I am brushing my lips against
the rough spots
on your soles; I
am shaving your head; the day
when I have kissed
every square inch of your skin
will pass us by unacknowledged.
I am brushing my lips against
the rough spots
on your soles; I
am shaving your head; the day
when I have kissed
every square inch of your skin
will pass us by unacknowledged.
Dear readers, another real review of a real book that actually exists has been written by me. You can find it over here at Minor Lit[s]: minorliteratures.com/2015/08/24/the-weight-of-things-by-marianne-fritz-johannes-punkt/. I hope you enjoy it.
Here’s an email I sent, which was never answered. It’s from a business
idea that me and Jenny H are running.
Greetings from AlterDream. As you can guess from us not having our own domain email yet, we are a small start-up. Unlike most start-ups though, we have a big and nearly untapped market of potential customers just waiting for us, and we would like to work with you on this. As our name implies, we represent an alternative to the current industry, which we feel has grown insular and detached from its customer base, even though no competitor has (yet) risen to challenge their authority. We believe, as you do, the customer has a right to choose who they dream with, just like they have a right to choose their phone operator.
Let me give you the pitch we give our potential customers, almost all of them still subscribed to the network in an agreement they believe is binding. Are you tired of the network? Did you have bad dreams last night, again? But are you somehow still worried about signing up for some garage-run indie lucid that will curse you to low-resolution dreams with even less coherence and structure? Are you worried about their cost-cutting, that they would save money by regurgitating old träuma? We know your pain. We’ve been there. At AlterDream, we seek to provide high-quality dreams to our customers, available at the tips of their ears when they hit the pillow. You can see us as the Neflix of dreams, if you like.
So you might be wondering, what could a brood dreamscultptor want with you? Well, here is our business secret, something our customers do not (yet) know: to save money on production cost, casting, and symbolism, we are letting several people have the same dream simultaneously. We have the tech for most of the senses, but what we don’t have is good solutions for voices in your head. In short, we want you, as the best telephone company in the UK, to run the telecom side of our venture. Imagine offering new customers the dream deal.
There are many details to be smoothed out, of course, and many numbers to be run, but I hope I have enticed you. Do call back soon — the offer is not indefinite.
Johannes Punkt, head of Recurring Motifs
It is true that much of science fiction was founded on white guilt. First contact stories especially imagined a Columbus character but as a good guy, which is pretty wild. Of course, literature doesn’t exist anymore since the drubles annexed our planet, and Goldiva Stetter will be phloxed for writing this book, called Under the Honey Moon: A Retelling of the Invasion from their Side. I feel the need to write a review of her book, of which I have the antepenultimate copy printed before the baible-traz cummoxed the printing press. I feel like perhaps no-one will write a review of this book if I do not, and if no-one expresses their opinions in nuanced but easily swallowed ways, it is a bit like the book does not exist. I grabbed a copy still hot off the presses and ran for all my legs’ worth until I reached the safety of a burbium. Perhaps I own the only copy in existence. Perhaps I’m inviting my own phloxion if I publish this myself. Before you think that: know that I am against this kind of endeavour entirely and I aim to demolish the good reputation of this slanderous book.
Goldiva had found one of those humongous machines they used to print glossy-covered airport novels in, so this slim volume of sarcastic literature-that-shouldn’t-be feels like the ghost of a book. It’s been a decade since I read a new book, but I remember science fiction, and I think Goldiva Stetter does, too. There are all the classic elements of a good military space masturbation fantasy ball of yarn. There’s the excitement of discovering an alien species, there’s the intial misunderstanding, the weird sex scene, the war propaganda, the underlying sense of unease about defining yourself according to your species or defining yourself at all, the dazzling displays of the morally ambiguous achievements of science, there’s a quest, a good ending, and the unanswered question: are we the good guys?
No human speaks himut, of course, so this book is written in English. It tells the story of three imagined diplomats-turned war heroes: Pigeon, Rat, and Flea. In 87 short pages without paragraph breaks we are shown the moral struggle that Pigeon, Rat, and Flea must have felt when they murdered human civilians by the thousands with their pungytien and phloxoi. Their characterisation falls pretty much flat despite all the emotions they talk about having. In one scene near the end of the first act, Flea stops their phloxion and displays a human in exploded view and asks the question, “Are they not like us?” The answer is of course that we are. The human loses structural integrity and dies shortly after.
The Swiftian anger in this narrative is not escaping anyone, I hope. Jonathan Swift, for those of you who learned to read after the annexation, was a very angry man who objected to the drubles of his time, the British humans. He achieved fame, alright, but think of what he could have achieved if he had worked with them instead! At one point, Jonathan Swift poisoned six thousand babies so that when the British humans ate them, they would fall ill. A barbarous act. And Goldiva Stetter will scream her ire like that scene in Braveheart until they kill her for good, I bet. What a shame. Her incredible talent could be used for more productive things, such as galaschet, or moonfarming. Instead she chooses to waste it on writing, on stirring up feelings in the population, of writing coded messages about where the kimmolwoi meet to plan the revolution.
Stetter describes the druble anatomy and vichshen in mundane terms and only when necessary, but spends a disturbing amount of time explaining basic human physiology in an exotic manner. This only adds to the sarcasm which flows from the book so heavily despite its light form. Why on earth would a druble – the intended reader of this book is someone druble who speaks a human language, which is ridiculous as they do not need to communicate with us, but I digress – need to know about the alien concept of “pain”? It is not relevant to their frame of reference. I’m afraid that much like the druble empire I have run out of space and must award some stars now, as is traditional of a review. This book gets one star, no more, because that is the minimum of stars. This may have been the last book ever written. Our sun will shine for a billion long years more. Good riddance, literature.
As you may be aware, my fake review The Cult of Numbers was recently published by Pamphlets for the Apocalypse! Unlike Under the Honey Moon, the book reviewed in there is an economy textbook. You will not be disappointed: you would love to read about a cult that sprung up around an economy textbook. I know you. You would wolf that shit down. Buy it here: https://www.etsy.com/listing/237006205/the-cult-of-numbers-johannes-punkt-with
We sound the drums, rattam; we stretch the skin taut and beat them until they burst and the music stops. We fall the rain, we gather the clouds, we heavy the air until one struggles for oxygen and the music stops. We play the strings, we boom the thunder. We grin, rattam; we sharpen the claws, we scratch against all the glass surfaces we find. We throw the stones, we pound the blood in ears and wrists and jugulars. We close the eyes, we make you scream until the music stops, we beat the drums, rattam, we beat the drums.
Old, very old, impossibly old thing I wrote for my dear friend Pao (@Panterdjuret) and wanted to have available on this here website as well. Edited a tiny, very tiny, impossibly tiny bit because things change over the years. Two words are different.
I’m trying to write this review to sort out my thoughts on the leviathan and a half of a book that is Douglas Hofstadter’s Le Ton Beau de Marot: In Praise of the Music of Language. Here is one of my thoughts. Observe a new symbol make its way into language: it squiggles and squirms and then suddenly it’s everywhere, diluted, like you just stepped on a worm on the pavement. This is not a bad thing nor a good thing, except maybe for the integrity of the worm. It’s just how we process language, you know. A useful image comes into our possession and we paint it everywhere until it only means itself. Hofstadter would like it if I provided an example or two with my generalisation here, because that is the best way he knows to get information across. Very well.
Take sexting, that utterly ridiculous word. Sometime a few years ago some American news channels got their collective breaths caught in their throats by another in their ritualistic series of tantrums about teenagers having sex lives, or preambles thereto. Apparently, teenagers were sending each other erotic messages via cell-phones. Possibly even, and look away now for a while, nude pictures, colloquially known as “nudes.” Texts about sex. Sexts. This word took the US by storm, and when something takes the US by storm, the US takes to the Internet. Especially Twitter. It became a thing to preface your tweets with “sext:” and then say something longing, something horny, or something plain weird (the humour mostly coming from trying to imagine things like “sext: I stuffed your refrigerator with crystals” as a serious mating call). Patricia Lockwood deserves a mention here because her sext poems are amazing, though we have come to expect sexts from her now, so we don’t get them anymore. Her other poetry is equally amazing.
Anyway, likely, people have not actually changed their erotic messaging habits because of this word, but the word has become a thing. What you are referring to now when you preface a statement with “sext:” is this weird tradition, not any actual attempt at passing your statement off as a human version of that bellowing sounds that moose make when they’re in heat. Or, should I say, that’s what I do. Sometimes I pass through the tradition and come out on the moose-noise side too, though.
Hofstadter’s book is full of translations of one particular French poem. Some of them are pretty good and get the message across very smoothly. But somewhere along the line, he just looses it. The translations start to be based on new challenges on top of the translation challenge, because the translators (most of them being Hofstadter himself) feel like they have mastered the art of translating this one particular poem from French into English. How many enjambments can we stuff into the poem? Can we change the genders expressed? Can we change the rhythm? Hofstadter has very rigid ideas but demonstrates and admits that he doesn’t know quite where his stiffness comes from. I could see where it was going, though, when a translation that reads “… Has some bug / Laid you up? / Made you up- / chuck a lot? / Knuckle not / Under, but …” shows up somewhere in the middle of the tome. (That is also the sequence of lines quoted in the only other review of this book I’ve read, and I feel bad about that, but oh well. Take it as a sign that this particular line was particularly egregious.) That is not a good translation of the Marot poem, but he is very proud of it. I will get back to that. Essentially, there comes a point in the book where the only way to appreciate the poems he shows us is by having read all the other poems, and had the French original explained to us in painfully clear language. At the end of this particular trainwreck of thought is a lipogrammatic explanation of John Searle’s Chinese Room Experiment written in the format of the original Marot poem, and Hofstadter has the audacity to call it a translation. Gasp.
A Cubical Kubrickal Rubrical
The structure of the book is this: I’m at this family gathering. I am fourteen years old, I would perhaps rather be out talking to my older, cooler cousins, but I’m listening to my uncle talk and he never shuts up. I don’t know which side of the family he’s from. Maybe he just barged in here. He talks about anything, everything, occasionally says incredibly racist things without realizing it. (At one point, he compares the Israeli government to the Nazi regime, not based on things they do that are actually genocidal but based on their fucking attitude to language, which is shared by the Academie Française and countless other institutions, but he doesn’t find the symmetry of comparing the French or the Icelandic to Nazis funny so he doesn’t mention those. At another point, he recounts an anecdote about a tribesman asking questions of an anthropologist, and because he’s a tribesman, Hofstadter calls him naïve and laughs at him, even though what he did in the unsourced anecdote sounds more like sarcasm (to me). But I digress. Hofstadter deplores racism where he can see it.) Mostly he comes back to two topics: his dead wife and the translation of poetry. And he gets drunker and drunker, avuncularer and avuncularer. The bits about his wife are very touching, and she sounds like she was a wonderful person, and I am sorry for his loss. I wish he would shut up about the translation of poetry, though. I’ve structured this review like it’s a bit of his book, because, well, why not. Nothing has meaning, it just repeats until it can reference itself. And then it does that until there are two factions: those who are smug about it, and those who are smug about having fun. No-one has fun.
Tous grêlent le nuage incandescent
One of Hofstadter’s main rigidities is that he doesn’t think poetry is poetry unless it’s the very metrical and rhyming things that you can imagine wouldn’t trouble a troubadour. He respects form very much. He doesn’t understand that with the millions of young men who marched right into death in the First World War, the authority of the old form completely disappeared. He doesn’t realize that the war poets faltered the more they were shot at, lost the grip on rhyme schemes the more they died. Near the end of his life – he could not know but he suspected his luck was running out – Wilfred Owen wrote a poem rhyming with consonant clusters more than the fullness preferred by, say, Alfred Lord Tennyson. Here’s the first stanza:
Let the boy try along this bayonet-blade
How cold steel is, and keen with hunger of blood;
Blue with all malice, like a madman’s flash;
And thinly drawn with famishing for flesh.
– Wilfred Owen, from “Arms and the Boy” (1918)
I mean, that’s just one poem. He kept trying to rhyme until the end, for certain. His sonnets were breaking down. He kept being ordered to shoot. Hofstadter doesn’t know this. Hofstadter thinks poetry should be beautiful, should concern only love or grief or scenery, more or less. To him it shouldn’t be about cruelty, shouldn’t be rooted in its time bur rather you should easily be able to shovel it up and move it elsewhere, like a factory of bonsai gardens.
Another rigidity of Hofstadter’s is that only native speakers can translate poetry. As evidence for this, he at one point offers up his graceless “Knuckle not / under but”let in the middle of one translation, saying he has a hard time imagining a non-native speaker wielding language so skillfully as he has done right there. Take it in. Don’t take too much of it in, though, for your own good. That’s graceless gunk right there, honestly. Hofstadter also translates a poem into French at one point, probably because he contains multitudes or some shit.
Another thing Hofstadter talks a lot about is artificial intelligence, especially the machines’ use of language. This book has taught me why the Chinese Room Experiment is silly. For which, thanks, I guess. I already knew it was silly, but now I can dismiss it with reason. The thing about machine translation that Hofstadter brings up but doesn’t really explore is that it all rests on the immense weight carried by the human translators that came before. That metaphor was inconsistent on purpose. I see no way that machine translation as it exists today or in the next hundred years can learn to do more than repeat things that old translators have said before. Perhaps this is a failure of imagination on my part, similar to the failure which Hofstadter accuses John Searle of imagining, but still.
As a tangent, Google Translate – what seems to be the best thing out there – still uses English as an intermediary language between other languages, almost as if they are deliberately making machine translation seem unappealing. I think you have to teach machines to think before you can teach them to speak, and teach them to speak before you can teach them to write, and then to translate. I don’t think anyone is really trying to teach machines to think. I doubt you can teach the bloody things to dream before you can teach them to sleep.
En underrubrik på svenska. De betyder ingenting ändå
What also becomes clear from reading the book is that Hofstadter considers translation to be an equally creative endeavour as is writing at all. Sometimes translation requires even more ingenuity, he almost says.
The combination of the last of his rigidities up there, that you can only translate into your native language, and the thing he traipses around but wants to say here, that translation is extremely creative, is this: Hofstadter thinks that you can’t write poetry in a language you did grow up speaking. This is not a bad book, but don’t take it as an authority on anything except maybe artificial intelligence, the things that Hofstadter has actually worked on.
I like form. I write rhyming poetry when the mood strikes me. I attempt grace. Hofstadter makes me want to write ugly poetry.
Writing shit about new snow
for the rich
is not art.
– Issa (trans. Robert Hass)
after Uel Aramchek
You didn’t kill Kharon for the loot. You killed him because you could, because he let his guard down, and because you had a smuggled-in Herculean dagger. But his silver-dollar-laden pouch was right there. You wanted Napoleonic victory music, found a Corsican jukebox bar, tried to get a party started.
The jukebox does not accept your coins. After you’ve stabbed it in the heart, you become aware of two figures clad in togaedos waiting outside. They hand you your new name and title. One of them chuckles: “Did you think ferrymen lived forever? That this has never happened before?”
This has been fanfiction, or at least fiction in the style of Uel Aramchek. You can find his work on Twitter: @ThePatanoiac, and on his site North of Reality: northofreality.com. Also there is a Kickstarter campaign right now with some gorgeous Tarot cards based on his work and you’ll probably not be able to get these cards another way: kickstarter.com/projects/775608568/uel-aramcheks-tarot-arcana.
Dear readers! Joyous news. In addition to The Cult of Numbers being being published yesterday, you can also read my short story Three Encounters with God over at Minor Literature[s]:
It is a true story, in that the things described therein have all happened to me, more or less.
Faithful readers, you remember the fake book reviews (unfaithful readers, see: /fake-review). You have been missing these, but worry no longer. Pamphlets for the Apocalypse is publishing my review of Salandra Duchov’s Numberology, and you can pick it up at the Etsy link below:
Like the image has already told you, the zine contains words by me and illustrations by Ethan Fowler (see ethancf.tumblr.com/). Ultimately, this is the zine to buy for those of you who want to read a very flawed critical examination of one of the most potent economy textbooks never published, and that’s all of you. Trust me.