Edited by Melissa Ragain – Jack Burnham | Dissolve into Comprehension: Writings and Interviews, 1964-2004


The MIT Press, ISBN: 978-0262029278, English, 352 pages, 2015, USA

Collecting essays about Burnham can be a hard task, as they are scattered across different archives. And if one succeeds, editing a consistent collection of his essays, avoiding repetitions and including the most important topics of his writing is even harder. Ragain seems to succeed in this endeavour. Burnham, not really celebrated during his peak of activity (the end of the 1960s and 1970s), has become an icon in new media culture, thanks to his famous “System Aesthetics” published in 1968, one of the most visionary pieces in this field, seeming to anticipate many aspects of contemporary society. This edited anthology is a patient and painstaking work: it delves into Burnham’s work, taking into consideration consistency among the texts, and including also his late interests. There are less well-known and some previously unpublished texts. The legacy of thinkers such as Marcuse and Duchamp progressively emerge, as, for example, where Burnham criticises the capitalistic “product innovation”. An art historian by trade, Burnham had two interests: systems and post-formalism. In this collection we can find some of his interpretative diagrams, early writings on conceptualism and the last studies on the Kabbalah, which absorbed him completely for more than a decade. These elements are necessary to understand his path, from science to mystic interests.