Paul Scheerbart’s Perpetual Motion Machine: Some Thoughts on Literature & Energy

Two texts are now sitting on my desk.  They are still and inert — like rectangular paperweights.  I would like to activate them, to mingle their pages.  I would like to set them, if only momentarily, into motion.

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The first text in front of me is a little gem of a book: Paul Scheerbart’s The Perpetual Motion Machine (Wakefield Press, 2011), translated by experimental poet Andrew Joron.  In late 1907, Scheerbart — a visionary German author and artist who wrote, among other things, poetry, essays, theater pieces, and a prodigious amount of fantastic fiction (he called them “astral novels”) — set out to devise, in his laundry room, a perpetual motion machine.  Das Perpetuum mobile, which was originally published in 1910 along with 26 charming diagrams, is a roller-coaster account of Scheerbart’s failed but energetically inspired attempt to set such a machine into motion; it is a fascinating record, as Joron puts it, “of a two-and-a-half-year-long tantrum of the imagination.” Continue reading

Announcing a New Big Other Series: “A D & Jeremy Talk about Movies”

Jeremy M. Davies, flexing en route to the cineplex

In two days, I’ll be posting the first installment of a new ongoing series at Big Other: conversations I’ve had with my good friend Jeremy M. Davies about movies, new and old, both popular and obscure. It will be called “A D & Jeremy Talk about Movies” (unless we can think of a better title).

This Monday, and on the following two Mondays (the posts will be in clusters of three), we’ll discuss Source Code, Thor, Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, and many other films (including Sucker Punch, The Man from London, Tron, Tron Legacy, Willow, and Zardoz). In the weeks after that we plan to talk about Captain America, Green Lantern, X-Men: First Class, as well as movies by lesser-known directors like Jacques Rivette, Eugène Green, Agnès Varda, and Jean-Marie Straub and Danièlle Huillet (Jeremy really likes foreign films). And the new Woody Allen film. We’ll also probably talk endlessly about Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, because we both love it just so much. And throughout we’ll discuss the current state of the film industry. And comic books, which are synonymous with cinema these days.

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Stories “Finished” by Lily Hoang

Unfinished is now available from Jaded Ibis Press. Lily Hoang–author of three novels, including the PEN award-winning Changing–invited her favorite writers to send her their scraps. She finished their unfinishables, even offering them to edit and revise what she produced. Some did, some didn’t. This collaborative enterprise is endlessly fascinating because one doesn’t know where the original author left off and where Lily took over, or if the authors edited what Lily made. The exquisite color edition contains art by Anne Austin Pearce. It’s the most unique, most colorful anthology of stories around.

Authors of unfinished writing are Kate Bernheimer, Blake Butler, Beth Couture, Debra Di Blasi, Justin Dobbs, Trevor Dodge, Zach Dodson, Brian Evenson, Scott Garson, Carol Guess, Elizabeth Hildreth, John Madera, Ryan Manning, Michael Martone, Kelcey Parker, Ted Pelton, Kathleen Rooney, Davis Schneiderman, Michael Stewart, J.A. Tyler.

Here’s a book trailer:

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Happy day for small press publishing: Jaded Ibis

Jaded Ibis Press, full-spectrum publisher, who is bringing out cool books by Lily Hoang, David Hoenigman, John Dermot Woods/J.A. Tyler, Janice Lee, Anna Joy Springer, Christopher Grimes, and me (BLANK, w/ tracks from Dj Spooky), got the grand treatment in Forbes.com today.

Let’s see, the last time an indie press was covered in Forbes…oh, yes, never.

My cell is blowing up and I am now drinking Cristal from a beer bong.

Go, Debra Di Blasi.

art and self-restraint: the work of david shrigley

I laughed a little when I found this drawing on the website for David Shrigley, a Glasgow-based artist.

There’s not much to it, but for some reason it’s funny. Also a little unsettling. I realized I was laughing not so much because it’s comedic (though it might be) but because it’s absurd. There’s hardly anything in the drawing, yet it succeeds as a complete work, whole in itself: are we being watched? Should we be afraid that we’re being watched? Should we laugh at the fact that we’re afraid of being watched? Shrigley could have included more in the way of subject – the figure of a person, a building – but would doing so have improved the work itself? He must not have thought so. And I agree, though I’m still intrigued by the reason why he must not have thought so.

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A Sentence About a Sentence I Love: An Anthology, of Sorts

A few months ago, in April, to be exact, I started a series of posts entitled “A Sentence About a Sentence I Love” with a sentence about one of Gerard Manley Hopkins’s magnificent sentences. This concentration, or, rather, this obsession with the sentence may have come from my, at the time, recent readings of William Gass’s essays wherein he concentrates much of his attention on the sentence as a primary building block in poetry and prose. Essays by Gass like “The Soul Inside the Sentence,” “The Sentence Seeks Its Form,” “The Architecture of the Sentence,” take as their focus the centrality of the sentence toward the construction of thought, and particularly of thoughts within the parameters of fiction. In “Philosophy and the Form of Fiction,” Gass claims that sentences are “the most elementary instances of what the author has constructed….a moving unity of fact and feeling.” Moreover, sentences

must be sounded, too; it has a rhythm, speed, a tone, a flow, a pattern, shape, length, pitch, conceptual direction. The sentence confers reality upon certain relations, but it also controls our estimation, apprehension, and response to them. Every sentence, in short, takes metaphysical dictation, and it is the sum of these dictations, involving the whole range of the work in which the sentences appear, which accounts for its philosophical quality, and the form of life in the thing that has been made (Fiction and the Figures of Life, 14).

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Happy Birthday, Big Other!

With sites (especially blogs, I’d imagine) coming and going, resembling fairweathered friends with their weighty promises and concomitant lack of follow-through, and with evanescence and disposability, perhaps, being two of the internet’s primary characteristics, an internet year must be to an in-real-life year as what a dog year is to a human year. But it’s not for these reasons I’m happy to say that Big Other is celebrating its first year today.

A year ago, thinking about how frustrating it was to find a place that invited dialogue (and by “dialogue” I mean the concept formalized best, for me, by Paulo Friere, that is, a nexus that allows, encourages, fosters communication characterized by respect and equality, where diversity of thought is encouraged, where understanding and learning are privileged over mere judgment, although conclusions and sound and informed discernment, that is, sound judgment, and maybe even wisdom, may, in fact, result); thinking about how many blogs encourage stereotypes, discord, stupidity, inanity, macho posturing, and self-reflexiveness, blogs that are havens of groupthink, blogs that are really just another kind of mirror, mirror, on the wall, blogs that are really just digitized lint in an electronic navel; thinking about how I wanted something different from all that noise, I launched Big Other with the idea of it being what I, in some kind act of faith, called “an online forum of iconoclasts and upstarts focusing its lens on books, music, comics, film, video and animation, paintings, sculpture, performance art, and miscellaneous nodes and sonic booms,” a place to “explore how we are made and unmade by images, language, and sound; examine computer-mediated worlds; and dance along with various tumults, genre- and other border-crossings, trespassings, transgressions, and whatever, nevermind.” And I have to say that I haven’t been disappointed. Big Other has become all those things for me, and so much more, and by “so much more,” I mean, it has truly become a conduit for meeting many incredible people in person, and so, I really can’t wait to see what comes next for us.

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Seventeen Ways of Criticizing Inception

Truth in advertising.

Update: Related posts that may interest you:

1.

Christopher Nolan, while presumably a rather likable fellow (he does give work to Michael Caine), is a depressingly artless filmmaker. To be sure, some of the concepts in this new one are clever enough (even if they play like weak snatches from Philip K. Dick): the military developed shared dreaming, which then became a tool for corporate espionage—sure thing. The great Dom Cobb and his team now must infiltrate a businessperson’s mind in order to plant the seed of an idea, rather than steal one—a nice enough twist, and a fine enough premise for a caper.

But Nolan then fails to dramatize his concepts. His primary—indeed, practically his only—tool for delivering information to the audience is character dialogue. Rarely does anyone shut his or her mouth during the 148 minutes that are Inception. Its actors are talking threadbare ciphers, eager mouthpieces for their director.

Examples abound. After failing in their mission to deceive Saito, Cobb remarks to his teammate Arthur: “We were supposed to deliver Saito’s expansion plans to Cobol Engineering two hours ago. By now they know we failed.” (A potential response: “Hey, dude, I’m, like, your partner. I know the score!”) An even better one: the line where Cobb points out to Michael Caine’s character—a university professor teaching in Paris—”You know extradition between France and the US is a legal nightmare.” Yes, Mssr. Professor Caine probably does, in fact, know that! But I’m sure that somebody way in the back row was happy to hear.

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Elegy to a Bookstore?

Bookstores are still one of my favorite places to hang, and whenever I travel I invariably seek one to roam around in. Recently, when I was in St. Louis I happened upon Subterranean Books, which boasts a gold star (part of a Walk of Fame) for Stanley Elkin on its sidewalk. Here in NYC my favorites include the Strand and Unnameable Books and that lovely musty disorganized one on Mercer Street, whose name I forget. Lily Hoang writes about This Ain’t Rosedale Library, a famed bookstore in Toronto, Ontario, HERE. Feel free to show some love for your favorite bookstore(s) in the comments section below.

Matt Bell at Everyday Genius

We all know that Matt Bell, Lily Hoang, Michael Kimball, and Adam Robinson are all great writers, editors, and idea people (oh, and if you don’t know, just search around for any of these writer’s work and you’ll see what I mean). This week at Everyday Genius they join forces in a project that is both brave and generous, and will most certainly result in an interesting piece of literature. Matt Bell explains HERE.

My Favorite Books from 2009 (in alphabetical order):

I’ve read over 120 books in 2009, and by the time the year is up I’ll have reviewed over fifty. At the risk of being redundant, I’ve put together a list of the books I thought were this year’s best. I’ve also included links to the ones I reviewed. But before that, I should mention some great books that weren’t published this year: Eugene Lim’s Fog & Car, Eugene Marten’s Waste, Mary Caponegro’s first three books, Ken Sparling’s Dad Says He Saw You at the Mall, Ursula K. Le Guin’s Lavinia, and Michael Kimball’s The Way the Family Got Away and Dear Everybody. And then there’s Shane Jones’s The Failure Six, David Shields’s Reality Hunger, and Ander Monson’s Vanishing Point, all of which won’t be released until next year. By the way, while the so-called major presses churned out a whole lot of fluff I did enjoy John Haskell’s Out of My Skin and Anne Michaels’s The Winter Vault. Oh, and I should mention The Complete Cosmicomics, by Italo Calvino which  is playful and inventive in that inimitably Calvino way. Each chapter is a combination of pseudo-science (as far as I can tell) and fantasy—a weird mishmash of fable and fact. They sound like entries from an encyclopedia sometimes, albeit a whimsical one. This was the best way to close out the year. So, besides beautifully-crafted language, eddying narratives, evocative imagery, and provocative characters—whose quirks, thoughts, and comings and goings remain with me—what the books on this list have in common is that they were published by independent presses.
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Eliot’s Nocturnal Hackery (or, Moriarty in a Catsuit)

Lily’s appropriation thread reminded me of something that I had been reminded of only yesterday (but had since already forgotten).

Have you heard of the poet named T.S. Eliot? He apparently wrote a poem about a cat (of all things), and it contained some appropriation:

Macavity, Macavity, there’s no one like Macacity,
There never was a Cat of such deceitfulness and suavity.
He always has an alibi, or one or two to spare:
And whatever time the deed took place—MACAVITY WASN’T THERE!
And they say that all the Cats whose wicked deeds are widely known
(I might mention Mungojerrie, I might mention Griddlebone)
Are nothing more than agents for the Cat who all the time
Just controls their operations: the Napoleon of Crime!

(“Macavity: The Mystery Cat,” 1939)

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Big Other Contributors’ News #5

Lily Hoang will be reading in New York City on Dec. 2 with Uwem Akpan & Juan Felipe Herrera for the PEN celebration, titled “Crossing Over.” The reading will be followed by a panel discussion with Norton editor Brendan Curry & NBCC President Jane Ciabattari. This is happening at Housing Works Bookstore & Cafe, 126 Crosby St., at 7pm.
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Luca Dipierro has a story in the new New York Tyrant. It’s called “How I Left Myself Out of the Grave.”

On Tuesday, December 1, the Cinecity Film Festival in Brighton, England, will screen a short from I WILL SMASH YOU, the film by Luca Dipierro & Michael Kimball, along with shorts by Stewart Copeland, Nash Edgerton and others. It’s the segment with Publishing Genius Press’ Adam Robinson. It Will Be Monumental. More info on the festival’s website.
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Kim Chinquee has a story, “Soldier,” is up at ArtVoice. Check it out HERE.
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Leni Zumas will teach a fiction workshop called “Story Lab” in Asheville, NC, starting in mid-February. Emphasis on experiments, invention, risk-taking. Writers of all stripes, camps, schools, and persuasions welcome. Details at the Great Smokies Writing Program website.

Choose Your Own Adventure

Choose Your Own AdventureWhen Lily Hoang told me that she was working on a choose your own adventure novel, I immediately thought of the Choose Your Own Adventure series of children’s books originally published by Bantam Books from 1979-1998. I remember coming home from the library when I was a kid with piles of those books in my arms. When I had exhausted those books I went ahead and read a similar series called Which Way? books, or something.

And then I thought about the translation of this idea into the digital realm, about hypertext narratives.

Today, I read Vincent King’s afterword to Gert Jonke’s The System of Vienna (an excellent book, by the way, forthcoming from Dalkey Archive) and he mentioned Geoff Ryman’s hypertext novel 253: a novel for the Internet about London Underground in seven cars and a crash.

So what hypertexts or choose your own adventure stories do you recommend?

&Now Conference: A Conference of Innovative Writing & the Literary Arts

amplogosmall

I went to the &Now Conference held in Buffalo, New York, October 14-17, and enjoyed it on a number of levels. First of all, it was great to cross that cold digital divide and finally meet so many people that I’ve been corresponding and/or working with, and/or reading their work for a while, people like Matt Bell, Cara Benson, Blake Butler, Donald Breckinridge, Ryan Call, Mary Caponegro, Kim Chinquee, Rikki Ducornet, Tina May Hall, Lily Hoang, Joanna Howard, Matt Kirkpatrick, Josh Maday, Kendra Grant Malone, Lance Olsen, J.A. Tyler, Bill Walsh, and John Dermot Woods, as well as reconnecting with Brian Evenson and James Yeh. I also had a chance to meet Dimitri Anastasopoulos, Donald Breckenridge, Rikki Ducornet, Shelly Jackson, Steve Katz, Dave Kress, Christina Milletti, Pedro Ponce, Davis Schneiderman, and Steve Tomasula. Have I missed anyone?

And if it was only that, it would have been well worth it, but I also attended many dynamic, energetic, informed, inventive, and stimulating panels and readings. Below are some capsules of some of the events as well as recordings of some of them.

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