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Bob Brown and the Readies/Bibliomania for the masses

My humble bigother debut…

Craig Saper-curated TypeBound exhibit catalog cover


Tomorrow, University of Central Florida Text/s and Technology Prof Craig Saper visits Lake Forest College. I’m psyched.

His topic is Bob Brown, the largely unknown super-modernist-friend-of-GertrudeStein/pulp magnate/inventor of a future-feeling reading machine that startlingly predates/predicts the new media technologies that are unsettling the act of reading from its pre-Gutenberg roots.

Why knot?

Saper’s editing a series of new Brown editions for Rice University Press–namely Words, The Readies, and Gems–along with publishing a long overdue Brown biography. Bonus, at least the first two are free to read (follow links above).  You can buy the old-fashioned versions if you prefer.

Brown’s Words is a delightful series of aleatory pun-poetry, exemplified by the collection’s un/sense sub-title (and title of the first poem): “I but bend my finger in a beckon and birds, words of birds, hop on it, chirping.”  The kicker is that this phrase, on the cover, is in “microtext,” that is, 1-point font that Brown uses for complementary poems on most pages. It’s provocation and packaging in a jolly good mix.

In The Readies, Brown details his reading machine, a sort of magnifying glass that views horizontally stripped ticker-tape stories, culled of most conventional punctuation and stuffed with portmanteaus and other strategies for maximizing the flow of words that the reader can control in speed–while keeping the head stationary. (Oddly, James T. Farrell of Chicago Studs Lonigan fame, contributes a “readies” text for his friend Brown).

Imagine your smart phone with a scrolling marquee–rolling out new media prose pieces–and you begin to get the idea.  Saper’s put together an excellent digital rendering, here.

Oh yeah, Brown’s got a manifesto jones like Ezra PoundAndre BretonFilippo Tommaso Marinetti; here’s a taste:

In our aeroplane age radio is rushing in television, tomorrow it will be a commonplace. All the arts are having their faces lifted, painting, [Picasso], sculpture [Brancussi], music [Antheil], architecture [zoning law], drama [Strange Interlude], dancing [just look around you tonight] writing [Joyce, Stein, Cummings, Hemingway]. Only the reading half of Literature lags behind, stays old-fashioned, frumpish, beskirted. Present day reading methods are as cumbersome as they were in the time of Caxton and Jimmy the Ink. Though we have advanced from Gutenberg’s movable type through the linotype and monotype to photo-composing we still consult the book in its original archaic form as the only oracular means we know for carrying the word mystically to the eye. Writing has been bottled up in books since the start. It is time to pull out the stopper (28).

Agreed (which is perhaps why my forthcoming novel is called, Drain, I suddenly realize).

I’m looking forward to more retroactive revelations from Saper tomorrow–but you can go write/right to Brown.

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