Ten Maps of Sardonic Wit (Christian Bök)

This is a guest post by Christian Bök, who launches the UNBOUND symposium tonight at 6PM in MIT’s 6-120 with his reading / talk “The Xenotext, For Now.”

Ten Maps of Sardonic Wit is also “bookish artware”—in this case, a codex, whose cover, spine, pages, and words consist of nothing but thousands of LEGO bricks, each one no bigger than a flat tile, four pegs in size. Each page is a rectangular plate of tiles, three layers thick, and the surface of each page depicts a black-and-white mosaic of words, spelling out a single line of poetry. Each line is an anagram that exhaustively permutes the fixed array of letters in the title, recombining them into a coherent sequence of statements about the relationship between atoms and words. The poem suggests that just as permuted elements can create compounds, so also can permuted phonemes create syllables. The letters of the poem become the literary variants of subatomic particles, and the book itself embodies these molecular metaphors, insofar it too consists of discrete elements that can be dismantled and recombined to form a radically different structure.

Ten Maps of Sardonic Wit might easily disintegrate into a granular pile of atomic debris, whereupon the reader can assemble these plastic remains into an unrelated sculpture. The book is a concrete allegory for what Jean Baudrillard calls a “‘Brownian’ stage of language, an emulsional stage of the signifier, homologous to the molecular stage of physical matter [—a stage] that liberates ‘harmonies’ of meaning just as fission or fusion liberates new molecular affinities.” The anagram does not recycle so much as atomize its meaning, dissecting it, dispersing it, until the title vanishes (just as the object itself might disintegrate into the entropy of its own molecular decay). I have sold this object for $9000.00 to the globally renowned artist Takashi Murakami (the founder of the pop-art movement called “Superflat,” a genre of Japanese painting that depicts psychedelic images of Pokémon—cartoonish characters that seem preternaturally two-dimensional).


ten maps of sardonic wit


atoms in space now drift

on a swift and epic storm


soft wind can stir a poem


 snow fits an optic dream

into a scant prism of dew


 words spin a faint comet


some words in fact paint

two stars of an epic mind


manic words spit on fate

  1. The Brownian stage of language – why do I always feel like I have marbles in my mouth when I read descriptions like this…

  2. […] of talks and presentations, and settled ourselves in for the evening’s performance/reading. Christian Bök, who teaches english at the University of Calgary was the headliner.  Bök is currently […]

  3. […] via Ten Maps of Sardonic Wit (Christian Bök) | Unbound: Speculations on the Future of the Book. […]

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