Aleph, alpha: nought, nought, one.

Issue 14

A) Welcome!

Hello, and welcome to the fourteenth 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.” This is to differentiate me from Tina Brown, who is known as “The Wee Quail.”

I am happy to report that our revisions and additions have been proceeding smoothly. This month features our second Small Press Spotlight, the conclusion of Contest #2, and very soon we will start running columns by writers Michael Cisco, Andrew F. Duncan and Amy Rosenberg.

B) Contest #2: Adaptation

In The Modern Word’s last contest, people were asked to pen a review of a fictional movie based on a real work. The results are in, and the winners are:

1. Trans-Plant
A film of Kobo Abé’s “Dendrocacalia”
Directed by Wong Kar-wai
Review by Craig Hasbrouk

2. Life: The Movie – an Eco of Perec
A film of George Perec’s Life: A User’s Manual
Directed by Umberto Eco
Review by Ronald Flanagan

3. Just Because You’re Paranoid
A film of Joseph McElroy’s Lookout Cartridge
Directed by Steve Villa
Review by Garrett Rowlan

More details, including the prize-winning reviews, may be found at:

II. Books

A) Book News, with Maggie Ball

1. National Book Awards

The 2003 National Book Award winners have been announced, and Shirley Hazzard’s The Great Fire (Farrar, Straus & Giroux) has won the award for best novel.

2. Google

For the past several months, has been working with publishers to digitize books and other printed material for browsing on the Web. Now the New York Times and Library Journal report that and Stanford University are in talks to digitize much of the material in Stanford’s library that is no longer protected by copyright. This includes a vast collection of books and other works published before 1923.

3. PEN

Salman Rushdie takes over as president of the PEN American Center, serving a two-year term. He says, “As a writers’ organization, we’ve spent a lot of time highlighting abuses from all over the world, and now I think it’s appropriate to look at what’s going on in this country.”

Speaking of PEN, the five nominees for the 2004 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction are Elroy Nights by Frederick Barthelme (Counterpoint); Drinking Coffee Elsewhere by ZZ Packer (Riverhead); Caryl Phillips’s Distant Shore (Knopf); Early Stories by John Updike (Knopf); and Tobias Wolff’s Old School (Knopf)

B) Featured Books

We have three books to feature in this issue.

1. A New Universal History of Infamy
Rhys Hughes’ collection of Borgesian stories.

Review excerpt:

....A New Universal History of Infamy continues following the layout of the original with “Et Al,” a collection of pieces corresponding to “Etcetera,” with “Surplus Parodies” standing in for the three 1954 additions. Unlike the previous works, these pieces are not one-to-one parallels – although Hughes maintains the convention of ascribing their authorship to other writers, they are all very original stories, boldly written and filled with color. “Et Al” begins with “City of Blinks.” Perhaps the best work in the entire collection, it is attributed to Herbert Quain. Taking the form of a fable, the story describes a city structured as a feudal panopticon, with a central ruler keeping watch on his subjects through a geometric progression of observers arranged in concentric circles. On one level, the story functions as an allegory depicting the futility – and dangers – of maintaining a police state, but it also works on a purely imaginative level, evoking the exact sense of awe and terror called “Borgesian” in Hughes’ preface. Hughes develops his conceit brilliantly from start to finish, the final sentence delivering a perfectly-timed master stroke....

Full review at:
By Allen B. Ruch

2. Voice of the Fire
Alan Moore’s debut novel

Review excerpt:

....The origins of this unusual novel most certainly lie in Moore’s 1994 decision to become a magician (think Aleister Crowley or Austin Osman Spare), and Voice of the Fire is one of his first works to directly reflect the impact of that choice. Although it is impossible to summarize Moore’s complex beliefs in a single statement, it is useful to note that for Moore, magic is a way to explore questions about the nature of creativity: What is happening to the artist when he is creating art? What kind of sources are being tapped into during the act of creation? Questions like these are at the heart of the novel, and Moore explores them with his usual ingenuity. However, since the history of magic and witchcraft is also the history of secrecy and persecution, the novel presents an array of characters trying to understand both their experiences with the supernatural as well as the reactions of the people around them. The encounters range from the comparably mundane to the utterly fantastic – from a fisherman who discovers that the whole population of his village has disappeared without a trace, to witches who conjure up imps to do their bidding....

Full review at:
By Ismo Santala

3. My Life as a Fake
Peter Carey’s fictionalization of the Ern Malley hoax.

Review excerpt:

....My Life as a Fake takes its starting point from two conceits. One is alluded to in an author’s note at the end of the book, where Carey acknowledges the Ern Malley hoax as the inspiration behind the novel and provides a long quotation from Max Harris who, years later, commented, “I still believe in Ern Malley.” Despite being deceived and humiliated several times over, Harris charmingly maintains that Ern Malley has a tangible existence. Carey takes this whimsical notion and makes it literal, having his fictional poet physically called into existence by the hoax. Taking it further, he imagines that such a person may not feel very happy, having been dragged into the world fully formed at the age of 24. Christopher Chubb becomes a Dr. Frankenstein figure (the epigraph to the novel is taken from Mary Shelley’s novel), creating a monster that he soon realises is out of his control. Carey plays with this notion, and the novel borrows the plot of Shelley’s work with the monster (McCorkle) pursuing his creator (Chubb) and then vice versa. The second conceit is based on Carey’s admiration of the poems created by McAuley and Stewart, which he feels have attained a life of their own, outliving their authors’ other (and more serious) work....

Full review at:
By Blair Mahoney

4. Don Quixote
Edith Grossman’s translation of Cervantes’ classic, often considered the first “modern novel.”

Review excerpt:

....Leaving the outstanding translation aside, we return to the question of the work itself. For a book that is so little read, the basic story of Don Quixote is part of the consciousness of many. Of course, the musical counts for much of this, or more particularly, the 1965 film of the musical. For a literary work to be made into a successful movie – however inaccurate – gives it a vitality and memorability that it might otherwise have lacked. It therefore becomes of some interest to ignore this level of Don Quixote’s existence and to examine it solely as a book, a classic, something that’s perhaps less in our hands than on our shelves. We may also ask if greater readership of Don Quixote is likely....

Full review at:
By Bob Williams

C) Small Press Spotlight

A new section just added to The Modern Word, “Small Press Spotlight” takes a look at independent publishers doing quality work in the literary field. Our second spotlight illuminates Graywolf Press.

Founded in 1974, Graywolf Press publishes of a broad range of fine modern literature, marked by “a commitment to quality and a willingness to embrace or invent new models.” You may read more about Graywolf and their work at the Small Press Spotlight. The feature includes an introductory essay, several notable publications, and resource links:

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:

Kafka Criticism
A section on Kafka Criticism has been added to Das Schloss.

Thomas Pynchon on TV
Thomas Pynchon recently “appeared” on The Simpsons. This page contains a summary, an essay by Erik Ketzan, and the full video clip.

Borges Criticism
The “Borges Criticism” section of the Garden of Forking Paths has been extensively revised and expanded.

Selected New Commentary

Kafka: Novellas
Jeff Nowak and the Quail on The Metamorphosis and In the Penal Colony.

Selected New Papers

Beckett: Samuel Beckett and Jonathan Swift
John Fletcher’s in-depth comparative study, translated from the French by the author.

Joyce: The Tool of the Martyr
Randy Hofbauer looks at Stephen’s epiphanies in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.

B) What’s in the Works?

The next few months should see reviews of Gabriel García Márquez’s Living to Tell the Tale, Angélica Gorodischer’s Kalpa Imperial: The Greatest Empire that Never Was, Neal Stephenson’s Quicksilver, and Péter Esterházy’s Celestial Harmonies. Das Schloss will continue to be fleshed out, and future Scriptorium pages will include Edward Albee, William S. Burroughs, A.S. Byatt, James Kelman, and Ezra Pound. We are also planning on expanding the pages on Kobo Abé. The next Small Press Spotlight will focus on FC2, and there will be a new contest!

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 Brian Eha for several of this quarter’s Daily Muse quotes. He has been sent a copy of William Gaddis’ Agapé Agape.

IV. Literary Events

A) Exhibitions/Performances

1. Blind Date
March 5-April 4, 2004, New Theatre, Coral Gables, Florida. Mario Diament’s new play includes a character inspired by Borges.

2. Pynchon-inspired Artwork at the Whitney
March 11-May 30, 2004. Whitney Biennial, NYC. Zak Smith’s “Pictures Showing What Happens on Each Page of Thomas Pynchon’s Novel Gravity’s Rainbow.”

3. The Trial
March 18-May 1, 2004, Write Act Theatre, LA. A theatrical production of Kafka’s novel, The Trial.

4. Dublin Bloom
June 2-27, 2004, Chicago. A stage adaptation of Joyce’s Ulysses.

B) Conferences

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.

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

V. Featured Links

A) Interesting Articles

Title Fight
“The Age.” January 10, 2004. Julian Barnes expresses his ire at the titular copycats of Flaubert’s Parrot.

The Second Coming of Philip K. Dick
Wired, December 2003. The prevalence of Philip K. Dick in Hollywood.

From Triunfo to Triumph
Philadelphia Inquirer, December 9, 2003. A feature on translator Edith Grossman.

Moore vs. Constantine
Alan Moore removes his name from the upcoming John Constantine film.

B) Featured Sites

1. Literary & Cultural Sites

The Bookloft Award Winners
A page featuring dozens of book awards and their recipients.

The Elegant Variation
Mark Sarvas’ blog frequently discusses literature.

The Library of Babel
Over 100 sites having something to do with Borges’ great story.

2. Humor & Games

Kafka In Love
Is it cruel to have included this under “humor?” Synchronized swimming combines with film to tell the story of Kafka’s great love with, er, Gerti Waser. You decide.

The Kingdom of Loathing
Are you missing your “Lord of the Rings” fix? Try being a Turtle Tamer!

Industorious Clock
It just could be the Web’s most nifty clock.