The Toronto Art Gallery recently exhibited a canvas priced at several hundreds (or was it thousands?) of dollars, which consisted of an orange background — and nothing else. Currently one of the most sensational young artists in New York City is Robert Rauschenberg, one of whose most highly acclaimed (and highly priced) strokes of genius consisted of erasing other artists’ canvases and signing his own name to the resulting nothingness. Other lesser artists have tried, with surprising success, to interest viewers (and even buyers) in works of art consisting of nothing but flat canvases in assorted monochromes. It is obvious that one art form cannot claim a monopoly over any new technique, and as an even newer development of the nonpainting and unpainting trend, Maclean’s takes pride in presenting here a fine early example of the parallel movement in literature, a nonarticle by the noted Canadian humorist Robert Thomas Allen, and an illuminating review by that well-known critic, Fulford Krammer.
Outer Galaxy, by Robert Thomas Allen A review by Fulford Krammer
THE ARTICLE published in its entirety above is one of the most interesting expressions of nonarticle writing that has come to this reviewer’s attention for some time, even from the pen of a man who. all editors now agree, is one of the most accomplished nonarticle writers in Canada. The first thing that will strike the reader is a rather significant fact: that Allen has gone into a new length. Back in the days when nonwriting (now universally known as pop journalism) was considered by many reviewers a hoax, and was having a hard time making itself heard, Allen was not writing articles of fifteen hundred words. This departure into not writing articles of a thousand words is a rather significant turn in the career of this controversial old rebel. Many serious critics feel that he is getting tired, but this hardly deserves credence in view of Allen’s hardy attitude toward his particular art form.
“I sometimes play flutes to my typewriter,” Allen said recently. “We all play flutes. I hear my paper. I love bulldozers. I just like to muck around.”
A rather interesting point about the way Allen has not written Outer Galaxy is the skillful use he has made of the crosscurrents of nothing happening; as Kant said, “Substance is self-determining.” A point worth noticing, too. is that Allen has placed his provocative eleven-letter title precisely in the middle of the top of the page. There have been many theories advanced to explain this, but we must be on guard not to attach meanings to it that don’t exist in fact. After all, it’s conceivable that Allen just happens to have a good eye for the middle of the page. At any rate, Outer Galaxy leaves little doubt that Allen must be considered seriously as one of the great nonarticle writers on the scene. It's not a matter now of whether Allen has arrived, but of how far he will go.
Allen first became interested in nonarticle writing in 1962, when he didn’t write anything for seven months and realized that this was the only way to fulfillment. The central core of his philosophy is that writing should reflect a mood of not happening.
“Nothing much happens to anyone. Often when I am playing my flute, I realize that self-expression is like a tin can burning,” Allen said, absolutely without affectation. “I just didn’t want to write. All those words. We are not meant to talk. I like silence. Neanderthal man liked silence.”
He said that if he ever decided to stop nonwriting (and he could, as he has done everything else in his life: impulsively and without apology) he would like to bind books.
“But I’d start looking for nonbooks,” he said, dusting a Mina bird in his studio.
"We find life terribly exciting,” added Mrs. Allen, an attractive woman in a sun bonnet. “But my husband objects to that term, pop journalism. He says labels are like a bad cold. It’s just life. Or nonlife.”
The story you want is part of the Maclean’s Archives. To access it, log in here or sign up for your free 30-day trial.
Experience anything and everything Maclean's has ever published — over 3,500 issues and 150,000 articles, images and advertisements — since 1905. Browse on your own, or explore our curated collections and timely recommendations.WATCH THIS VIDEO for highlights of everything the Maclean's Archives has to offer.