). Bend knees and straighten up, like a weight-lifter, weight-lifting, then drop stick-halves. They fall to floor.
Put fingers in ears, then cup ears with hands (in listening posture). Take record and record-needle, make half-circle motions with needle just above record’s surface, repeat this “stuck needle” action several times.
Put record needle down, break record in half over your knee. Take black balloon, blow it up, stick record needle into balloon, balloon bursts. Holding end of broken balloon, lift hand and arm into air, as if (impossibly) you were being lifted up by the burst balloon.