Staff Book Reviewer Spencer Dew is the author of the novel Here Is How It Happens (Ampersand Books, 2013), the short story collection Songs of Insurgency (Vagabond Press, 2008), the chapbook Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres (Another New Calligraphy, 2010), and the critical study Learning for Revolution: The Work of Kathy Acker (San Diego State University Press, 2011). His Web site is spencerdew.com.
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“Grotesque gibberish.” This is from a guide-site nearly as fascinating as this text, a mangled mélange of two voices raised by wolves—Romulus and Remus, remixed. “Steampunk,” so the back cover says. And some map to the thing is useful, so you can learn about how Lewis and Clark fit in, and fractals, the intricate design, the attempt at erasure of signification, itself already a signification, as when the text, in its last pages, just fades away, a lighter and lighter gray, then a hint. Much of the content of this book cannot even be described, as was, indeed, the goal. By mangled I mean, in part, that much of the content isn’t even text: images, a garbling of Latin and other alphabets, symbols, strike-throughs, idiosyncratic spellings, letters above and below lines of text: “kawek kumtux that when snass falls it falls not on just our rooftop,” for instance. Which is not to say that there is no plot, that there are not keys, but that this book is more conceptual art than anything so quaint and reductive as novel or poetry. It matters, too, that no author is given: not on or in the physical book or on the press’s Web site. The author seeks to erase him/herself, to hand us only this artifact, a bark-bound book discovered in a camp library.
On the one hand, what we have is myth: the West and its winning by the force that won, for a while at least, and with blood and bibles and signs and wire. On the other hand, we have words, words working against words, or words so worked as to resist, as much as possible, working, which doesn’t work—I mean, no matter how barbed, warped, and booby-trapped these lines of letters are, rigged with however many incomprehensible symbols and mutant tendrils of syntax, the things still reads. The fecundity of letters on a page, how they open to images and sense, how our human minds riddle with them like puzzle-boxes or ink blots: that is as much of the mythic core here as anything about mongrels and teats, the native wild and the rowing in of dictionaries.
A quick Google and you will find, online, spreadsheets and explanatory charts, diagrams, commentary. There’s something to admire in all that, like knowing how the liver works, seeing it on slides. But the real raw experience is simply in wading in, savoring the wash of small print as it froths up against you, getting hit with the smell of the thing: “
so aye no need to call each feather by them propre nem” or “More & more we reckon each uneaQue condition in retrospeck....” And onward, lighting out into that beckoning territory.
Official Calamari Press Web Site