An Open Letter to Kenneth Goldsmith on Receiving His New Book
No. 111 2.7.83-10.20.96|
by Erik Belgum
I just got back from Florida and there was your book. I opened
it up to get a quick feel and found myself 40 minutes later with
my jacket still on.
Frankly, it's really a page turner, in several ways. First, you
want to try to figure out the Oulipan type formula at work. Then,
you want to page around and see how the formula manifests itself.
Then, finally, it is just plain fun to read. That's your real
strength in this book, it is just really really entertaining,
in the very best sense of the word. No. 111 has totally
reaffirmed my belief that the best experimental writing can and
should be every bit as entertaining as anything else.
I'm feeling moved to write a review of No. 111. I'll do
my best, but I often find that when I especially like something
it gets progressively harder and harder to review, until eventually
my hands just cramp and shrink up into tight little balls of delight,
rendering me unable to type anything cogent.
Your Oulipan formula of collecting all the phrases ending with
an "r" sound reminded me of the phonological power linguists
have attributed to the "r" sound. I remember a phonological
study analyzing speech spectrograms where linguists have shown
that a final "r" in a sentence containing no other "r"s
can color the sound of the entire sentence. That kind of thing
blows me away. "R" is an isolated phoneme, supposedly,
yet its effects can be felt long long before it arrives.
In Florida last week I ordered a dozen raw oysters. I noticed
that the menu said "Oysters only served raw during months
with an 'r' in them." You only serve words and phrases terminating
in an "r." What
is the connection between "r"s and the taste of oysters?
Something to do with water temperature, I guess, but that completely
begs the question of No. 111.
The important and emotional connection is something much more
tenuous, haphazard, aleatoric, and god knows, funny, and that
is exactly what makes your rigidly followed formula in No.
111 so boundlessly interesting to read. The side effects,
the unavoidable judgment calls, the unpredictable spin-offs are
just exactly what makes a rigorously followed formula so interesting
to pursue. And even more interesting to pursue expansively.
I'm just beginning to crack No. 111 and, so far, more than
anything I am entertained. Like watching baseball or a horse race,
like playing chess or poker, or like listening to Xenakis, Stockhausen
or Cage, the delight of experiencing an elegant formula like yours
play itself out can't be surpassed.
[Kenneth Goldsmith's No. 111 was published by The Figures,
5 Castle Hill, Great Barrington, MA 01230. Write for a complete
listing of titles/prices. ]