Christian Bök in Purple Blurb *Thursday* 6pm

Update: Thanks to Francisco Ricardo, a video of some of Christian’s Purple Blurb reading is now online.

The Spring 2012 Purple Blurb series comes to an end this week, not with a whimper, but with Christian Bök!

Thursday May 3
6-120
6pm

Christian Bök is the author of Crystallography (Coach House Press, 1994),
 a pataphysical encyclopedia nominated for the Gerald Lampert Memorial
 Award, and of Eunoia (Coach House Books, 2001), a bestselling work of
 experimental literature, which has gone on to win the Griffin Prize for
 Poetic Excellence. Bök has created artificial languages for two
 television shows: Gene Roddenberry’s Earth: Final Conflict and Peter
 Benchley’s Amazon. Bök has also earned many accolades for his virtuoso
 performances of sound poetry (particularly the Ursonate by Kurt
 Schwitters). His conceptual artworks (which include books built out of
 Rubik’s cubes and Lego bricks) have appeared at the Marianne Boesky
 Gallery in New York City as part of the exhibit Poetry Plastique. Bök is
 currently a Professor of English at the University of Calgary.

If you’re in the Boston area, and interested in radical play with language (why else would you have found this blog?) please come by.

The Amiga Book: Maher’s The Future Was Here

Congratulations to Jimmy Maher on his just-published book, The Future Was Here: The Commodore Amiga. As you might expect, Amazon has a page on it; so does Powell’s Books, for instance.

This MIT Press title is the third book in the Platform Studies series. Jimmy Maher has done an excellent job of detailing the nuts and bolts of the first multimedia computer that was available to consumers, and connecting the lowest levels of this platform’s function to cultural questions, types of software produced, and the place of this system in history. The book considers gaming uses (which many used to brand the Amiga as nothing but a toy) but also media production applications and even, in one chapter, the famous Boing Ball demo.

The Platform Studies series (which also has a page at The MIT Press) is edited by Ian Bogost and yours truly, Nick Montfort, and now has three titles, one about an early videogame console, one about a console still in the current generation and on the market, and this latest title about an influential home computer, the Amiga. We have a collaboration between two digital media scholars and practitioners of computational media; a collaboration between an English professor and a computer science professor; and this latest very well-researched and well-written contribution from an independent scholar who has, for a while, been avidly blogging about many aspects of the history of gaming and creative computing.

Jimmy Maher, not content with his book-writing and voracious, loquacious blogging, has created a website for The Future is Here which is worth checking out. If you were an Amiga owner or are otherwise an Amiga fan, there’s no need to say that you should run, not walk, to obtain and read this book. But it will be of broader interest to all of those concerned with the multimedia capabilities of the computer. Really, even if you had an Atari ST – do give it a read, as it explains a great deal about the relationship between computer technology and creativity, exploring issues relevant to the mid-to-late 1980s and also on up through today.

Big Reality

I went last weekend to visit the Big Reality exhibit at 319 Scholes in Bushwick, Brooklyn. It was an adventure and an excellent alternative to staying around in the East Village on March 17, the national day of drunkenness. The gallery space, set amid warehouses and with its somewhat alluring, somewhat foreboding basement area (I had to bring my own light source to the bathroom), was extremely appropriate for this show about tabletop and computer RPGs and their connections to “real life.” Kudos to Brian Droitcour for curating this unusual and incisive exhibit.

A few papers of mine are probably the least spectacular contribution to the show. There are three maps of interactive fiction games that I played in the 1980s and my first map of nTopia, drawn as I developed Book and Volume. The other work includes some excellent video and audio documentation of WoW actions and incidents; fascinatingly geeky video pieces; the RPGs Power Kill, Pupperland, and Steal Away Jordan; player-generated maps; a sort of CYOA in which you can choose to be a butcher for the mob or Richard Serra; and an assortment of work in other media. Plus, the performance piece “Lawful Evil,” in which people play a tabletop RPG in the center of the gallery, is running the whole time the show is open.

Which, by the way, is until March 29.

And, the catalog is excellent, too, with essays and other materials that bear on the question of how supposedly escapist role-playing tunnels into reality.

Big Questions

Radical Books of 2011, 10/10

Big Questions, Anders Nilsen, Drawn & Quarterly, 9781770460478

Anders Nilsen has done exquisite sequential art, a.k.a. comix. I’m particularly fond of the trembling outlines and barely-representational figures in The End. The trade book of Big Questions is more conventional in style, but it binds 658 pages and 15 volumes of Nilsen’s work together in an extended, amazing story. In it, birds speak, but aren’t very smart. They devise their own ideas about a piece of unexploded ordnance, for instance, imagining it as an egg. An elderly woman dies in a plane crash; the idiot man-boy she has been caring for survives, as does the pilot. He also doesn’t seem too smart. The drawing style, which passes for simple at times but is nicely composed and filled with rich details, keys into the story, an animal tale that passes beyond childish simplicity. There are none of the mainstream superheros and no hint of the indie comics memoir in these ten years of work by a master of this art. Comic readers should love it; radical readers who wish to try out comics should try it.

Pale Fire: A Poem in four Cantos by John Shade

Radical Books of 2011, 9/10

Vladimir Nabokov's poem Pale Fire

Pale Fire: A Poem in four Cantos by John Shade, Vladimir Nabokov, Ginkgo Press, 9781584234319

Extracting the poem (which only exists as a sort of in-joke in the radical novel Pale Fire) from what is perhaps (according, e.g., to Larry McCaffrey) the major English-language novel of the 20th Century? It’s at least a very extreme move. This edition drops the prose like a bad habit, makes like a banana and splits it off, makes like a tree and abandons House of Leaves prose for Leaves of Grass verse. Does it work in the sense of presenting a beautiful poem freed from its chrysalis? No. Much of it is still most notable for building up, and then comically deflating, the explicitly implied author, John Shade. It’s better as part of a narrative than as language trembling between sound and sense. But John Shade’s “Pale Fire” is not too bad of a poem qua poem, and reading it alone can certainly enhance one’s appreciation of the truly incredible novel that has been shucked off here. I haven’t read the included commentary, but must note that including commentary is an absolutely hilarious idea.

You Can’t Have Everything… Where Would You Put It!

Radical Books of 2011, 8/10

Bruce Andrews, You Can't Have Everything...

You Can’t Have Everything… Where Would You Put It!, Bruce Andrews, Veer Books

There is no way this book will get past your spam filter:

facework cootie itsier-off
we are the dream sequences in your conventional cultural life –

Indeed we are. Here’s verbal salad (French dressing? Russian dressing?) shot through at times with lines of split and reassembled words:

zy^rit
sect^in
sing^franchi
cres^offi

It’s a delight to apprehend such text, passing words beneath one’s eyes, thinking about what it all might mean and sound like. Looking back now, I wonder if I should have flipped this open and read at random when I encountered it originally. Instead of plodding through, I might have thought for days about a line such as “tractor the Real.” But, as it happens, I can still do that. Although I have everything, I had nowhere to put it. I have to delve in again for specific examples of juxtapositions that Bruce Andrews fashions. The book is no doubt worth reading, scanning, or hashing into – however you want to have it all.

Silence: Lectures and Writings

Radical Books of 2011, 7/10

John Cage, Silence

Silence: Lectures and Writings, John Cage, 50th anniversary edition, Wesleyan University Press, 9780819571762

Stefan Helmreich and I were at dinner with a group and started talking about John Cage. The anechoic chamber Cage visited at Harvard is no longer there. MIT doesn’t have one, either. The best you can do (as a visiting sound artist found out) is arrange to visit Bose headquarters in Framingham, where they have a scruffy, industrial room – completely unlike the pure, science-fictional, sound-proof capsule a visitor would no doubt imagine. The point of Cage’s anechoic chamber story is that he heard a low-frequency and a high-frequency sound when he was in it; this was the circulation of his blood and the sound of his nervous system. This experience suggests we cannot truly hear silence, since we always produce sounds. Stefan suggested that perhaps profoundly deaf people can hear silence. I said that since the deaf can’t hear sounds, and since silence only exists as the complement of sound, perhaps they couldn’t really hear silence. Later, I realized that this would only be true of those who were deaf from birth.

Galerie de Difformité

Radical Books of 2011, 6/10

Galerie de Difformité, Gretchen E. Henderson, &NOW Books, 9780982315637

Cross the form of a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure book with fragmented, cut-up, torn-up, stretched, and unconventionally printed text. Skip the “of” of an English title and give it a French name, using the “de” form. Bend book into blog. Deformity here includes transgressing the boundaries of authorship and inviting “user-generated” fascicles. Work the book’s text into something despicable or respectable: Fill out the form. Click to put Ye Ugly Face on Facebook. The story’s play of conspiracies and resurrections resonate with the transformations of the reading process that book and reader enact. Further, the exercises in textual topology – and lettered exhibits calling for further deformation – show that remixing is not just for one-note works such as Dramatic Chipmunk. The book, and indeed this thoughtfully developed artist’s book, can also serve as seed for elaborate transformation and convolution.

Holocaust Museum

Radical Books of 2011, 5/10

Robert Fitterman, Holocaust Museum

Holocaust Museum, Robert Fitterman, Veer Books, 9781907088346

Here is an extraordinary list, a simple and straightforwardly organized book of metadata (in this case, photo captions) that gives a very detached view of the 20th Century’s most unthinkable occurrence. What is fascinating is that while the book comments on some of the tropes of memorials, Holocaust museums, and records of trauma in general – enumeration, detachment, clear identification and humanization of individuals – it nevertheless becomes an effective testimony of the Holocaust and of how it was inextricably involved with ordinary life and events and histories, beyond the horrors that were ordered and organized:

> A German-Jewish family poses outdoors for a family portrait with their dog. [Photograph #69297]

The book is conceptual, but seems to be as far from a conceptual joke as is possible. Unlike much conceptual writing that begins with appropriation, it demands to be read entire. This is in many ways a simple book, and in many ways an extremely complex engagement with history, memory, and writing.

Found Poems

Radical Books of 2011, 4/10

Bern Porter, Found Poems

Found Poems, Bern Porter, new edition of a 1972 Something Else Press book, 9780982264591

Perhaps this exquisite collection of punctuation, numbers, and occasional letters recalls to the modern reader the idea of “uncreative writing” as described by Kenneth Goldsmith. I see it more as an example of subtractive writing: Creating new texts by erasure, or by cutting out text from advertisements, tables of technical information, and other ordinary but rich veins that can be mined for fragments of language. Each page can also be seen as a degenerate collage, a single clipping of text juxtaposed with nothing else (except what’s on the facing page). Porter, who was a publisher of radical writing and hoarded paper, never owned a phone or a computer. The book is, one might say, a real find, worth re-reading by anyone who seriously turns to contemporary poetry and conceptual writing, or indeed anyone fascinated with ordinary words locked in ads, fliers, and other everyday texts. At least do check out the fine related resources on UbuWeb’s Bern Porter page.

Motes

Radical Books of 2011, 3/10

Motes, Craig Dworkin, Roof Books, 9781931824446

Short titles (or none) followed by hardly longer texts – the form is due to Bob Grenier’s A Day at the Beach and his materially innovative Sentences. Dworkin does something new, showing this is no one-trick pony and has use beyond a single poet. Zak Smith was the first to do a picture for every page of a novel (Gravity’s Rainbow) only to be followed by Matt Kish’s 2011 demonstration that the conceit had legs. Similarly, Dworkin innovates in Motes by being the second to try his hand at an unusual way of writing, and to show that it can amplify his different voice:

>BRICK
>
>Buick

Or:

>MARGIN
>
>explanation of butter on the counter overnight

While playing on Grenier’s everyday experiences, Dworkin’s motes take another turn, entering language and ordinary experience more deeply at times, as in the oddly compelling:

>FOR THE WIDER GOOD
>
>I am tiger woods
>
>I am tiger woods

Alas.

It Is Almost That: A Collection of Image+Text Work by Women Artists & Writers

Radical Books of 2011, 2/10

It Is Almost That: A Collection of Image+Text Work by Women Artists & Writers, Lisa Pearson, Siglio Press, 9780979956263

The writing here ranges from conceptual and all-text (as in Fiona Banner’s The Nam, composed of impassively typed descriptions of everything that happens in six famous Vietnam War films) to the highly visual (as in Suzanne Treister’s transformation of daily newspaper headlines into alchemical diagrams). One of Hannah Weiner’s journals in excerpted in manuscript; another selection is of small pages with brief, seemingly quotidian image-and-phrase pairings: from Docking Competitions by Erica van Horn & Laurie Clark. Some selections are entire works; others are excerpted well. A particularly nice selection is from the early computer poem A House of Dust by Alison Knowles and James Tenney, which shows the material nature of late-1960s computer output along with the formal possibilities the computer holds for recombining language. The twenty-six selections cover considerable visual, verbal, and conceptual terrain and produce excellent combinations of word and image that provoke and compel.

Moby-Dick in Pictures: One Drawing for Every Page

Radical Books of 2011, 1/10

Moby-Dick in Pictures: One Drawing for Every Page, Matt Kish, Tin House Books, 9781935639138

Combining his lack of formal artistic training, found paper from a used book store, and a 552-page paperback edition of Melville’s classic, Matt Kish – with the charm of an outsider artist but without the institutionalization or insanity – produces an utterly compelling visual journey through Ishmael’s adventures. There are striking colors and textures, odd forms – sometimes cranial, sometimes robotic. Unrolled image-by-image on Kish’s blog, the book-based drawings now make for a whale of a book; the original art is also, now, for sale (or sold). Unlike Tom Philips’s A Humament, the project doesn’t occlude text with image, rewriting a novel. Yet it is a forceful engagement with the page, with particular quotations, and with a encyclopedic story of obsession. The drawings are spare, powerful, and varied, in a flat illustrative style that doesn’t explain but does document one lengthy encounter with Moby-Dick.

Wow, Game Mag. Wow.

I keep hearing about this Believer article about palindromes – actually, it’s mostly an article exposing a particular palindromist to readers’ chortles. The article signals no awareness of the palindrome as a literary form, but I appreciate it pointing me to Mr. Duncan’s “A Greenward Palindrome,” written for my local eco-boutique and charming in its topicality.

A community of practice is a set of people who do the same type of work (writing, art, game development, etc.) and who are at least aware of one another and have some interaction with one another. Poets constitute a community of practice, for instance, or at least several significantly interlocking communities of practice. Poets are aware that there are other poets. They read each others’ work. Sometimes they hate one another, which shows that they care.

Electronic literature authors are literary migrants to the computer, not always of the same genre or movement, and are less established as a single community of practice. But thanks to organizations like the Electronic Literature Organization and events like the E-Poetry festival and the ELO conference, many of them do get to meet each other, talk to each other, and learn about each others’ work and interests. Some specific sorts of practice, such as poetry generation, have much less community around them, of course; but others, such as interactive fiction, have a great deal of healthy community.

Palindromists, I would venture, do not constitute a community of practice. They mostly don’t know each other and aren’t aware of each others’ work, despite the efforts of people like Mark Saltveit, editor of the magazine The Palindromist. Duncan describes palindrome authors as “practicing the invisible craft.” When thinking of the short, canoncial palindromes that have circulated without attribution, this designation makes sense. But in other cases, it doesn’t.

For instance, there are plenty of palindrome books in print for those who look. Here are three from a single press, Spineless Books: 2002: A Palindrome Story by Nick Montfort and William Gillespie, I’d Revere Verdi: Palindromes for the Serious Music Lover by Jane Z. Smith and Barbara Thorburn, and the sublime Drawn Inward and Other Poems by Mike J. Maguire, which contains:

Same Nice Cinemas

Same nice cinemas,
same nice cafe.

We talk late.

We face cinemas.
Same nice cinemas.

There are several palindromes of literary interest online, too – my and William’s 2002 is just one, alongside “Dammit I’m Mad” by Demetri Martin and “The Big One” by Will Helston.

From reading that recent article, one would guess that palindromists aren’t a community of practice because palindrome writing isn’t a practice, but a pathology. The truth is that palindromes make for difficult reading, difficult writing, and unique engagements with language that have been savored by Edgar Allan Poe, Vladimir Nabokov, Harry Mathews, and Georges Perec. So, for those who want to take a break from gawking at personal quirks to read some brilliant texts, read a few of the many palindromes that are out there – works of writing that will wow you coming and going.