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Secret Ballet: comment by D.W. plus reference points

Hey P.,

I finally had a chance to look at Secret ballet. I can't say that I read the whole thing, but what I did look at provoked a bunch of ideas/reference points in my head:

You asked me if I know about publishing options for Secret ballet. I don't know much about the publishing world, but do know that it has now become a business with no possibility of publishing on intellectual or artistic merit alone. This means that I can imagine two options: - Self-publishing. I found lots and lots of options by Googling for "short-run book publishing". To get a publisher interested in footing the bill, you've got to play their business game. I would suggest the path of marketing the Web site first. Add some graphic design, make the intro page far more inviting and explicit about the idea, speak with more confidence about why this is an important and interesting project, maybe make it more interactive. Once you have some traffic, a book deal becomes a possibility ("look, people are interested in this, we've got some hits, now is the time to publish"). Of course, the copyright issue might kill any chances of doing anything but self-publishing.

I actually think its pretty fascinating what he's doing, I'm just not sure about a published novel being the right form for the final result. You know me well enough to know that if I start poking holes in an idea, it means I really like it. If you think Detlev can understand that, please pass this on. I like things that make me think. Thanks for the link!


And this is my reply:

Dear D,

Back from my holidays I just found your tremendous comments about sb forwarded by P. Thank you very much indeed; so far, no one has ever gone into it in such depth. Thank you also for the many links to related stuff, which I will investigate.

You commented on my notion of intentionality (or rather, my claim of ridding myself of it). Of course you are right in observing that my intention still permeates the text and that the act of writing has simply moved from writing proper to the arrangement of found material. I guess I will correct my 'about' text to make this clear.

Being confined to the material of this one dictionary simply imposes a strong constraint, an antidote against unbridled 'creation' (of plot, style, etc). At the same time, the material aspect of the example sentences provides a surplus. My intention is to make the text as smooth as an airport shelf novel, but of course this is not possible; that's why I called executing this failure the form of the novel.

I feel what is important about sb is that it takes a quasi canonical body of text (called the 'Bank of English'), and just that, with the hypothetical aim of incorporating it fully (ALL example sentences). So in a sense you get a statistical representation of all actual language acts, sentences, utterances in a society in a particular period and through that, a kind of blueprint of its ruling ideology and recurrent themes. Having to 'fit it all in' works against intentional choices directed at complementing a particular plot. Such choices exisists, of course, and I exercise them more deliberately now as I am trying to shore up the text and close gaps before publication. I have actually given up on the idea of ever completing the work according to its theoretical premises (that is, including _all_ sentences).

In contrast, the cut-up techniques I know of (whether Burroughs or Debord) usually seem to choose particular sources over others; those that fit into the tone/tune of the intended overall result.

I appreciate your idea of opening up sb to a collaborative web-based activity open for all, but the core of the method is resonance on the _entire_ text to 'reconstruct' it in the best possible way - in the way an archeologist reassembling fragments of an ancient vase needs as many pieces as possible to identify the right place of any particular piece. So to be true to that approach, everyone would have to read the whole text repeatedly before starting to assemble - something no one will be prepared to do. Those that would participate might stick in a sentence here or there lightly, but without being able to appreciate the overall context, the ambiguous style (keeping a balance between plain narrative account and irritating or 'absurd' clashes) and the development of the overall plot (because there is a proper plot after all, albeit a deranged one).

A final note about publishing strategy: I want to keep this as far away as possible from a web design thing or the advertisement of a general concept. For me, the concept works as a piece of art only on the basis of the particular choices I have made, and the singular commitment of myself as author. Anyone else is free to take up whatever arrangement or cut-up technique they like, with good or bad results. I am not the one to promote the technique at the expense of the particular result. I hear what you say about the explanations being more interesting than the text itself, and this is a big worry: that you might need to know something about the context of the work and approach to appreciate the outcome fully. Didactic kills discovery; I hope that the form will reveal itself gradually to the careful, dedicated and interested reader (and this is the only reader I take into consideration). I don't want to convince anyone that this is a great thing. For me as a prototype reader, re-reading sb keeps being an interesting and rewarding experience. This may be too little by way of proof of concept, but something tells me that what I am doing in sb is worthwhile.


Kind regards, and thanks again,


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