Liz Worth’s No Work Finished Here (BookThug, 2015) is a poetic response to Andy Warhol’s a: A Novel, which is comprised of recorded conversations between Warhol and some of his friends over the course of several days. These recordings were transcribed as exactly as possible, including all the audio artefacts of laughter and ambient noise and conversational pauses and so forth. Four different typists were used for the transcription, each laying out the conversation differently, and the book makes no attempt to standardize their differences, even keeping typos as traces of the artistic process. The end product is what might be called a pop-art novel that presents a single day in Warhol’s Factory scene.
Worth’s book takes each page of Warhol’s novel and condenses it into a poem, using only words and phrases that appear on the original page, the number of which she includes as part of the poem’s title. As she distills Warhol’s transcriptions, Worth cuts away the conversational artefacts (the ums and uhs, the laughter, the background noises), and she mostly eliminates the sense of dialogue as well, though some poems do retain this element. Instead, Worth gathers key phrases from the page, intensifying their meaning in proximity, creating lyric passages from the fragmented text of the novel’s pages.
Now, I think that Warhol’s original novel is a failed experiment, that merely recording and transcribing everyday conversation yielded little of interest and almost nothing of art. It is an interesting idea, to be sure, but the result is only very occasionally interesting, slightly more often prurient, but mostly just tedious. Like the majority of Warlhol’s art, a: A Novel is art as idea, as intellectual provocation, as aesthetic exercise, but (as he intended) without depth. Its value is as a surface only, as reflection.
In light of this, Worth’s collection seems to me a strange project, working at odds with Warhol’s aims, reducing his exactly fragmented transcriptions into the distilled language of poetry, turning its disjointed and rambling text into a meaningful coherence. It is as if she is trying to rescue some significance from the novel, searching for something beneath behind its relentless superficiality.
In other words, depending on your understanding of Warhol’s artistic project, Worth does his novel a grave disservice, destroying its surface, pushing past the reflective quality that is its distinctive feature, returning it to the kind of earnest art that Warhol’s work sought to disrupt. It becomes a strangely paradoxical book, at once paying Warhol a sustained homage and at the same time pursuing radically different aesthetic purposes.
On the other hand, No Work Finished Here also made me read a: A Novel in its entirety for the first time, so perhaps Warhol wouldn’t object to her approach so very much after all.