Jed Rasula Editor
Steve McCaffery Editor
The MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, 1998, English
Nonfiction, General
ISBN: 9780262181860

From the Publisher. When works such as Finnegans Wake and Tender Buttons were first introduced, they went so far beyond prevailing linguistic standards that they were widely considered "unreadable," if not scandalous. Jed Rasula and Steve McCaffery take these and other examples of twentieth-century avant-garde writing as the starting point for a collection of writings that demonstrates a continuum of creative conjecture on language from antiquity to the present. The result is more laboratory than inventory. The anthology, which spans three millennia, generally bypasses chronology in order to illuminate unexpected congruities between seemingly discordant materials. Thus the juxtaposition of Marcel Duchamp and Jonathan Swift, of Victor Hugo and Easter Island "rongo rongo."

Of the book's five parts, the first, "Revolution of the Word," anchors the anthology to international modernism and to the journal transition in particular. Part Two, "Oralities, Rituals, and Colloquies," extends sound poetry into a broader field of orality ranging from community idiolects to mystical glossolalia. Part Three, "Lost and Found in Translation," addresses linguistic boundaries, including those between translation theory and practice, speech and writing, and sanity and psychosis. Part Four, "Letters to Words," charts language's constitutive elements in the form of script and scripture—especially the threshold at which signification reverts to noise and vice versa. Part Five, "Matter and Atom," corroborates a tradition attentive to linguistic microparticles that originates in Lucretius's analogy of letter to atom. Linguistic and terrestrial materialism converge in the anthology's culminating vision. Together, the five parts celebrate the scope and prodigality of linguistic speculation in the West going back to the pre-Socratics.

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Abbott Miller

This is a sort of perverse “coffee-table” book in that it is a serious study of ways in which language and thought have been visualized. For me it functions to kickstart thinking about type, structure, and spatial aspects of layout. It has radical experiments, vanished languages, and truly strange “proposals” for how thought can be transmitted visually. Unusual and inspiring.

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