‘According to Plan’ by Rob Kovitz

Book Reviews

According to Plan coverReviewed by Alison Gillmor

According to Plan, the new hybrid literary work from Rob Kovitz, is a massive, madly ambitious super-cut of a book. The Winnipeg-based Kovitz has pieced together excerpts from texts that range from Pride and Prejudice to the Proceedings of the American Society of Civil Engineers to IMDb plot summaries, all including some version of the word “plan.”  Kovtiz’s own plan might sound like a harrowingly narrow premise for a 664-page book, but this wonderfully odd and obsessive textual assemblage expands outward to encompass just about everything, from Hegelian world spirit to complicated cinematic bank heists to our own (mostly) futile attempts to arrange our lives.

The word-hungry Plan starts with scavenged references to all kinds of plans, including the architectural sort. Kovitz trained and has practiced as an architect. He now works as a hybrid creator, operating in some strange terrain between art and literature. So far, Kovitz has been picked up mostly by the visual arts community, which often takes in unclassifiable inter-media waifs and strays. (Ice Fishing in Gimli, Kovitz`s eight-volume epic of montaged words and images, was presented as a bookwork installation at Winnipeg’s Plug In ICA and Gallery One One One, YYZ Artists’ Outlet in Toronto, and the Art Gallery of York University.) Kovitz’s curiously stateless creative status might also come down to the mainstream publishing world’s leeriness of his experimental, magpie-ish methods. While visual artists have been working with collage for over a century and musicians have been fooling around with sampling for decades, the strong taboo against borrowed words has still not broken down.

In According to Plan, Kovitz continues his strenuous testing of the idea of “fair dealing,” the clause in Canadian copyright law that allows for the use of the works of others for creative or educational purposes. All images and words in the book, including those in the introduction, the dedication, the acknowledgments and the “About the Author” page, are lifted from somewhere else.

By mixing up visual and textual material both high and low—from Cervantes to porn flicks, from Don DeLillo to Fox News—Kovitz renounces an obvious authorial voice. This act could be viewed as an admission that in our laterally-linked, information-saturated postmodern world, all creative works are ultimately re-combinations of existing tropes. But there is a peppy originality to Kovitz’s work. He brings a stubborn idiosyncrasy to the creative possibilities of editing, arranging his found material—which sometimes comes in little snips, sometimes in big chunks—with an eye to ironic juxtaposition and comic turnabout. He often pulls off the kind of eccentric re-contextualizing that makes you look at the originals from a new angle.

Kovitz also uses his sampled sources to build his own oblique narrative. His method may sometimes resemble deranged late-night Googling. (Some of the more outré excerpts—say, the Urban Dictionary definitions, or a policy statement from the Association of Newfoundland Land Surveyors—seem to come from the middle of the roughly 2,570,000,000 entries in the Internet search results for the word “plan.”)

But there is also methodical structure, a rhythmic push-pull that arranges itself into themes and variations, points and counterpoints. Mostly, Kovitz loops around the idea that human beings possess a persistent need to make plans. In chapters made up of loosely clustered subjects, Kovitz covers the range of human plan-making, from waging total war to manufacturing scented candles. There are totalitarian plans, which account for every contingency of life with terrifying thoroughness. There are clutches of conspiracy theories, advanced by people who prefer the idea of some great over-arching plan—however threatening and malevolent— to the arbitrary mess of human history.  There are the utopian dreams of modernism, this particular plan’s potential for failure represented by repeated entries from the Asbestos Cement Products Association. (In hindsight, the spokespersons’ optimistic postwar boosterism—“Not only attractive but fireproof, too!”—can be viewed as the oblivious embrace of a future construction disaster.) There is God’s Plan—for you, for me, for salvation, for prosperity. Of course, Satan also has plans, which usually seem like more fun.

Kovitz is using newfangled information technology that allows quicksilver connections to all sorts of material. But he is also battened by the weight of his sources, and their centuries of history, theology and philosophy. Plan raises old-school questions about cause and effect, choice and necessity, fate and free will, control and chaos, divine providence and blind chance.

There is a lot of planning in Plan, but there’s also a lot of “thwarting,” “foiling,” and things “going awry.” These words and phrases—despite being rather quaint and rarely used in other circumstances—are the constant companions of “the plan.” Kovitz possesses a tender regard for our compulsive need for planning, but he also acknowledges that plans almost always get fucked up. Pages and pages of disparate sources refer to a “Plan A” that almost always fails, giving way immediately to Plan B—and often Plans C, D and E, right down to Z. There’s a poignant power in the way that Kovitz’s gathered schemes, lists, bureaucratic flowcharts, self-improvement resolutions and diet regimens constantly threaten to dissolve into inertia and confusion.  As Kovitz writes, by way of Mike Tyson, “Everyone has a plan ’til they get punched in the mouth.”

According to Plan ends up having its own suckerpunch power. Kovitz’s bookwork might read at first like a clever collating exercise, but it soon becomes something bigger, stronger and stranger, something  Quixotic (Cervantes’ masterwork turns out to be one of the planny-est works in the Western canon) and just a bit crazy.

And as Kovitz himself quotes, sometimes a plan “is so crazy it just might work.” This one does.

Treyf | 670 pages | $34.00 | paper | ISBN # 978-1927923115


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Alison Gillmor

Alison Gillmor is a Winnipeg journalist who has written on art, architecture, film and books for The Walrus, The Globe & Mail, Border Crossings, Canada's History and CBC Arts Online. She's also a pop culture columnist for the Winnipeg Free Press.