Aleph, alpha: nought, nought, one.

Issue 8

13 March 2003

Spiral-Bound Index -- An archive of back issues.


I. From the Center of the Spiral
II. Books
A) Book News
B) Featured Books (Zadie Smith, José Saramago, Philip Nel)
III. Music
A) Music News
B) Featured Work (Philip Glass)
IV. The Modern Word
A) What's New at the Modern Word?
B) What's in the Works?
C) The Daily Muse
V. Literary Events
A) Exhibitions/Performance
B) Conferences/Calls for Papers
VI. Off-site Links
A) Interesting Articles
B) Featured Sites

I. From the Center of the Spiral

Note from the Editor

Hello, and welcome to the eighth 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 been selected as editor after surviving a grueling 39 days on PoMoLit Survivor. (And yes, Baudrillard was the first voted off the island.)

You may notice that this issue is a bit longer than the last few -- which I hope is good news! Thanks to the contributions of numerous fine writers, The Modern Word has been able to support even more book reviews, and with the help of Compulsive Reader editor Maggie Ball, we have added a more focused "Book News" section. I have also expanded the newsletter to include a fuller "Music News" section, where I plan to list upcoming musical performances connected to the writers featured on this site, as well as other items of interest. Being a resident of New York, I'm afraid that these listings may initially reflect a regional bias, but I will happily post other events if people send them in. Another new addition to Spiral-Bound is a heading for "Literary Events." This will feature information on conferences, book signings, readings, and other noteworthy events involving "libyrinthine" writers. I'm hoping to have a few contests online starting next issue, and I'll be asking for other Modern Word writers like Tim Conley and Larry Daw to provide columns, featured links, and other goodies. (Hear that, guys?)

Now that Spiral-Bound is up and running again, a few people have asked me for statistics -- basically, how is The Modern Word doing? The happy answer is, "Quite well, thank you." Our visitation rates are up to 185,000 visitors per month for 7 million hits. "Stickiness" averages 10 minutes, and Spiral-Bound itself has nearly 4000 subscribers. Thanks again for your continued support. It is deeply and profoundly appreciated.

II. Books

A) Book News, with Maggie Ball

1. Another García Márquez Hoax

Over a year ago, a so-called "farewell" poem by Gabriel García Márquez made its rounds of the Internet. The letter was a hoax; or more to the point, it was a real poem, but not written by García Márquez. Recently, the Colombian Nobel laureate has been the "victim" of a second such hoax, this one a bit more nasty: an "open letter" to President Bush about the 9-11 attacks on the United States. Called "Carta a Bush de Gabriel Garcia Marquez," the letter -- basically a "how does it feel" diatribe -- was disavowed by García Márquez.

2. Borders 2002 Original Voice Awards

Borders Books and Music has chosen the finalists for the sixth annual Original Voices Awards. The awards are made in four categories: fiction, nonfiction, intermediate/young adult and children's. Winners in each of the categories will be awarded $5,000. Finalists are chosen by both corporate and store employees. A group of Borders corporate staff will read each finalist and choose the winners, who will be announced in March. The finalists for Fiction are: The Book of Illusions by Paul Auster (Holt), The Crimson Petal and the White by Michel Faber (Harcourt), Everything Is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer (Houghton), The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde (Viking), Life of Pi by Yann Martel (Harcourt), and The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold (Little, Brown).

3. Thomas Pynchon and 1984

Thomas Pynchon has written a new foreword to Plume's "Orwell Centennial" edition of 1984. The book will be published in May 2003.

B) Featured Books

We have three books to feature in this issue.

1. The Autograph Man
Zadie Smith's follow-up to the acclaimed White Teeth.

Review excerpt:

.... Alex-Li's inability to dip below the surface of things and grasp some substance forms the major conflict in The Autograph Man, and provides the engine which drives the novel's plot: Alex, your average early-twenty-first-century, late-twenty-something, middle-class, well-meaning, self-obsessed, television-fed, post-yuppie kind of guy, has roughly a week in which to decide whether or not he's going to take seriously this life that he's been given. To do so, his closest friends are convinced, he must recite the kaddish for his Chinese father on the fifteenth anniversary of his death

.... the structure of the book is straightforward, with the plot moving from point A to point Z and the voice consistently that of a third-person omniscient narrator. But there has been an attempt to complicate this refreshing simplicity by breaking the story up into two sections: one with chapter headings based on the ten sections of the Kabbalah, the other with chapter headings based on the practice of Zen. This becomes distracting for a reader, given the many layers of meaning and symbolism already attached to the elements of the Kabbalah alone, along with those Smith adds through her creation of a Kabbalah specific to the life of Alex-Li (and later one specific to the life of Elvis Presley). There are other distractions as well: the list of sub-headings at the start of each chapter that summarize the events that occur within; the diagrams that occur throughout; the unique, handwritten signature given for each famous name each time one is mentioned; the pictures; the word-bubbles; the Hebrew letters and words that make occasional appearances; and even some of the characters.... These things are funny, yes, and they very cleverly mesh with the larger themes and ideas of the book, but strip them away and you still have a funny book with admirable literary devices that reveal human themes and big ideas. They are overkill, and they detract from one of things that appeals most about Zadie Smith: her penchant for writing long, old-fashioned social satire with great attention to character development.....

Full review at:
By Amy Rosenberg

2. The Cave
Nobel laureate José Saramago's tale of one family's struggle against the blind bureaucracy of "The Center," a vast living complex and shopping mall in a state of eternal expansion.

Review excerpt:

.... At a cursory glance, not a whole lot seems to happen in The Cave. Nobel laureate José Saramago's twelfth novel is a gentle tale about gentle people. There is little to no action, the book contains a lengthy, technical discourse on the finer points of fire-kilned pottery, and the protagonist is an elderly widower who really doesn't get around too much. But don't let this description fool you -- The Cave is a beautiful novel, rich with inter-character tensions, and like all of Saramago's work, it reads with a rambling beauty and an irresistible wink-wink charm....

The Cave examines the simple life of Cipriano Algor, an old-fashioned earthenware potter. The last in a line of potters stretching back for three generations, Cipriano's work is rapidly becoming obsolete. Cipriano, who is getting on in years, lives with his pregnant daughter Marta and her husband Marcal on the outskirts of a small rural village. He sells his pottery solely to an enormous shopping and living complex called "The Center," located on the outskirts of the nearby city. As in Saramago's last two novels, Blindness and All The Names, he leaves the city and country of his setting unnamed, and his narrative is deliberately free from specific political or cultural references. The Center could be in any town in any country, and Saramago delivers his message loud and clear: that's not what this story is about....

Full review at:
By LJ Lindhurst

3. The Avant-Garde and American Postmodernity
Philip Nel discusses the techniques of the avant-garde as employed by artists such as Don DeLillo, Dr. Seuss, and Laurie Anderson.

Review excerpt:

....The above example from Two Bad Ants may anticipate my final critique, which is the book's overall lack of humor -- Nel approaches many of his subjects like intellectual Hall Monitor equipped with a wet blanket and a bucket of cold water. This is especially puzzling, as he is best known for his work with children's literature, and one praiseworthy aspect of The Avant-Garde and American Postmodernity is his dignified treatment of Dr. Seuss, Crockett Johnson, and Chris Van Allsburg. Still, though Nel occasionally coins a clever sub-heading or offers an amusing in-joke -- as when he writes, "One could imagine Jerry Mathers (as the Beaver) strolling down these streets" -- the book is fundamentally humorless, as if he were afraid that cracking a few jokes might cost him an A-plus on his term paper. (Though one would think the references to Walter Benjamin, Judith Butler, and Said's Orientalism would at least guarantee him an A-minus.) Although many of the works he discusses are rich with multiple levels of humor and nuance, Nel forces them to bow to political correctness, and anchored to the planks of his neo-Marxist critique, there's not a lot of room for the elevating powers of whimsy or the sly latitudes of subtlety. Unless Nel can access a work through a political angle, it frequently leaves him baffled or cold. Understandably, one gets the sense that he doesn't see himself like this, and there's something almost embarrassing about his awkward attempts to explain the more comic elements of the works under his study. Watching Nel try to make sense of out of Donald Barthelme's The Slightly Irregular Fire Engine or Laurie Anderson's "Automotive" is like watching Ward Cleaver explain the virtues of Mad Magazine to the PTA....

Full review at:
By Allen B. Ruch

III. Music

A) Music News

1. "The Hours" Nomination

Composer Philip Glass has been nominated for an Academy Award for his soundtrack to The Hours, the cinematic adaptation of Michael Cunningham's prizewinning novel. This adds Virginia Woolf to the group of writers that have interested Glass, a group that includes Samuel Beckett, Franz Kafka, Doris Lessing, and Allen Ginsberg.

2. Pierre Boulez's Répons in NYC

Répons, the large scale, experimental work from French composer Pierre Boulez, will receive a rare performance on March 22 at Carnegie Hall. The CD of Répons was recently reviewed as a Spiral-Bound Featured Musical Work.

3. Charles Wuorinen's Dante Trilogy in NYC

Well, Dante might not exactly be "Modern Word" material, but it's hard to imagine "the Libyrinth" without him, so I thought I'd include this performance. Charles Wuorinen, New York's acclaimed serial composer, has selected Dante for a trilogy of ballet pieces, arranged here for chamber music with the incomparable Marilyn Nonken on piano. April 22 at Miller Theater, Columbia University.

B) Featured Work

In honor of Philip Glass's nomination, The Modern Word has selected his Company as our Featured Musical Work. Written as music for the Mabou Mines theatrical adaptation of Beckett's novella, Company, the piece is one of Glass's most recorded works.

Review excerpt:

....Taken out of its Beckettian context, Company is quite successful as an independent quartet. A brief but memorable work, it shows Philip Glass at his lyrical best, conjuring a Romantic sense of yearning while avoiding sentimental cliché. The propulsive rhythms and the fleet, almost taunting phrases which whirl above them do indeed bring to mind Beckett's bleak tale -- one can very easily imagine an old man on his bed in the dark, haunting himself with half-remembered voices. Of course, an argument can quite convincingly be made that all of Glass' works reflect a certain Beckettian aesthetic -- both artists have been frequently labeled minimalists, and both are enamored of a repetitive use of basic structural components. But whereas another "minimalist" composer like Morton Feldman may capture some of Beckett's existential anxiety, Glass points to a more emotional Beckett, the author of lost souls dreaming in the dark, hearts nearly broken by so many personal tragedies and shattered illusions....

Full review at:
By Allen B. Ruch

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:

Beckett and Film
A new section that details Samuel Beckett and film, from his own cinematic efforts to the recent, 19-play Beckett on Film project.

Beckett Criticism
The Beckett Criticism section has been updated and re-organized, with numerous additions and new commentary.

Borges Works
The Borges Works section has been updated and re-organized, with numerous additions and new commentary.

García Márquez Works
The García Márquez Works section has been updated and re-organized, with, you guessed it, numerous additions and new commentary.

Selected New Commentaries:

Beckett: Ohio Impromptu
Part of the Beckett on Film project, the Charles Sturridge film of Beckett's insomniac play features Jeremy Irons as both Listener and Reader.

García Márquez: One Hundred Years of Solitude: A Casebook
Gene H. Bell-Villada edits this book of essays on Gabo's masterpiece.

Pynchon: A Companion to V.
J. Kerry Grant's annotations to Pynchon's first novel.

B) What's in the Works?

Next issue should see reviews of Judith Kitchen's The House on Eccles Road, Mario Vargas Llosa's The Feast of the Goat, William Gibson's Pattern Recognition, Dan Weiss's Lucky Wander Boy, and Tom Carson's Gilligan's Wake. I am currently editing and laying out a Scriptorium piece on William S. Burroughs, and pages for Neil Gaiman and Paul Auster are scheduled for the future. We are also planning on expanding both the Philip K. Dick site and the Kobo Abé site. Jeff Nowak is currently at work on a major Kafka site for inclusion this summer.

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, or 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 small prize -- a copy of Dan Weiss's Lucky Wander Boy.

V. Literary Events

A) Exhibitions/Performance

1. Joycean Art

Roger Cummiskey's "A Stroll Thro' Ulysses "
On display in Ireland: May 8-30, at the Monaghan County Museum; and June 4-30, at the Bank of Ireland Arts Centre in Dublin.

2. García Márquez Play in NYC

Crónica de una muerte anunciada
For the last few years, New York City's premiere Spanish theater has been staging Crónica de una muerte anunciada, a play based on García Márquez's Chronicle of a Death Foretold. Directed by Jorge Alí Triana, the director of the play Erendíra, and sometimes collaborator with Gabo himself, Crónica continues throughout 2003.

B) Conferences/Calls for Papers

Beckett: Re-reading the Ruins
May 31, 2003; University of Westminster. A one-day symposium on Beckett's prose fragments. Call for papers until April 6.

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."

García Márquez: Songs Spun on Island Time
Margin, the online magazine devoted to magical realism, is issuing a call for papers around the theme of "Magical Realism from the Caribbean Islands."

Joyce: Hypermedia Joyce Studies, Call for Papers
The online journal of Joyce studies is looking for papers "on all matters Joycean" for their next issue.

Pynchon: Malta Pynchon Conference
June 8-10, 2004, Malta. To be held during the Transit of Venus. Call for papers until October 2003.

VI. Featured Links

A) Interesting Articles

Gabo Speaks
Gioconda Belli, LA Times, February 16, 2003. A review of García Márquez's memoirs, Vivir para contarla.

En Español, por favor
Tim Rutten, LA Times, February 9, 2003. A discussion of Knopf's decision to publish Vivir para contarla in the United States.

B) Featured Sites

1. Literary & Cultural Sites

Internet Book List
A work in progress that hopes to become the literary version of the Internet Movie Database.

SIBL Project
The Songs Inspired By Literature project hopes to address concerns of adult literacy through, well, songs inspired by literature.

Fantastic Metropolis
An online magazine devoted to speculative fiction with a literary bent.

How to Read 18th Century British-American Writing
So you have no more excuses to put off reading Mason & Dixon!

2. Humor & Games

Girlfriend Stops Reading David Foster Wallace Breakup Letter at Page 20
Another cutting edge news story from the Onion.

Origami Boulder Company
All your gift-giving worries will be solved.

The Rocklopedia Fakebandica
If Borges played the Fender Precision Bass, he would have loved this site.

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