Four Number-Title Books



After class the other day, a student told me she had finished reading “twenty-six sixty-six.” It took me a moment to process that she was talking about Roberto Bolaño’s novel. I had mentioned Bolaño in class. It got me thinking: how do you say the title of that book? “Two six six six” or “twenty-six sixty-six,” as she had said? Does anyone pronounce it “two thousand six hundred and sixty-six?” I’ve always thought the 666 offers a natural pathway to pronunciation, but who knows.

Other number-title books: Haruki Murakami’s IQ84. I know the story behind the title, but still pronounce it variously as “one Q eighty-four” or “one Q eight four.”

Ben Lerner’s 10:04 is straightforward: “ten O four.” Or maybe not?

Finally, I love the implied missing word in Laura Mulvey’s book Death 24 x a Second, a play on a line from Jean-Luc Godard’s 1960 film Le Petit Soldat:

“What is cinema?

“Truth 24 times a second.”

For some reason I think of the phrase as “death at 24 times per second” and so read that into Mulvey’s title when I mentally conjure it.

Although I know it’s completely random and meaningless, in my copy of 2666 page 666 contains references to the sixth dimension: “What would those who had ready access to the sixth dimension think of those who were settled in the fifth or fourth dimension?”

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The Pleasure of the Text

One of the nicest side effects of the publication of The Absolution of Roberto Acestes Laing has been the response to the “Read Your Way to Adventure” form at the back of the book, which invites readers to cut out and snail mail me requesting some ephemera from Laing’s archive. I didn’t know what to expect, and I’ve been happily surprised, with mail coming in not only from the U.S. but from the U.K., Spain, Canada, Peru, The Netherlands, and Japan. These provide a real connection to real readers. The Laing archive is far from exhausted, so keep them coming.

“The text is a fetish object, and this fetish desires me. The text chooses me, by a whole disposition of invisible screens, selective baffles.” –Roland Barthes, from The Pleasure of the Text

The form from the back of the novel.

The form from the back of the novel.

A sampling of some of the letterhead on which I type responses to readers.

A sampling of some of the letterhead on which I type responses to readers.

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Black Hole / Under the Skin

Black Hole, by Charles Burns (Pantheon, 2005) and the ending of Under the Skin (dir. Jonathan Glazer, 2014). Shedding.

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“You might also be stopped in your tracks by phrase-making I doubt could have been produced by anyone else on earth.” A belated thank you to Greil Marcus for this, about A Cultural Dictionary of Punk, which originally appeared (the Marcus thing, that is) in the October 2009 issue of The Believer.


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All Roads Lead to the Present

A few years ago I wrote a doomed but sort of fun column over at The Oxford American called “Panel Busting.” One installment looked at a few nineteenth-century cartoons and their relationship to the development of early cinema and since then I’ve been picking up copies when I come across them of such illustrations/cartoons/comics. The one below is from a July 1870 copy Every Saturday, a short-lived periodical. I’ve scanned the full page (14” x 10.5″) as well as higher-resolution segment.



Depicting the time leading up to and the time immediately after Fourth of July antics what’s interesting is the non-linear portrayal of these frozen moments.  The highlight of the evening is centered on the page, surrounded by moments from the day beginning with “The Day Begins” (upper left panel) and ending with “Played Out” (lower center panel). But the moments in between seem undirected–the reader doesn’t seem to be visually directed to look at/read the panels in any particular order. Reading from clockwise from upper left doesn’t make any sense, and neither does reading (as we would today in “comic strips”) sequentially from left to right starting at the top left panel and ending at the bottom right panel, as if reading prose.

What is the relationship between cartoons and early cinema during this era? In what ways did cartoons become increasingly sequential as a result of the inescapable linearity of cinema? For no matter how “out of sequence” a film’s depiction of narrative is–whether through flashbacks or parallel editing or dream sequences–it still unfolds on the screen and is perceived by the viewer as a sequence. Until the advent of home viewing technologies it really wasn’t possible for an audience to experience a film except as a sequence of images whose duration was the length of the film. This is radically different, say, than experience the Fourth of July illustration, which a viewer could choose to read in any sequence she wanted, and which could last for seconds, minutes, or hours, or as long as wanted it to last.

Will Eisner touches on this a little bit in his great book Comics and Sequential Art, and there’s a good discussion of the relationship between simultaneity and early film editing, such as parallel editing or cross-cutting, in Stephen Kern’s book The Culture of Time and Space: 1880-1918, as well as in Charles Musser’s The Emergence of Cinema: The American Screen to 1907, where he writes about those years before the emergence of parallel editing: “One of pre-1907 cinema’s most distinctive features was its nonlinear temporality in the arrangement of scenes.” (And behind all this lies Deleuze, laughing.) I don’t think there’s a grand unifying theory here, but rather a vast and untapped collection of moments in time, lost illustrations/cartoons/comics that speak in cryptic ways about our efforts to forget, as Chris Ware says, that “all roads lead to the present.”

ware1Above, from Chris Ware, The ACME Novelty Library, Number 20. Drawn & Quarterly Publications, 2010


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BOMB Magazine interview

Interview at BOMB (cf. knife fight) over here.


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2666 Revisited

Reading Roberto Bolaño’s 2666 again (and yet again, eternally it seems, which is a sort of beautiful curse, or a curse that has no end) and there is a terror, a real terror, to certain lines, and not because of any pyrotechnic language but rather because of the direct plainness of it, as in the very early section where Morini (wheelchair-bound Morini, or perhaps faking to be wheelchair-bound, a heretical reading of the text, I know) has a nightmare about Liz Norton (“when she suffered, her pain was clearly visible”) which makes her a person to fall in love with, a person to love without honor or at least without the codes that govern love without honor, a nightmare that involves a pool (a pool governed by shadows) and Liz and Morini searching for Liz in the fog and afraid that he may topple into the pool and the line “Morini was about to shout again and wave when he sensed someone at his back. Two things were instantly certain: the thing was evil and it wanted Morini to turn around and see its face” (47). These lines, somehow, correct the world, or a perception of the world, which is to say that the evil here is not of psychology (True Detective recently pushed against this model, until its final episodes, but so much of our narrative today resolves itself around the psychology of the protagonists, as if neuro-science has become the new meta-narrative, or as if psychology were not really the individual expression of a sickness, an aberration, a cosmic aberration that includes [a thought only thought in the darkest of night: humanity itself]) but rather of something at once more cosmic and more banal, as if time itself had leaked back into the world, and in leaking brought with it the rust of pipes.) Of all the recent books (Julia Kristeva’s Powers of Horror and Mezzo and Pirus’s King of the Flies being the exceptions) 2666 comes closest glimpsing evil in both its capital E and lowercase e versions.





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