EMU student Chris LeBlanc reviews Christian Bök’s BathHouse reading from earlier this semester:
Christian Bök, author of Eunoia, as well as numerous other literary and oratory works, performed at the Sponberg Theatre on October 19, 2010. Bök, a language polymath, demonstrated his exploration of language and performance in a number of different ways.
Bök read excerpts of many chapters from Eunoia, including every vowel chapter. Bök emphasized much tone into each of these vowels. While the written chapters themselves did have somewhat of a tone, it was much more ambiguous than having it read aloud, and hearing it helped give a new perspective to it.
Bök’s interest in sound extends to other forms in his works. An avid enthusiast of beat boxing, Bök performed many of his pieces as sound poetry, translating his pieces into a cacophony of rhythmic beat boxing sounds. What seemed the most intriguing in this performance, to myself, as well as some other members of the audience, is that he literally translated his written work, and read them off his page as he performed. I have no experience or knowledge of beat boxing, and I tried and failed to fathom just how one could attempt such a feat.
The piece I found most fascinating, however, was The Xenotent Experiment. The longevity of one’s work seems to be a common interest among many artists and creators. Having one’s work immortalized, creating something that outlasts one’s life, in a sense, helps serve as a sort of preservation of the self.
Bök’s idea of creating a literary artifact that could not only transcend his life, but possibly human life as a whole, is perhaps the most insane, brilliant thing I have ever heard. Bök plans on translating genetic code into alphabetic letters, and implant a poem into perhaps the most resilient bacteria known to man. To further complicate things, he plans on writing a second poem, a response to the first, by implanting this code in such a way that when the bacteria splits, the genetic code will form the second poem.
Bök also deals with a theme of translation. One such work involved writing a coherent literary piece about Legos using only the exact same letters used in another writer’s piece. This brings up another question. What is the value of creating something if no one will ever know? If he had not told the audience about this, we would not have guessed this little fact in a million years. What is the value of creating a literary work that will outlast the human race? Even if sentient life ever did come across it, there would be know indication to know what it was, or even that it was there.
These are just a few of the questions that Christian Bök has introduced to me, and that I have been chewing on since his performance.