Aleph, alpha: nought, nought, one.

Issue 5

Hello, and welcome to the fifth 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" -- and I have the honor of being your friendly neighborhood editor. So, on with some news...

Well, as you have heard no doubt dozens of times in your life, "I have some good news and some bad news." The bad news first.

Most of you are aware that the dot-com market is not doing so well. I would like to say that the lofty world of literature is not influenced by this, but alas, that is not the truth. The current state of the market no longer allows me to work on The Modern Word as a full-time editor; this is the reason behind the long delay in newsletters and the relative slow-down the whole site has experienced.

Don't panic! Some of you have been around since 1995, when I began "The Libyrinth" as a hobby, so you know that I am committed to the project as long as I live and breathe. The site will continue to exist, new material will be added, and we will maintain the Literary Advisory Board. Most of our writers will still contribute, and Spiral-Bound will still be published, though probably every two months or so. Things will just be more... slow, until the market changes or the site attracts some new literary-oriented funding.

The good news is that despite all this, in one way, The Modern Word is doing better than ever, with over 100,000 visitors per month racking up 4.5 million hits. Our first essay contest has concluded, and most important of all, the first major site in several years has been added: Apmonia, a site for Samuel Beckett!

So even with the slower pace, I assure you I will still be here, and you can keep counting on The Modern Word to explore the best twentieth -- and twenty-first -- century literature!

II. Books

A) Book News

1. New Eco in Paperback

Two recent Umberto Eco collaborations are just out in paperback -- Conversations About the End of Time, and his religious debate with Cardinal Martini, Belief or Nonbelief. Also, The Cult of Vespa has recently been reprinted, a series of essays on the Vespa scooter with a contribution by Eco. For details, see Porta Ludovica:

2. Pulitzer Prize

The 2001 Pulitzer Prize for fiction has been awarded to Michael Chabon for his new novel, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay. You may read a list of all the winners here:,23

B) Featured Books

Because of the long delay between this and the last issue of Spiral-Bound, we have selected two books to feature.

1. The first is Umberto Eco's Belief or Nonbelief, which is newly out in paperback. A structured dialogue between Professor Eco and Cardinal Martini, the book is a series of letters exchanged in a Milan newspaper about religion and secular humanism.

Review excerpt:

....Taken as a whole, the letters are respectful, thoughtful, and filled with curiosity and even warmth. Umberto Eco displays his usual charm and humor along with his unfailing acumen, and Cardinal Martini emerges as a scholar and an intellectual, a prelate and a theologian who is nevertheless sympathetic to humanism and doubt.

Eco opens the dialogue with a polite salutation and a desire to engage each other as fellow scholars rather than as symbols, as a professor and a cardinal. He also makes a request to "aim high" regarding the tenor of their conversations. The rest of the initial letter is taken up by speculations on the "secular obsession with the new apocalypse." Along with some comments on the Book of Revelation and possible ecological catastrophe, Eco speculates on our Christian-derived perception of history as a progression. This teleological notion that history has a purpose and a possible end seems to engender two types of response: the Christian "signpost of Hope," where we may judge history to essentially better our nature, or the "desperate millenialism" of cults attempting to redirect its teleology towards their own tribal goals....

Full review at:
By Allen Ruch

2. The second book selected is Cryptonomicon. The most recent work from science fiction writer Neal Stephenson, Cryptonomicon is an epic novel twisting around the decades in between WWII and the present, featuring a cast of colorful characters obsessed with information technology.

Review excerpt:

....Starting with the shocking historical image of the burning Hindenburg, Neal Stephenson steps off into uncharted territory, upping his own literary ante after a decade and a half of writing overt science fiction novels. His previous works, including Snow Crash and The Diamond Age, have painted portraits of technological futures that seemed more grounded in possibility than any of the cyberpunk literature preceding them. Quantum computers, nanotechnology, virtual reality, life as software, culture as hibernating virus, the brain as microprocessor... it has all been done before; but somehow Stephenson was different. His voice carried authority, as if he were personally inspecting the future through the telescope of a secret research lab, where everyday concerns might include nanobots circulating through the body in a hunt for cancer, generators mass-producing food on the molecular level, and strange new books rippling dynamic content across erasable paper. It's these technologies that Stephenson projected in our future, and not always in a benevolent manner. He made us believe that advertisers would soon plaster visual mind control on the inescapable interior of our eyelids, or chat rooms would become as sophisticated as Star Trek's holodeck. And unlike many other science fiction writers, we could hear Stephenson chuckling at his own comic inventions as he went along.

Now he has given us a vastly complex book that ranks the author in the same category as Kurt Vonnegut or Thomas Pynchon -- similarities to Gravity's Rainbow are immediately obvious -- in the way World War II and the modern day are interwoven around several generations of an American family and their interactions with history....

Full review at:
By Richard Behrens

III. Music

A) Music News

Florencia en el Amazonas

Daniel Catán's opera Florencia en el Amazonas is returning to the Houston Grand Opera this season! Loosely based on García Márquez's Love in the Time of Cholera, the libretto is by Marcela Fuentes-Berain, film collaborator and protégé of Gabriel García Márquez. As any visitor to the Macondo Music section of the site knows, I am particularly fond of this work! Filled with a sense of unabashed wonder, its themes of redemption and the transforming powers of love are perfectly supported by Catán's score, which captures a lyricism and beauty rarely heard in today's music.

The HGO will stage productions throughout April and May of 2001. You can read more details, including a review, here at Macondo:

You may also visit the HGO site directly:

B) CD of the Month

The Modern Word has selected Luciano Berio's Sinfonia as CD of the Month. A seminal tour de force of postmodern invention, Sinfonia is an amazing work that incorporates texts from Samuel Beckett into a crazy-quilt libretto for eight vocalists and speakers.

Review excerpt:

....The libretto is just as complex as the music. Using the self-reflexive monologue from Beckett's The Unnamable as a basic pattern, dozens of other textual threads are shuttled through the narrative loom to form a dazzling tapestry of language in all its forms. Fragments of German, Yuletide solfège, snippets of song, radical slogans, clichés from the classical music crowd, gobbles and grunts, and perhaps most striking of all, the insistent command to "Keep going!" -- all rise and fall in a babblogue carried along by the music, punctuated by orchestral gestures that just as often provide ironic counterpoint as they do illustration. The whole movement surges to a sort of humorous self-awareness, the principle speaker frequently addressing the audience in the sardonic lilt of an old tour guide: "Well, well, so there is an audience!... You can't leave, you're afraid to leave, you make the best of it... While every now and then a familiar passacaglia hunkers through the other noises..." At one point the libretto instructs the speaker to say, "And tomorrow we'll read that X made tulips grow in my garden, and altered the flow of the ocean's currents," where X is the next work on the evening's program. Eventually he introduces the singers by name, and finally thanks the conductor, bringing the movement to a most satisfying conclusion. Like Beckett's Unnamable, the work has a voice conscious of itself, aware that it only exists in the moment of performance. Unlike the Unnamable, however, it seems to revel in an eccentric sense of joy, and the fun is certainly contagious. ("Thank you, Mr. Boulez.")....

Full review at:
By Allen Ruch

III. The Modern Word

A) Essay Contest

The Modern Word's first annual essay contest has concluded, and three top winners have been selected along with eleven honorable mentions. Sponsored by the Great Books Foundation and Gotham Writers' Workshop, with additional support from the Humanities and Sciences Academy and Institute, Channel Thirteen and, the contest will reward Warren Tusk with a top prize of $1500, a complete set of Britannica Classics, and a Great Books anthology for his classroom. $750 and the same book sets will be awarded to Josh Goodman, and Meghan Daley will be given the sets as well as a free online writing course.

The winners are:

First prize:
Warren Tusk (James Joyce)

Second prize:
Josh Goodman (Franz Kafka)

Third prize:
Meghan Daley (George Orwell)

Honorable mentions:
Joshua Kovacs (Samuel Beckett)
April Anderson (Anne Frank)
Jennifer Chiu (Sigmund Freud)
Hyon Jae Lee (Ernest Hemingway)
Marnie Kaplan (John Irving)
Brendan Carty (James Joyce)
Grace You (James Joyce)
Amanda Tavel (Tim O'Brien)
Christopher R. Donohue (Ezra Pound)
Talia Brooks (Jean-Paul Sartre)
Jordan Rost (Bob Dylan)

We are all very pleased with the results of this contest, and all the judges agree that there were some stellar essays. You may read all the winning essays online:

B) What's New at the Modern Word?

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

Apmonia: A Site for Samuel Beckett
Authored and edited by Tim Conley and Allen Ruch, Apmonia aims to be the largest, most comprehensive, and best Beckett resource on the Web. Contributions and suggestions are welcome!

Beckett and Music
This work in progress contains features on Luciano Berio, Morton Feldman, Gyula Csapó, and more.

Borges and Mick Jagger?
A review of the Borges-influenced film Performance.

García Márquez: "Serenade"
Gabo tells the story of his parents' courtship, which provided him with the inspiration for Love in the Time of Cholera.

Joycean Music
Composer Mathew Rosenblum added to Bronze by Gold for his Wakean composition Maggies.

Selected New Papers:

Joyce: French Feminists and Anglo-Irish Modernists: Cixous, Kristeva, Beckett and Joyce
Jennifer Birkett's look at the work of Beckett and Joyce through the lens of French feminism.

Eco: Mazes, Maps & Monsters: The Iconography of the Library in Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose
Adele Haft's detailed paper looks at the medieval maps and associated world-views that informed Eco's great library in The Name of the Rose. By the author of The Key to "The Name of the Rose."

C) What's in the Works?

I am currently editing and laying out Scriptorium pieces on Michael Ondaatje, Phillip K. Dick, and a page on Angela Carter by Jeff Vandermeer. We are still planning on a Virginia Woolf site, but with the slow-down, it may be pushed to the latter half of the year -- sorry! Staff writer Richard Behrens is also working on a Scriptorium piece for William S. Burroughs, and has plans to produce a larger site for Philip K. Dick. Tim Conley is still fleshing out Apmonia, and David Keffer is drafting a page on Primo Levi.

D) 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. 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 quarterly. The most recent award goes to Philip Heston for his Charles Lamb quote, "The true poet dreams of being awake."

V. Featured Off-site Links

A) Interesting Articles

The Greatness of Borges
Tim Parks, New York Review of Books, April 26, 2001. An examination of Borges' Selected Non-Fictions.

Marxist Critics are Following Me! Philip K. Dick and the FBI
Jeet Heer, Lingua Franca, May/June 2001. A piece about Philip K. Dick and his reactionary paranoia.

Postmodernity, Métaphore manquée, and the Myth of the Trans-avant-garde
Nicolas Zurbrugg, SubStance. A fairly arcane essay about postmodernism and technology.

The Artist Naked in a Cage
Don DeLillo, New York Public Library speech. DeLillo's speech on Chinese writers from the "Stand In for Wei Jingsheng" event.

After Joyce, There's No World Without Joyce
Michiko Kakutani, New York Times, January 31, 1982. A nice archived piece on the influence of James Joyce.

B) Featured Sites

1. Literary & Cultural Sites

London Review of Books Online
The LRB's impressive homepage, with a growing collection of excerpts, complete texts, and archived reviews.

Spike Magazine
"Picking the brains of popular culture" is this Webzine's tag-line, with an emphasis on "brains" -- this is more than a simple pop-culture gazette. With frequent articles on writers such as Borges, Eco, and Beckett, as well as great film and music reviews and a series of wonderful columns, Spike should be a bookmark on everyone's browser.

Ulysses: The Film
This is the official site for the upcoming Ulysses feature film -- you can read about it here, and even find out how to become a sponsor

The 2001 North American James Joyce Conference
The Web site for the July 2001 US Joyce conference in Berkeley, CA.

2. Humor & Games

The Grey Labyrinth
A page about puzzles with an oh-so-attractive name, partially inspired by Borges and Eco.

Fun With Words
Filled with spoonerisms, anagrams, palindromes, and much more, this site has already been the cause of countless wasted hours....

Bill Keane Literary Criticism
Apparently there has sprung up a tradition on of entering ridiculously profound commentary on "Family Circus" comic books. If only someone would tell Derrida....

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