Language Writhing Machines
Tom La Farge 13 Writhing Machines No. 1: Administrative Assemblages (Brooklyn: Proteotypes, 2008)
This is the first volume of Tom La Farge's promised 13-volume series on structures for writing, which he describes as "writhing," "writing with a difference," as if the activity were something accomplished with a coiling snake in hands or through a discharge of electrical energy. Certainly the kind of "writhing" La Farge speaks of—writing with constraints, arbitrary rules "imposed upon composition that drive you to say what you had not thought of saying in ways you would not have chosen to say it"—in its formal and often comical Oulipian twists, bends, and folds—requires a mastery of language and an artistry that allows one to give oneself up to the possibilities and accidents produced through the form itself.
Perhaps you like the records of Lawrence Welk. Not me.
Of far more interest are the constraints of "Formal Disclosure," which often use official-seeming forms as guides to creative composition. La Farge points the works of J. G. Ballard, who "uses physical structures that assemble a social reality in order to shape his fictions." For example, Ballard's 1975 High-Rise "uses the stratified sociology of an apartment building as the basis for a story of class war in a disaster scenario prompted by the failure of the complex systems on which such buildings rely." In my own condominium building it would be fascinating, I suspect, to explore the radical differences between the numerous older Jewish couples, the younger Korean families, and new Russian immigrants, along with the several gay couples that make up the majority of units.
Tom La Farge is the author of several books of fiction, including The Crimson Bears, A Hundred Doors, and Terror of Earth (all three published by Sun & Moon Press) and Zuntig (Green Integer). He lives with his wife, the author Wendy Walker, in Brooklyn, New York.
Copyright ©2009 by Douglas Messerli.