Currently, I am a poet, best known for having published an avant-garde bestseller—a univocal lipogram, entitled Eunoia (which recounts five related stories, each one restricted to the use of a single vowel). I am one of the founding literati in the movement called “Conceptualism” (a poetic school that disavows the lyrical mandate of self-conscious self-assertion in order to explore the potential of the “uncreative” or the “unoriginal” at the utmost limits of writing). I have derived much of my inspiration from the avant-garde. I write poetry by exploiting unthinking machines, by colonizing unfamiliar lexicons, or by simulating unliterary artforms, doing so in a manner that might call to mind the historical precedents set by automatic writing, mannerist writing, or aleatoric writing. I have striven to promote such experimentation within a national, literary culture, which has yet to appreciate fully its own tradition of radical poetics.
Since 2001, I have been attempting to create an example of “living poetry.” I have written a short verse about language and genetics, whereupon I have used a “chemical alphabet” to translate this poem into a sequence of DNA for subsequent implantation into the genome of a bacterium (in this case, a microbe called Deinococcus radiodurans—an extremophile, capable of surviving, without mutation, in even the most hostile milieus, including the vacuum of outer space). I have composed this poem in such a way that, when integrated into the cell, the organism interprets it, and then, in response to the inserted, genetic material, the cell begins to manufacture a viable, benign protein, whose molecular structure enciphers yet another poem of its own. I am, in effect, engineering a life-form so that it becomes not only a durable archive for storing a poem, but also an operant machine for writing a poem—one that might conceivably survive forever….
USE A TEXT TO DRAW A FIELD OF STARS.
- Select a single page of writing from an antiquary textbook on astronomy.
- Scan this page, using customary software for manipulating photographs.
- Erase all text from the image, leaving behind only the punctuation marks.
- Assign to each punctuation mark, a specific style of dot, bullet, or asterisk.
, = •
. = ✦
; = ✹
: = ★
— = ☉
- Replace each punctuation mark with the specified bullets from your cipher.
- Vary the point-size of each asterisk, according to the number of letters in the word originally preceding the punctuation (for example: 1 letter = + 0.5 pts).
- Change the colour of the background to black; change each mark to white.
- Connect some of the largest dots by drawing lines to make a constellation.
- Identify the starfield, using the title of the book (and the page number cited).
Christian Bök is the author not only of Crystallography (1994), a pataphysical encyclopedia nominated for the Gerald Lampert Memorial Award, but also of Eunoia (2001), a bestselling work of experimental literature, which has gone on to win the Griffin Prize for Poetic Excellence. Bök is currently working on a project, entitled The Xenotext (which involves the creation of “living poetry,” through the encipherment of a text into the genome of a bacterium). Bök teaches English at the University of Calgary.