The Xenotext

Christian Bök

Book one, of however many. Bök continues my impression of him as the epitome of style over substance, now bringing that distinction to scientific rigour.

Reading this book made me wonder if my lingering resentment against Bök wasn't in some way unfair. Perhaps I am not so much mad at him as what he enables in others. My first introduction to Bök was in the same breath as Kenneth Goldsmith, and Goldsmith was so obviously awful that I simply assumed Bök must've been as well. He's not, and he deserves the praise he gets; yet my heart refuses to sincerely embrace him. Even if he is literally the One Good Sound Poet in all of human civilization, and even further if his craft is so finely honed that he becomes the paragon prophet of the English language, I absolutely cannot conscionably allow it in my own mind. There is a rift between us, and it is formed by a fundamental disagreement about the very purpose of craft. To read poems by Bök is to be locked in a prison of broken signs, to go to a place where nothing truly matters, to remind yourself that even if we tried our hardest we will all die tomorrow and there would be nothing left.

He seems to be aware of that criticism. The xenotext itself, which oddly isn't even in this introductory book and still seems to be forthcoming, promises to be the one piece of culture which will out-survive the entire life of the planet Earth; encoded into the genetic sequence of the extremophilic bacterium, deinococcus radiodurans. It is undeniably fascinating, but only as a technique. A how with no what. Even the xenotext itself is only an expression of pure form.

Bök makes language a candy, so sweet on the tongue, but however savoury it is against instinct. True language is the thick hide of a terrible monster, its fangs ripping ever deeper into our doomed skulls, and it hungers yet.

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