EMU Creative Writing student Thom Boersma reviews the recent BathHouse reading featuring Christian Bök:
A man enters an auditorium dressed as if the aim is to assassinate the medium of English language. His suit belies the mark of an international spy: dapper with a sense of flair. He takes his stance at the podium. The sound cuts the silence, and the audience is enthralled with what they’re paying witness to. It is no mere coincidence that this man’s last name is pronounced “book.” Christian Bök dazzles and confounds with what appears to be a scat-like gibberish, but upon further listening, the sounds permeate the subtle genius that is being expressed.
There is a fine line that skirts between insanity and genius. Christian Bök not only dances maniacally on that line, but he takes that line and blurs it to the point of fog. Christian Bök is a man that follows the strict tenets of scientific method, but he is also a man that subscribes to the concepts of pataphysics. Pataphysics is: “the science of imaginary solutions, which symbolically attributes the properties of objects, described by their virtuality, to their lineaments.” as described by terminology creator, Alfred Jarry.
Bök uses language in a formulaic way, but to keep it from entering the realm of gimmick, Bök injects the language with old school romanticism. He blends contemporary art, contemporary science, with the act of telling stories in a beautiful way. Bök is a man who not only portrays his work as poetry, but as an expression of scientific notation; precision with words. His latest project, The Xenotext Experiment, is an attempt to code poetry as a cipher for protein, and then to inject that protein into a hearty bacterium. Not only would the protein serve as a living testament to the language and poetry, but the protein would incite the bacterium to “respond” to the poem in an equally beautiful poem. The project has already spent three years in development. Based on Christian’s previous project Eunoia, a project that took five reads of the dictionary and seven years to finish, The Xenotext Experiment is not nearly close to being finished.
Bök’s meticulous nature, and his ability to utilize the field of science with his interest in the rejection of scientific theoretical structures, allows him to create poetry that transcends the contemporary. Bök’s projects border on the obsessive, but what they deliver is the craft of genius. Christian Bök stepped into the English language, aimed with a precise focus, and not only assassinated the concept of contemporary poetry, but also the concept of scientific structure.