Hello, everyone. Just writing to say that this entry constitutes my 60th post—and, alas, today marks the end of my contract at Harriet. I have enjoyed the bavardage with all of you—and for the last six months, I have very much appreciated the opportunity to provoke my readership more directly in dialogue. I certainly hope that the Poetry Foundation sees fit to replace me with yet another avant-garde troublemaker, since such a person stands to have a lot of fun causing mischief. I am going to end my tenure here with a few personal thoughts about my namesake—"the Book" (saying perhaps as much about me as about it…).

"Book" (B, double-O, K) is in fact my birthname, not "Bök" (B, O, K, with an umlaut), which is in fact my pseudonym. When people ask me: "Are you the Christian Bök"—I usually respond by saying: "No, that’s the Bible." With my credentials, I must sometimes endure the indignity of being called Dr. Book, a moniker that might call to mind some chemistry teacher referred to as Mr. Science on a Sunday-morn kiddie-show—("Tell us about Shakespeare, Dr. Book"). With a name like "Book," I also feel a minor sense of irony when declaring that the concept of the "book" remains extremely important to my own radical poetics, which has often striven to explode the formal limits of the book (its serialized words, its stratified pages), doing so as if in response to the demise of poetry itself. I often joke that, under such circumstances: "every book is my voodoo doll.…"
While I have often situated myself within the clandestine inheritance of the avant-garde, I do so, not to pay homage to a noble, if passé, revolution, but to see poetry itself become a kind of research facility—a "skunkworks," where poets can reverse-engineer the alien technology of language. For me, the idea of the "book" has becoming something more than a temporal sequence of words and pages; for me, the book no longer even has to take the form of codices, scrolls, tablets, etc.—but might instead become indistinguishable from buildings, machinery, or even organisms. The book has become a weird object that may not exist at all, except at the moment of its reading, for until then it always pretends to be something else (a stack of paper, a piece of décor, etc.). The poetry of the future might even resemble a weird genre of science-fiction—a hybrid fusion of technical concepts and aesthetic conceits, all written for inhuman readers that have not yet evolved to read it….
Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari remark that each book must lay itself out upon a "super plane," a vast page, doing so both extensively and expansively, without the internal closures of a codex. The book must not simply imitate the world, replicating the condition of both the real and the true; instead, the book must burgeon into the world, like a horrible parasite, exfoliating beyond itself, evolving along its own trajectory, against the grain of truth and being. I have thus striven to make my own work as exploratory as possible, letting language itself discover its own potential for innovation. I want to do my best to establish a basis for experimental literature in a country that has yet to develop much of any indigenous admiration for our avant-garde tradition, and I have always hoped that the adroitness of my own brand of pataphysics might be perceived as an embodiment, not of ennui, but of "eunoia"—an exercise in delirious restraint that performs an act of "beautiful thinking…."
Cheers and thanks,
Christian Bök
(a.k.a "Book")

Originally Published: February 27th, 2008

Christian Bök is the author of Crystallography (Coach House Press, 1994), a pataphysical encyclopedia nominated for the Gerald Lampert Memorial Award, and of Eunoia (Coach House Books, 2001), a bestselling work of experimental literature, which has gone on to win the Griffin Prize for Poetic Excellence. Bök has created artificial...

  1. February 27, 2008

    Travel safe. Your particular attunements will be missed.
    Me, I hope the Foundation shortly appoints someone not only open to the term "avant-garde," but also one who shares at least some of the political commitments of the historical avant-garde, commitments to a radically changed social world (the commitments you don't have to have snoozily tendentious threads debating, as they're a matter of record).
    In much of the world, including the anglophone poetry world, that tradition is alive and pissed, though the Foundation's framing – via who blogs here, etc. – might suggest otherwise. Can I suggest Keston Sutherland, Tom Raworth, Stephanie Young, Jasper Bernes, Juliana Spahr, Heriberto Yepez, Carla Harryman, Dan Thomas-Glass, Joyelle McSweeney, David Lau, Charles Bernstein, Chris Chen...

  2. February 28, 2008
     Kent Johnson

    Joshua Clover said:
    >Me, I hope the Foundation shortly appoints someone not only open to the term "avant-garde," but also one who shares at least some of the political commitments of the historical avant-garde, commitments to a radically changed social world...
    Ah, this hope, in our radical commitments, that avant-garde tokens will be "appointed" to the Foundation...
    Though "not that there's anything wrong with it."
    But what about that thing, what did they used to call it, "the Institution Art"?

  3. February 28, 2008
     Lemon Hound

    Thanks for the posts and provocations!

  4. February 28, 2008

    Kent Johnson said:
    >Irony is lost on me!
    Smilicon! j

  5. February 28, 2008
     Kent Johnson

    I did take your comment as in earnest.
    But irony, it's true, is more and more lost on me. I was reading this MLA paper by Bernstein the other day, about fictional authorship and White Male Rage, and for a little while, by gosh, I thought he was dead serious.
    By the way, though, I did like your intro essay to Debord's recovered filmscript in the new NO.
    I wonder how one would practice Situationism at the "Foundation." It is pleasant to think so.
    Like Language poetry at Penn?
    Being and Event,

  6. March 4, 2008
     Reginald Shepherd

    Dear Christian,
    Thank you for your thoughtful and thought-provoking posts. Though I have sometimes disagreed with them, I have always found them interesting and engaging.
    I have slowly begun working on an anthology taking off from my essay on "post-avant" poetry (a much revised and expanded version of which I have posted on my own blog to be called Postmodern Poetics (snazzy title, I know), collecting criticism and poetics swirling around this rather amorphous topic. Your very thoughtful response to my original piece on the topic makes me think that you would be an ideal contributor to this project. I would like to have a diversity of viewpoints in the book, including those that question the whole concept of the "post-avant-garde."
    I don't yet have a publisher for the book, but I have talked to a couple of editors who are interested, and I have confidence that I will find one.
    I would be delighted if you'd be willing to participate in this project. If you are interested, please contact me at reginaldshepherd@bellsouth.net.
    Take good care, and I look forward to hearing from you.
    all best,

  7. March 22, 2008
     Colin Martin

    Hi Christian,
    Sorry to hear you're leaving these pages, since your input was generally what brought me here. Hope all's well with job and work and adieu until some other time and place.