Donato Mancini, “The Sorrows of Young Werther (Goth Phase)”, in Æthel, swiped from dbqp.

All of which leads us, naturally, to Donato Mancini's work. The above poem, "The Sorrows of Young Werther (Goth Phase)", is an elaboration of Blackletter Gothic scripts. But if The Simpsons' elaboration on cold war Eastern European text is a quick scherzo, Donato's piece is a fugue. It pushes its elaboration as far as it can go, and it gives an abstract sense of the totality of Gothic script. It feels as though there is no curve or ligature that could appear in Blackletter that doesn't appear here, although no specific letters appear in the poem. Some of the shapes suggest letters that ought to be possible within Blackletter sensibilities but that, for whatever reason, are missing from the actual alphabet. Perhaps the overall shape of the text suggests something of the balance and baroque qualities that Blackletter letters provide? Not to mention how easy it is for the eye to get lost following the lines and curves of the piece, how labyrinthine and navigable it is.

The book that this poem comes from, Æthel, is filled with elaborations of different kinds of alphabets, typefaces, and scripts. Arabic, Latin, ASL, and Cyrillic all make their appearances, as well as Cooper Black (I'm pretty sure -- I've already packed the book to take with me to Toronto) and all are given as thorough a treatment as Blackletter. It's one of those books that I enjoy showing off to people who visit my library -- accessible, strange, well-wrought, funny, and mesmerizing.

* * *

"Ligature" is a long poem from Donato's book Ligatures. Here's the gimmick: Each word begins with the last few letters of the word before it. On the version I linked to, the words are all run together, which allows you to fish for the words. So that version starts "a d a m e n r a p t u r e e n t e r t a i n", which I suppose is unpacked something like "adam amen enrapture reenter entertain". When Donato read for Spare Room a few months ago, he read the unpacked version, in a measured, quiet, deadpan voice, going for what felt like fifteen or twenty minutes with this chain of linked words. Sometimes the words linked in what felt like significant ways -- as here, "adam amen enrapture reenter" has a Christian eschatological weight to it -- but mostly it was a stream of words, connected in ways that might have been clear from their spelling but were masked in their pronunciation. It was, in other words, a classic example of a furniture text.

I have to admit -- I had always wished, in my six years of co-organizing Spare Room readings, that someone would read a text that functioned like this one did, a piece that completely succeeded as furniture text. A few came close (Jesse Seldess's reading did something that might seem similar but was ultimately quite different, and is probably worth a separate post), but Donato nailed it.

* * *

I had been thinking about reviewing Æthel. But reviewing books is a tricky and irksome thing. Nicholas Manning wrote an blog post recently that captures some of my reservations about book reviewing, but I guess I should point out the two big ones.

1. I could rave about Donato's book (I don't have a copy of Ligatures yet!) but there are all those other books I could also rave about, or books that I think highly of but probably wouldn't rave per se about, or books that are probably very good but just aren't for me, or etc., etc. So I'd almost rather not rave about any books than have the raves I do write appear somehow representative or match up to what books I like, or what books I have more complicated feelings towards, or... etc. Reviewing seems like it is always already a misrepresentation of my thoughts.

2. And anyway, who cares? The urge to review something often comes from the urge to talk about how awesometastic something is. But that's the last thing I want to read in a review. I don't care whether you liked the work or not, I just want you to tell me about it, ideally to give me some insight into how to read it, or at bare minimum to let me know that it exists and what it is that exists. But that you like it? Or even that you think it's important? Who cares?! Liking is a fickle thing, and if we meet in some critical space, I want it to be on terms other than what we, you know, like. Often enough I'm not interested in whether I like something. "Mureau" is probably not my favorite John Cage furniture text. But it seemed like the clearest (or cleverest?) example to get at what I wanted to say in that post.

I decided to use these two works by Donato to talk about two different ways of reading/listening/appreciating. My secret agenda is that I think these works are awesome and I want people to know about them, but by not just coming out and saying that, I ended up talking about a painting of Jerome. And that strikes me as more interesting. Because perhaps we can agree that we like to make connections between things, no matter what our take on those things might be.

(Finis. Also, I really need to get to writing for my reading on June 21st. So there might not be so many posts in the near future...)


  1. Surjective said...

    Related, and just checking it's within your cultural knowledge, is Codex Seraphinianus. No, I do not own a copy for you to borrow.  

  2. Chris said...

    I hadn't heard of it, but it looks excellent. I'll keep my eyes (or my interlibrary loan) peeled.  

  3. The PSU Writing Center said...

    Interlibrary loan from Evergreen or Washington State U. We were looking at it here last summer...  


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