Christian Bök’s Bibliomechanics

We are grateful to Christian Bök for contributing the first guest post to the Unbound blog. We will be featuring another post on his “Ten Maps of Sardonic Wit” next week!

Bibliomechanics is “bookish artware,” consisting of 27 Rubik’s cubes, stacked together into a block (3 x 3 x 3) so as to create the kind of pataphysical writing-machine described by Jonathan Swift in The Voyage to Laputa—”a project for improving speculative knowledge by […] mechanical operations” so that, by such a “contrivance[,] the most ignorant person […] may write books […] without the least assistance from genius or study.” Every facet of these cubes displays a white word printed in Futura on a black label so that, when properly stacked together, the cubes create 18 separate surfaces (6 exterior, 12 interior), each one of which becomes a page that displays a readable sentence (81 words long). Each sentence paraphrases a poetic theory about the machinic function of language itself. The reader can, of course, scramble each cube so as to create an alternative permutation, generating a new text from the vocabulary of the old text.

 

Bibliomechanics is a kind of 3D-version of Cents mille milliards de poèmes by Raymond Queneau, whose flipbook consists of 10 sonnets, in which corresponding lines can replace each other without altering the rhyme scheme or the lyric sense of any sonnet, thus permitting 10 trillion possible variants. An insomniac, reading one poem per second nonstop, requires about 317,000 years to complete such a work. A single Rubik’s cube, however, provides more than 4.3 x 1019 different permutations (albeit many nonsensical), and when we take into account all 27 cubes, this number increases by a factor of at least 27! x 627. An immortal, reading one page per second nonstop, might begin this book at the Big Bang, yet never hope to finish the text before the expiry of the universe itself. My book is perhaps more like a gizmo than a codex; however, the work does suggest that, no matter what its form, a book can still become a folding rhizome of unlimited dimension.

–Christian Bök

 

from BIBLIOMECHANICS

 

Top Facets

THE STRANGERS WHO VISIT UTOPIA MIGHT FIND THERE THIS

COMPLEX DEVICE MADE FROM A CARVED FRAME OF WOODEN

CUBES THAT SWIVEL ON WIRE AXLES, ITS NUMEROUS FACETS

COVERED BY SQUARE PIECES OF PAPER WITH ALL THE

POETIC WORDS OF THE LANGUAGE WRITTEN UPON THEM IN

ALL THEIR MOODS, TENSES, AND CASES, BUT WITHOUT ANY

ORDER, SO THAT ANYONE TURNING THE HANDLES ON THE

EDGE OF THE FRAME MIGHT ALTER THE OLD SEQUENCE

OF RECORDED THOUGHT AND THUS CREATE A NEW SENTENCE

 

Front Facets

THE CHINESE PUZZLE, A SUBLIME DEVICE BUILT BY A

MASTER CRAFTSMAN, POSES A RIDDLE BECAUSE EVERY PERSON BELIEVES

THAT THE BOX MUST CONTAIN WONDERS, BUT THERE APPEARS

TO BE NO WAY INTO IT, NO CLUE ON

ANY OF ITS SIX BLACK, LACQUERED FACES AS TO

THE LOCATION OF THE PRESSURE POINTS THAT CAN DISENGAGE

ONE PIECE OF THIS JIGSAW FROM ANOTHER, AND ONLY

AFTER HOURS OF TRIAL AND ERROR DO CHANCE MANOEUVRES

MEET WITH SUCCESS, AN ALMOST SILENT CLICK, THEN VICTORY

2 comments

  1. Jack Kessler

    Bök’s permutations are fascinating. What we are building now — with our internetted networks of networks, our Matrix — is exactly his Rubik’s Cube, his “folding rhizome of unlimited dimension”.

    The trick then is to “filter” all that — GoogleSearch does this best, currently, but just by skimming off the top of the heap of an enormous pile of retrievals, data-mined from a small part of a rapidly-increasing total — see Dark Web,

    http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dark_Internet

    — and both retrieved and then ranked according to “relevance” — the joke on all of us being that “relevance” has been a nearly-total mystery to epistemology, one resolved ultimately by scepticism, cynicism, mysticism, but never science, since the Early Greeks, Persians, Chinese.

    Only Hari Seldon offered us hope, perhaps: his universal laws never applied to the particular…

    And Borges: in all his endless Library of Babel, “No hay, en la vasta biblioteca, dos libros idénticos”…

    So bring on that Rubik’s Cube, Christian Bök, we’re ready for it… I hope…

  2. Mark Hennessy

    So many possible permutations repels readers? and disallows the Text above as a statistical deviation just a rch left of Impossible–perhaps the awesome Bibliomechanics read its BooK into existence backwards from a future whose reader/mechanics have discovered a prototext that authorizes one divergence above all others, and does so out of love.

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