May 26, 2022

Article: “From the Personal to the Proprietary: Conceptual Writing’s Critique of Metadata”


From the Personal to the Proprietary: Conceptual Writing’s Critique of Metadata


Paul Stephens
Columbia University


DHQ: Digital Humanities Quarterly
Volume 6 Number 2 (2012)


The past decade has seen a remarkable proliferation of new works of constrained and appropriated writing that prominently incorporate, and in turn investigate, metadata schemes. I argue that these works ought to be of considerable interest not only to critics of contemporary avant-garde writing — but also to media theorists, librarians and textual scholars. By emphasizing classification protocols, conceptual writing makes an implicit case for the interrelationship of these fields. Each of the four main books under discussion here — Tan Lin’s Seven Controlled Vocabularies, Craig Dworkin’s Perverse Library, M. Nourbese Philip’s Zong! and Simon Morris’ Getting Inside Jack Kerouac’s Head — draws upon pre-existing textual archives. In doing so, these books suggest that processes of data storage, classification and transmission are key to how poetry is created, recognized and disseminated. Conceptual writing’s attention to information classification protocols offers not only a critique of contemporary models of authorship, but also of contemporary frameworks of personal agency and intellectual property.

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About Gary Price

Gary Price ( is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.