Friday, 1 March 2013

Great Fun

I just finished Jack Torrance's All Work and No Play Makes Jack a Dull Boy (edited by Phil Buehler), a book whose title sums up most of the content of its pages. It was great fun and an absolutely addictive read. There are plenty of SPOILERS here, so turn away now if you're planning on reading it and want to be surprised.

It has been described as a novel, which is true in a conceptual sense only. It's a novel in that it tells the story of fictional character Jack Torrance's struggle in writing the book he is working on in Stanley Kubrick's 1980 triumph The Shining. However, if you are looking at the book as written by Phil Beuhler, then it's not really a novel, it's more of a collection of conceptual poetry. It's up to the reader as to whether you want to believe it's Jack's book, or be a 'spoilsport' and see it as a pen-name.

It's a brilliant thing to look at in the context of postmodernism. It reminded me quite a lot of David Markson's Reader's Block, another work that is largely plotless and inevitably draws the reader to the process of writing (one of my 'favourite bits' about postmodernism when it's done well, a sublimation of the tackiness of the epistolic form of the long eighteenth century etc). Taking Matthew Belinkie's concern of "how difficult it must have been to write" into consideration, the overlapping text, spiralling text, circle-shaped text and others scream out a kind of frenetic energy that is very seductive. In The Shining (was it a film or a documentary?), Jack writes on a typewriter which makes the process a lot harder than modern word processing techniques. Imagining him twisting the paper round in the machine presents a strange (possibly haunting, perhaps chilling) image of the writer at work.

Also on the topic of typewriters, mistakes intentionally feature in the narrative (whether poetry or novel, there is narrative here). They form cadences and patterns, so much so that, for example, you expect "All work and no play makes Jack a dull bot" to follow "All work and no plaay makes Jack a dull bog." It's all very well treating the work as visual poetry (in fact, the overlapping text on some pages makes such a dense mess that reading it is genuinely impossible), but if you don't treat it as a novel and read it through 'properly' (i.e. word for word) you miss out. The effects are very subtle, and I for one don't pretend to be clever enough to understand them, but I have garnered meaning from them, and have enjoyed it. When 'bot' doesn't follow 'bog' on the end of the line, it has a similar effect to any work made of 'conventional' sentences (not sure how to explain what I mean! I'm tempted to say it'd be conventional if it was made of different sentences, but the whole point I'm making is that Jack's novel isn't just made up of the words 'all', 'work', 'and', 'no', 'play', 'makes', 'Jack', 'a', 'dull' and 'boy'. With typos, there's also 'mmakes', 'dullboy' and 'NO', amongst others). My capacity for explanation is insufficient, it really does need to be read to be believed.

It really is a delight. Very amusing indeed and highly entertaining. Again, coming back to the spiral page, the act of turning the book through 2070° is just so unusual. My mum, sat next to me, must've thought I'd gone mad. I think the next step would be, like the parody of The Shining on The Simpsons, to put the text in a physical space that is fixed (i.e. unable to be manually controlled), so that in the instance of the spiral format, one would have to explore it using 'bigger actions' like twirling round on the spot (seriously, imagine that much writing on the walls of a place, it'd be great. Even better than Lemn Sissay's 'Catching Numbers' which I enjoyed).

Anyways, I got the book from Blurb, check out their site if you want. I devoured it in no time and I think you'll love it if you have an interest in postmodernist literature or not. There are a number of other works based on the idea of Jack Torrance's writing, all you need to do is search 'all work and no play' on Amazon (the version I read, edited by Buehler, isn't available on Amazon by the way). I might well check them all out at some point, see what other 'editors' can do with Torrance's raw... insanity? Incidentally, some of the customer reviews of these things are hilarious, one person giving it one star because 'repeating the same sentence over and over doesn't make a book', the next person giving it five out of five because 'it's a work of unsurpassed literary genius'. Lol!

Peace out.

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