Aleph, alpha: nought, nought, one.

Issue 3

Hello, and welcome to the third issue of Spiral-Bound. A part of The Modern Word, Spiral-Bound is a monthly newsletter for all enthusiasts of modern literature. My name is Allen Ruch -- also known as "The Great Quail" -- and I'm your friendly neighborhood editor. It's been a pretty exciting month at The Modern Word, and the world of twentieth-century literature in general, so without further ado....

II. Books

A) Book News

1. Nobel Prize

Catching more than a few people off-guard, the Nobel Prize in Literaure was awarded to Chinese writer Gao Xingjian, author of Soul Mountain and One Man's Bible. This has created a flurry of interest in Gao Xingjian's work, as well as sparking an increased interest in Asian literature in the West. Details may be found here:

The Modern Word is currently researching a Scriptorium page on Gao Xingjian for possible publication in December.

2. The Powerbook

Jeanette Winterson's new novel hit the shelves this October. From the Publisher:

Winterson enfolds her seventh novel within the world of computers, and transforms the signal development of our time into a wholly human medium. The story is simple: an e-mail writer called Ali will compose anything you like, on order, provided you're prepared to enter the story as yourself and risk leaving it as someone else. You can be the hero of your own life. You can have freedom just for one night. But there is a price, and Ali discovers that she, too, will have to pay it. The PowerBook reinvents itself as it travels from London to Paris, Capri, and Cyberspace, using fairy tales, contemporary myths, and popular culture to weave a story of failed but requited love.

You can read more about Jeanette Winterson at the Scriptorium:

B) Book of the Month

The Modern Word has selected Mark Z. Danielewski's House of Leaves as November Book of the Month. Published this year by Pantheon Press, House of Leaves is Danielewski's first novel, a sprawling work that uses a labyrinth as a central metaphor for the anxieties of modern existence.

Review excerpt:

....Imagine, if you will, The Blair Witch Project as a book, written by a very erudite masked carny after bingeing on Borges' Ficciones and Nabokov's Pale Fire. And imagine if the "witch" haunting the work were really a materialization of dread, a disorientation slowly blooming from the 3 a.m. spaces at the edges of your bedroom, feeding on your doubts and fears during the insomniac hours before dawn. All the carefully constructed meanings you've created in your life seem under invasion by an encroaching emptiness, winding its way closer to your center as you wonder, increasingly nearer to panic, "Is this just me?" There is a lurker at the threshold, and whether it's your own personal emptiness, a shared void common to all, or Lovecraft's Yog Sothoth himself, is perhaps just a matter of perspective.

That a review of House of Leaves should start off with metaphors and comparisons is not to take away from its breathless sense of invention. Big, bold, beautiful and arrogant, a near-reckless energy hums from every page -- in short, the exact kind of book destined to become an instant cult classic. This is a book that invites comparisons, a vast bibliovore swallowing up its predecessors and digesting them in its rumbling bowels, using influence as fuel, reference as bloodstream, and textuality itself as a skeletal system. It is insufferably postmodern, maddeningly hip, and utterly in love with itself; and like a Boardwalk funhouse, it's filled with shameless tricks, distorted mirrors, and not a few genuine shocks. Oh yes, Mark Z. Danielewski has produced one hell of an ambitious first novel; and one that succeeds on a surprising number of levels....

Full review at:

III. The Modern Word

A) Literary Advisory Board

The Modern Word would like to welcome our newest members to the Literary Advisory Board: Michael Dirda, Jason Epstein, Tom Kersting, Brad Leithauser, Thomas S. W. Lewis, and Paul Schwaber. They are a very diverse group of talented individuals, and we count ourselves fortunate to include them on our Board. Biographies will be added to the "About Us" page throughout the month of November.

B) Survey Prizewinners

The following 14 visitors to The Modern Word were selected at random from the 575 people who took our online survey this summer. Each winner will be awarded either a copy of Borges' Collected Fictions, courtesy of Penguin Books, or Joyce's Dubliners on Caedmon Audio, courtesy of HarperAudio.

Marius Beceanu
Mary Bertlshofer
Julie Britt
Elena Charles
Dedalus II
Vladimir Dovijarov
Silvia Flores
Garrett Hahn
David Hornbuckle
Josh Quirk
Hermé Rodriguez
John Schuble
Eliza Tan
Zero (The Unsignified)

C) Essay Contest

In an effort to increase awareness of modern literature among high school students, The Modern Word is holding an Essay Contest. Sponsored by the Great Books Foundation and Gotham Writers' Workshop, the contest has a top prize of $1500, and is open to all high school students in the United States. For details on the contest, and for information on entering, go to:

Please feel free to pass this information along to interested parties such as students, teachers, and administrators. The contest runs until January 31, 2001.

D) Fiction Writing Workshop:

One exciting new development has been our new relationship with Gotham Writers' Workshop. GWW has long had a reputation for being the oldest and best provider of writing classes in New York City, offering courses in subjects ranging from poetry to screenwriting. Recently GWW has launched an online program, and now offers their ten-week writing courses using a "virtual classroom" technology that incorporates live classes, email-based lessons, class bulletin boards, individual and group feedback, and advice on publishing. Their classes have been very successful, with a very high return rate, and have begun to reach an audience extending far outside of New York.

The Modern Word and GWW have recently created a joint online class, "Modern Fiction I." The purpose of this class is to teach fiction writing to people who have an interest in fiction slanted towards the modern, be it stream-of-consciousness dialogue or trends such as magic realism. Although it will still follow the "basics," the examples and readings will tend towards authors found on the Libyrinth. If the classes are successful, and if there is interest, we may develop a "Modern Fiction II" class for advanced students.If you are interested in taking a look at Modern Fiction I you may visit the introduction page here:

If you are interested in seeing what other classes offered by GWW, you may use this link:

E) Spiral-Bound Mailing List

In the last issue, I announced the creation of an online Mailing List for Spiral-Bound subscribers. I am proud to say that the new Spiral-Bound List has gotten off to a successful start, and has attracted some wonderful people. Reading recommendations, book reviews, commentary on the Nobel prize, and warm personal discussions have all made for a very exciting and informative first month. In fact, the group just began a group reading of John Crowley's Little, Big. To sign on, go to:

F) What's New at the Modern Word?

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

Umberto Eco has announced the title and subject of his fourth novel, Baudolino.

Borges and Films
This new section details films based on the works of Jorge Luis Borges. Prominent entries include Nicolas Roeg's Performance, which stars Mick Jagger, Bernardo Bertolucci's mesmerizing The Spider's Strategem, and Alex Cox's Death and the Compass.

James Joyce: Influences
An old section finally gets a major update! Now with more films, novels, and artists inspired by the works of James Joyce. Significant new entries include Woody Allen, Mark Z. Danielewski, Salman Rushdie and Derek Walcott.

Joycean Musical Entertainment
James Joyce's The Dead opens in Washington DC, and the controversial Molly opens in London.

Pynchon Reading Groups
Two of Pynchon's novels are the focus of recent online reading groups -- V. and The Crying of Lot 49. There is plenty of time to join!

New Papers:

Eco: A Novel Look at Theory: About Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose and Foucault's Pendulum
Available to download as a PDF file, Birgitte Erikson's paper discusses the function of Eco's fiction in terms of semiotics and theory.

Joyce: The Anxious Narrator of "Oxen of the Sun"
This paper by Paul Schwaber, author of the Ulysses study Cast of Characters, takes a look at one of the most difficult chapters in Joyce's great novel.

Saramago: Literature as History: José Saramago's O Ano da Morte de Ricardo Reis
Chris Rollason discusses the intertextuality of Saramago's homage to Pessoa, involving Borges and highlighting Saramago's use of Herbert Quain.

G) What's in the Works?

I am currently editing and laying out Scriptorium pieces on Kobo Abé and Michael Ondaatje. The Modern Word's Literary Board of Advisors have also picked the "Next Ten" authors for full Libyrinth sites:

Samuel Beckett
Italo Calvino
Ralph Ellison
William Faulkner
Carlos Fuentes
Franz Kafka
Vladimir Nabokov
Thomas Mann
Marcel Proust
Virginia Woolf

Of these, sites on Beckett and Woolf are under construction and should open in late 2000. "Apmonia," the Beckett site, is being created by Timothy Conley; and the Woolf site will be called "The Lighthouse," and is being written by Tonya Krouse. Sites on Fuentes and Calvino are in the planning phases. If anyone would like to help in the creation of any of these sites, please contact me!

H) The Daily Muse -- A Call for Submissions:

One recent feature on The Modern Word is the "Daily Muse," a literary thought which changes daily, such as a quote, trivia question, or word of the day. I would like to open the Daily Muse up to subscribers of Spiral-Bound -- if anyone has a favorite quote they would like to contribute, or a literary trivia question, or a literary word of the day, please email it to me at If I select your submission, I will enter your name in a contest for a small prize -- a $20 gift certificate to, to be awarded bimonthly.

IV. Featured Off-site Links

A) Interesting Articles

Journey to the Center of Kid A
Brent Sirota, Pitchfork, 3 October 2000. A literate analysis of Radiohead's new CD, referring extensively to Pynchon and Joyce.

Modern and Postmodern: The Bickering Twins
Edward Rothstein, The New York Times, 21 October 2000. A discussion of the controversial differences between modernism and postmodernism. (The NYT site requires registration -- it's quick, free, and well worth it!)

B) Featured Sites

Ministry of Whimsy
Devoted to literature of a fantasist, postmodern, and/or horror slant, this colorful site details some wonderful and unique works, all which may be ordered from the Ministry. And congratulations to Whimsy editor Jeff VanderMeer for winning the World Fantasy Award!

Save the House of Edgar Allen Poe!
A grass roots campaign to petition NYU not to demolish the last house of Edgar Allen Poe. Contains an email petition and other information to join the campaign.

Little Blue Light
A nice little resource for a wonderfully diverse range of authors and philosophers.

Thank you, and I'll see you in a month!