Aleph, alpha: nought, nought, one.

Issue 12

A) Welcome!

Hello, and welcome to the twelfth issue of Spiral-Bound. A part of The Modern Word, Spiral-Bound is a newsletter for all enthusiasts of modern literature. My name is Allen Ruch, also known as “The Great Quail,” which is coincidentally my Halloween costume this year. (Well, either a giant walking quail, or Jonathan Franzen, I’m not sure yet.)

B) Contest #2: Adaptation

The Modern Word is proud to announce its second general contest: “Adaptation.”

You know that feeling when one of your favorite books is going to be turned into a movie? You feel both excited and anxious. You obsess over the director’s previous work, over the actors chosen to play beloved characters, and whether or not they’ll pay attention to what the fans have to say. Well, here’s your chance to strike back. (At least in your own imagination, at any rate.)

The Contest:
Imagine one of your favorite books has been turned into a movie, and write a review. The book in question may be any text – fiction, non-fiction, short stories, even a comic book; but it should be reasonably well-known. If it has already been filmed, be sure to compare the old version with the “new.” You may feature actual directors and actors, or you may invent your own fictional talent. Be creative – let your review explore the cinematic possibilities of the text itself!

The review should be between 500 and 1000 words, and must be submitted electronically to The Modern Word at the following email address: Entries should be submitted as a Microsoft Word attachment, or as text in the body of the email itself. Entries must be submitted by January 15, 2004.

More details, including the prizes, may be found at:

C) Michael Swanwick Interview

The Modern Word recently interviewed science fiction writer Michael Swanwick.

Interview excerpt:

Ismo Santala: In your two major essays, “In the Tradition...” (fantasy) and “A User’s Guide to the Postmoderns” (SF), you map out certain trends of each genre. What are your thoughts on the academic status of SF/fantasy?

Michael Swanwick: If you were to put out a call for critical papers on science fiction and fantasy to Academia at large, you would be flooded with papers on Stanislaw Lem, Ursula K. Le Guin, Philip K. Dick, and (I’m not kidding) Jane Austen. Because unfortunately most of the people in genre studies are academic hacks who don’t trust their own taste and judgment. They won’t write about Clifford Simak or Leigh Brackett or Jack Vance because those writers – whose work was extremely important to the field – haven’t been sanctioned by the critical consensus and thus might turn out to be not literary at all....

Full interview at:
By Ismo Santala

II. Books

A) Book News, with Maggie Ball

1. Nobel Prize in Literature

South African writer J.M. Coetzee, “who in innumerable guises portrays the surprising involvement of the outsider,” was awarded the 2003 Nobel Prize for Literature.

2. NBF and Stephen King

In a controversial decision, the Board of Directors of the National Book Foundation awarded its 2003 Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters to Stephen King. The annual award was created in 1988 by the Foundation’s Board of Directors to celebrate an American author who has enriched the literary landscape through a lifetime of service or body of work.

B) Featured Books

We have three books to feature in this issue.

1. Shroud
John Banville’s story of academia, love, and the Shroud of Turin.

Review excerpt:

....Despite the book’s title, the seemingly inexorable movements of the characters of John Banville’s novel do not include a (successful) visit to the Shroud, though the question of whether to go and see it arises many times. Whether its miraculous powers could help Axel Vander, aging scholar, is a question indicative of the demeanor of all of Banville’s work – that is, grim but ludicrous, open and haunting but not necessarily meaningful. Vander’s retreat from the world, his querulousness, his occluded past with its crimes, and his perverse pleasure at being discovered are all traits that are not merely recognizable but expected of Banville’s narrators. When Vander loses someone “for good” he bitterly reflects on that phrase “for good: how the language mocks us.” This Beckett-informed sentiment of “words fail” could come from any one of the narrators of The Book of Evidence or Athena or Eclipse. If his prose were not so good, and his most particular tints for painting (and blurring together) relish and remorse not so remarkable, one Banville book would be interchangeable with another....

Full review at:
By Tim Conley

2. 98.6 and 1998.6
Ronald Sukenick’s work of dystopia and utopia, reviewed with Matthew Roberson's recent “rewrite.”

Review excerpt:

Sukenick has made his book deliberately difficult to read by several stratagems. His first victim is punctuation: he makes light of the period, banishes the comma, and leaves the interrogation mark up to the reader’s sense of context. He attaches useless dates to most of the sections in Part One; he allows his characters in Part Two to adopt a bewildering variety of names; and in Part Three he uses methods modeled upon James Joyce’s linguistic tour de force, Finnegans Wake. But despite these difficulties, 98.6 is actually a very exciting book....

....The final part, “Palestine,” is Sukenick’s upbeat Utopia. It is a country in which Arabs and Jews recognize the bond of a common heritage and live together in amity; a world in which an unassassinated Robert Kennedy brought health to a society riddled with lies and short-sighted opportunism. It is in these closing pages that the narrative voice becomes Joycean, and Sukenick presents an astonishing example of the possibilities inherent in the techniques of Finnegans Wake. It concludes on a mixed note of the sublime and the personal, an experience both moving and chilling....

Matthew Roberson has attempted the Borgesian feat of rewriting Sukenick: great chunks of 98.6 resurface in Roberson’s 1998.6, which follows the same three-part structure. The effect is strange – to use very cautious language....

Full review at:
By Bob Williams

III. The Modern Word

A) What’s New at the Modern Word?

The following notable recent additions have been made to The Modern Word:

Selected New Features:

Borges Essay
A short essay on Oscar Wilde from 1925, previously available only in Spanish. Translated by Suzanne Jill Levine, this essay is an “outtake” from the Viking/Penguin Selected Non-Fictions.

Noon Works
The Scriptorium’s Jeff Noon section is expanded by the addition of “Noon Works,” a page offering commentary for all his novels.

Pynchon Influence
Futurama and The Simpsons have been added to the Pynchon Influence section.

Selected New Papers

Joyce:Joyce Lost in Opryland
Jeff Mathewes compares the structural and aesthetic affinities between the “Wandering Rocks” episode of Ulysses and Robert Altman’s 1975 film Nashville.

Pynchon: The Absurdist Heroine
James R. Wallen’s Wildean critique of The Crying of Lot 49.

B) What’s in the Works?

The next few months should see reviews of Gabriel García Márquez’ Living to Tell the Tale, Neal Stephenson’s Quicksilver, Nightshade Press’ Thackery T. Lambshead Pocket Guide to Eccentric & Discredited Diseases, Peter Carey’s My Life as a Fake, Alain Robbe-Grillet’s Repetition, Jonathan Lethem’s Fortress of Solitude, and KJ Bishop’s The Etched City. I am (still) editing and laying out a Scriptorium piece on William S. Burroughs, and future pages include Edward Albee and James Kelman. We are also planning on expanding the pages on Kobo Abé. Jeff Nowak is currently at work on a major Kafka site for a late December launch date. By late 2003, the Rotunda will expand to include an area for additional literary features, including contests, staff recommendations, indie press spotlights, and monthly columns.

C) The Daily Muse – A Call for Submissions

One feature on The Modern Word’s main “Rotunda” page is the “Daily Muse,” a literary thought which changes daily, such as a quote, trivia question, or word of the day. If anyone has a favorite quote they would like to contribute, a literary trivia question, or a literary word of the day, please email it to me at If your submission is selected, your name will be entered in a drawing for a free book!

Congratulations to “Mr. Peabody” for Baudelaire’s “I want meadows red in tone and trees painted in blue. Nature has no imagination.” He has been sent a copy of Nick Cave’s And the Ass Saw the Angel.

IV. Literary Events

A) Exhibitions/Performances

1. Tribute to García Márquez
Nov. 5, 2003, Town Hall, NYC. Knopf and PEN American Center honors Gabo; features Salman Rushdie, Paul Auster, Edwidge Danticat and others. Tickets from $10.

2. Borges Exhibition
Volume Gallery, Oct. 3-Nov. 5, NYC. A major exhibit of original Borges manuscripts, first editions, and artwork.

3. Images of Beckett
Sep 22-Nov 8, 2003, The National Theatre, London. John Haynes photographs of Beckett and performances of Beckett’s works.

4. Borges Book Auction
November 20, 2003. Bloomsbury Book Auctions will be auctioning “the most important and most complete collection of Borges material ever to appear at auction.”

5. The Dead Musical
Nov. 28 to Dec. 28, 2003. Court Theatre in Chicago.

B) Conferences

Beckett: After Beckett Music Festival
December 2003, Amsterdam. A festival of “musical and theatrical activities based upon the texts and imagery in the works of Samuel Beckett.”

Joyce: American Friends of James Joyce Bloomsday Centennial
May 2004, New York. This celebration will recognize several people from the world of finance and the arts who have helped nourish Irish literature. Date & location TBA.

Pynchon: Malta Pynchon Conference
June 8-10, 2004, Malta. To be held during the Transit of Venus.

V. Featured Links

A) Interesting Articles

Solitude and Company
Paris Review, Summer 2003. Silvana Paternostro interviews Gabo’s friends and relations.

Fear and Loathing in Globalization
The New Left Review, Sep-Oct 2003. Fredric Jameson looks at William Gibson’s Pattern Recognition.

A Stone Woman
A story by A.S. Byatt in the New Yorker.

B) Featured Sites

1. Literary & Cultural Sites

The Guardian’s 100 Greatest Novels of All Time
Don Quixote tops the list, and what follows is a celebration of dead British people! Prepare to argue with this trip down nostalgia lane....

Pynchon on The Simpsons
Thomas Pynchon will lend his voice to an upcoming episode of The Simpsons! (With a bag over his head.)

A Visual Analysis of Mulholland Drive
Yet another attempt to make sense of Lynch’s cinematic puzzle....

Common Errors in English
Irregardless of how good you write, as a principal, this site will take you further down the path of well usage.

2. Humor & Games

Fowl Words
The most evilly addictive word-game on the Web – with chickens!

Your Place in the Inferno
Now, you can test your place in Dante’s hierarchy of sinners.

Thank you, and I’ll see you in a few weeks!