continent. maps a topology of unstable confluences and ranges across new thinking, traversing interstices and alternate directions in culture, theory, biopolitics and art.
Issue 1.2 / 2011: 136-140

The Official Catalog of Potential Literature Selections

Ben Segal

continent. 1.2 (2011): 136-140.

In early 2011, Cow Heavy Books published The Official Catalog of the Library of Potential Literature, a compendium of catalog 'blurbs' for non-existent desired or ideal texts. Along with Erinrose Mager, I edited the project, in a process that was more like curation as it mainly entailed asking a range of contemporary writers, theorists, and text-makers to send us an entry. What resulted was a creative/critical hybrid anthology, a small book in which each page opens to a new iteration of textual desire.

These texts explore the material possibilities of the book. Somewhat parallel to the call of N. Katherine Hayles who, in her book Writing Machines, urges literary theorists to take up the practice of Medium Specific Analysis (to account for the way the medium in which it is presented conditions or at least bears on a literary text). I see in the imagined works of The Official Catalog a call for the innovative writers of today to become Medium-Responsive. This would mean thinking through the specific (materially constrained) possibilities offered by the media in which texts are presented, and in thinking of the literary text as a kind of art in the greater context of other arts and the book as a medium situated within the context of many other media. In doing so, the contemporary writer refutes the chorus of critics who lament the death of the book by consistently reinvigorating literary innovation.

The following are selections from The Official Catalog of the Library of Potential Literature that show possible paths for (thinking about) new writing that engages with its medium.
 
—Ben Segal, Editor

 

THE CUBE
 
Even the most radical non-linear texts have tended to exploit or subvert only the sequential possibilities of print—from the continuous loop of Joyce's Finnegans Wake to the shuffled cards of Marc Saporta's Composition No. 1—but The Cube takes such multiplicities to an entirely new level. Set in a grid, the book's words can be read conventionally, across the page, as well as down each column—with either route making complete grammatical sense. But they can also be read as stacked strata and mined like lexical core samples through the layered pages of the book. Each path tells the same story from a different perspective (the narrative, naturally, hinges on the potential outcomes of a throw of cubed dice). By opening up the z-axis to reading in this way, The Cube recognizes the book as a three-dimensional sculptural space. Taking its lead from Armand Schwerner's (If Personal) and Raymond Queneau's Cent mille milliards de poèmes, The Cube reads like a experiment by Christian Bök precision printed by Emily McVarish.

Craig Dworkin is the editor, most recently, of The Consequence of Innovation: 21st Century Poetics (Roof Books, 2008), The Sound of Poetry/The Poetry of Sound, with Marjorie Perloff (U. Chicago Press, 2009), and Against Expression: An Anthology of Conceptual Writing, with Kenneth Goldsmith (Northwestern UP, 2010). He teaches at the University of Utah.

 

HE GOES
 
In He Goes, we read notes, letters and e-mails from a scholar father to his novelist daughter. We read of the father's musings on Beckett, on Pinter, on Anne Frank; his description of a woman hanging laundry from a line. We read about his journey toward dying, followed by a brief, third person account of his death, and his obituary. Then a long series of blank pages that demand to be read in real time, non-sentence by non-sentence, blank page by blank page. Finally—and it is here that this peculiar little book begins to soar—the dead father writes to his as-of-yet-still-living daughter. He does not write from death. He does not write from life. The words unprint, unstamp, unkindle. Still, they require no translation. The father "writes" (for lack of a better word) about the serendipitous, the commonplace; he recommends another book. He jokes. He asks his daughter how her stomach is. He says forget about presence in absence, darling; screw words as memorial and the guys in garbage cans and loss as redemption and I can't go on I must go on. He goes, "Love, Fodder." He goes, "incidentally." He goes, "I thought you might like to know."

Elizabeth Graver is the author of a story collection, Have You Seen Me?, and three novels: Unravelling; The Honey Thief; and Awake. Her work has been anthologized in Best American Short Stories, Best American Essays, and Prize Stories: the O. Henry Awards. She teaches at Boston College.

 

THE PAPER ARCHIVIST
 
A stunning package and a triumph of imagination, The Paper Archivist at times looks to be less a book than an abstract expressionist painting. Softly bound, its contents unfold to a single sheet of uneven thickness and texture—a canvas splattered with colored lines, stickers, broken sentences, and nonsense pictographs. But by following the directions to fold, dip, smell, rub, scratch, and tear the sheet according to the contingencies of the weather and using only the objects at hand, the reader slowly brings the forces hidden in the noise into a glorious sculptural convergence, processing a different story and shape each time. This is the rare book that continues to stir, whirl, and pop on every new reading.
 
Sean Higgins blogs at BOMBlog where he is responsible for the column Volumes and Territories, as well as Ghost Island, a fledgling collaborative intellectual collective.
 
 
THE SLOW BOOK
 
The Slow Book, written by an anonymous author at the dawn of literacy, on a minor planet (otherwise notable only as the source of that exceptionally hardy, not very tasty grain called “shef” sowed on hostile planets as an early step to colonization), and encoded into a series of punctures on a strip of copper coiled inside a clever device, something between a player piano and an old-fashioned film projector, is being released into print, as was the author’s intention, at a rate of one word per century (local time). Each word is, across the Forty Galaxies, agreed to be uncannily apt for the century in which it appears—even “of,” in a century during which the highest value was attached to fidelity, whether to ideals, worlds, or romantic love; even “the,” which governed two centuries, one extraordinarily materialistic, during which advances in propulsion and navigation accelerated the exchange of exceptional objects between the remotest planets of the Forty, and one in which the central concern, both of philosophers and the common man, was whether, in an age of rapidly proliferating hypothetical worlds, anyone or anything concretely existed at all. Even those words published long before interstellar contact can be seen in retrospect to have transgalactic pertinence. As a result, attempts to abstract the machine from its publishers, Hobson & Hui, in order to “predict the future” for insight or gain by “fast- forwarding” the copper strip have been many and ingenious. While, in centuries of skepticism (“maybe”), or of unrest (“go”) the book has been nearly forgotten, in others it seems to haunt every thought, every deed, despite the fact that the subject of The Slow Book is still unclear. So far only a few sentences exist in print; everyone knows them, can quote them, offer the standard exegeses and assorted heresies; yet certainties are the stuff of adolescence; mature readers are forced to acknowledge that these sentences are probably only a preamble to the main argument. They contain no proper nouns, nor can we identify any definite theme. There is even disagreement about their tone, whether coolly ironic, as some insist, or ardent. The appearance of an unusual grammatical case, sometimes called the future pluperfect continuous, used to describe events that at some future point will have always been true (but are not yet)—hitherto known to appear only in the synthetic dogmas of the Thanatographical Society, and in certain highly circumscribed religious contexts—has suggested to some scholars that the Slow Book was originally intended for ritual use, but the proximity of the usage to a term designating a small hand plow that, as Pott and Mielcke have convincingly shown, would have borne a distinctly obscene double meaning in its culture of origin in the author’s time, argues otherwise. It is likewise unclear whether the situation that seems to be—with teasing incompleteness—sketched out in these few lines is intended as an illustration of general principles, a case study, a dramatic scene, or an extended metaphor. In short, we have no idea what The Slow Book is about. In our own time, we believe that it is almost certainly a work of fiction, but that may be because we live in the century of “if”. In each age, perhaps, we see the book we most need to read. Some have dared to suggest that the metal strip is blank until, with millennial fanfare, it advances into its new position, that no ur-text exists, that the book itself is brought into being—written—by our need. But that is exactly the sort of thing we would believe, in 7645.
 
Shelley Jackson is the author of the story collection The Melancholy of Anatomy, the novel Half Life, and hypertexts including Patchwork Girl. The recipient of a Howard Foundation grant, a Pushcart Prize, and the 2006 James Tiptree Jr Award, she has also written and illustrated several children's books, including The Old Woman and the Wave; Sophia, the Alchemist's Dog; and Mimi's Dada Catifesto. Her stories and essays have appeared in Conjunctions, McSweeney's, The Paris Review, and Cabinet Magazine. In 2004 she launched her project SKIN, a story published in tattoos on 2095 volunteers.

THE BOOK OF SOUNDS
 
The Book of Sounds is just that: a book of sounds made when letters are construed in new ways to bring forth out of the alphabet new forms of speech. A book meant to be read out loud, The Book of Sounds is not unlike Laurie Anderson's O Superman or Brian Eno's Music for Airports in its attempt to make music out of the most primary and simplest of methods. It breaks language down to its barest bones and makes out of the page a drum that has never before been beaten upon.

Peter Markus is the author of a novel, Bob, or Man on Boat (Dzanc Books) as well as two books of short fiction, Good, Brother and The Singing Fish, both of which were published by Calamari Press. A new collection of stories, We Make Mud, is now available from Dzanc Books.



PARADISE OF THE BLIND
by Celan Solen
 
Although the reclusive Celan Solen published his first and only book in 1963—paying out-of-pocket for a limited edition of the slim collection No One May Have the Same Knowledge Again—he remained in American obscurity for almost three decades. In 1992 a micro-press in Istanbul brought out No One in Turkish. A German translation followed in 1995. Soon it became clear in literary circles Solen was a world-class (if highly unclassifiable) artist—lyrical, dense, enigmatic—who could undo the conventional short story in 397 words by inventing impossible worlds housed in impossible whirls (in “Small Sadnesses,” a single chartreuse tree frog in Borneo unknowingly holds time together by its very presence in the universe, while each letter of its tale refers, not to itself, but to the one preceding it in the alphabet). By his disappearance last year, Solen was considered master by a generation of writers and critics (except, alas, for those gentlemen in the Swedish Academy). Imagine, then, that generation’s delight at the discovery, locked away in the author’s safe-deposit box, of his second and final composition. Had Lynch’s Lost Highway been book instead of film, and had it been penned by Beckett at his least certain, revised by Barthelme at his most formally deranged, and typeset by Derrida at his most semiotically catastrophic, the result might have been something like Paradise of the Blind: interlacing narratives of a man composed of borrowed organs (whose most cheerless and difficult to locate, god, could only have been invented by an empty heart), a nonexistent medieval painting blamed for the ruin of future hope, and the spread of a philosophy that holds earth a mistake constantly recurring in the dream of a fish lying on the floor of the Atlantic (if the fish wakes, our world winks off)—all contained in a text packed with typed-over passages, torn postcards, poems that can be deciphered only when held up to a mirror, pages ornamented with trompe-l'œil paperclips and coffee stains and buzzing houseflies, some busy with illegible runes that dissolve when exposed to light, three that smell like roses or lemons (depending on whether a man or woman is reading), two that stain with the bloody fingerprints of the those who handle them, one that ignites when brushed with breath, thirteen sewn from baby skin, one that moans when touched, and one that screams—yet all without mass, unimaginable, and invisible.
 
Lance Olsen is author of more than 20 books of and about innovative fiction, including, most recently, the novels Calendar of Regrets (2010) and Head in Flames (2009). He teaches experimental narrative theory and practice at the University of Utah.



SUPERSTRUCTURE!
by Barbara D'Albi
 
As soon as I opened the third drawer of Barbara D'Albi's wooden novel, everything became hopeless. Now in Ithaca, there was no going back. And it wasn't just the intricate series of shelves, hinged doors and locked drawers which D'Albi layered into the book, no, lo, I was constructed anew by the story. Who else but D'Albi to imagine a God who becomes a carpenter and gets killed?! And makes it good! You want stories? D'Albi is a skyscraper, built with planes and levers. Momentarily I wondered where I could shelve this book, and then I thought: no matter; I couldn't put it down.
 
Adam Robinson lives in Baltimore, where he runs Publishing Genius. He is the author of Adam Robison and Other Poems and Say, Poem.

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