Quick links

Links to web displays for most of the content in the pdf:

About the project

For years I've wanted to do a project around Sir Thomas Browne's The Garden of Cyrus, but I had had a considerable amount of difficulty just getting started. I've gone down any number of unfruitful paths: zoomable web interfaces, revealing interlocking patterns, cellular automata, artifical life, fractals . . . the list is embarrassingly long.

Recently, however, the muses felt my need (or so it seems to me). Somehow, I found Marjorie Perloff's book Unoriginal Genius: Poetry by Other Means in the New Century. She discusses and I've had a look at Susan Howe's The Midnight and Walter Benjamin's Passagenwerk in translation. And, just as importantly, I was fortunate enough to hear a talk by Johanna Drucker in which she complicated the matter of "form" for us before ending, as a kind of analogy, with a discussion of XML schemas as a kind of "metatext" for the documents they describe. All of this suggested a way forward for a Browne project: to put passages from Browne into collision with passages from other writers, to let the reading experience follow from disjunctive leaps from passage to passage, and (this is key, and I owe Drucker for it) to let let Browne provide the "metatexts" for the Browne projects.

The nanogenmo deliverables are a prototype, a kind of statement of intent, toward a finished Browne project, which I envision as book-length. I'd like the book to establish progressions from page to page, across openings, and from section to section, to work both as a book and against the book. While I expect that the book will derive from substantial digital interventions, I'm not prepared to abandon my (often digital) red pencil.

There's much about the prototype that I don't like. The pages of quotations are, I think, fairly solid, and often interesting (and funny at times, thanks to Sterne and Stein). And I have a good corpus to work with, and some interesting new methods. Neverthless, the "poems" are weak for the most part, some insufferably so. I don't have the right images, either for sprinkling through the text or for introducing the major sections of the work. There are good bits worth salvaging, but just as much from which I should run, not walk.