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The Brooklyn Rail

APR 2017

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APR 2017 Issue
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Tracie Morris, handholding: 5 kinds

(Kore Press, 2016)

Handholding remediates a series of works by John Akomfrah, John Cage, Stanley Kubrick, Kurt Schwitters, and Gertrude Stein. In the process, Morris meets the challenge Walter Benjamin set for translators: “finding the particular intention toward the target language which produces in that language the echo of the original.”1 In other words, the translator must allow the words from one language to inhabit the structure of another, interfering and deforming it from within. Benjamin tasked the translator with what Morris does so exemplarily well: to “lovingly and in detail incorporate the original’s way of meaning.”2 Morris moves with loving attention and unflinching critical detail between the signature language of other artists—variously acoustic, filmic, documentary, poetic—and her own distinct idiom. The opening of the Stein chapter gives a sense, bending the structure of Stein’s portraits to the vocabulary of Tender Buttons and its exuberant bodiliness, following her lead of following the lead of the signifier, with a Yiddish twist: “If I reviewed her, if I reviewed her. I reviewed her. Her her button. Her buttonniere. Herbal. Her boobeleh. Her boo. Her tuchas. Her view. Her book.” But print is only half of handholding, which also includes audio files that showcase Morris’s Benjaminian translation of recording technologies and her astonishing ability to vocally incorporate the machinic noise of phonographs, the distortion of microphones, and the skip of the digital glitch—casting them back as devices that generate, rather than impede, meaning.


  1. Walter Benjamin, Selected Writings, Volume 1: 1913 – 1926, ed. Marcus Bullock and Michael W. Jennings, (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1996), 259.
  2. Benjamin, 260.


Craig Dworkin

CRAIG DWORKIN is author of Reading the Illegible (Northwestern University Press) and editor of Eclipse (www.princeton.edu/eclipse) and the UbuWeb Anthology of Conceptual Writing (www.ubu.com). His edition of the Collected Poems of Vito Acconci will be published in January.


The Brooklyn Rail

APR 2017

All Issues