This article considers the central role of the alphabetic sequence in the conceptual writing movement, which has emerged as the dominant avant-garde in poetry in the past decade. By looking at alphabetic conceptual works through a formal lens, it argues that conceptual writing has more in common with its textual forbears than its practitioners would often like to admit. Instead of seeking precursors to conceptual writing in conceptual visual art, it considers conceptual written works alongside other alphabetic texts, such as abecedarian poetry and reference texts, to provide a new context for approaching conceptual writing formally. By focusing in particular on Kenneth Goldsmith’s No. 111 2.7.93–10.20.96, the article argues that close reading conceptual work is not just possible, but essential, and that studying form allows us not just to see conceptual procedure in action, but also the ways in which rules-based texts formally exceed their constraints and thus destabilize their conceptual frameworks. The article ultimately suggests that the alphabetic structure is the epitomic form of a movement that would like to deny form’s centrality to its goals, and that alphabetization—a seemingly rote and rigid procedure—unexpectedly reveals the formal possibilities of conceptual writing.


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pp. 132-158
Launched on MUSE
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