100 Scenes by Tim Gaze
(digitally published by Transgressor in association with Wider Screenings, Australia, 2010)
One of my favorite poetry paradoxes is how reader-response can be most enjoyable when what’s being read doesn’t posit a fixed meaning or literally does not make sense. As such, I hold a special affection for Tim Gaze who first introduced me to asemic writings. As Wikipedia notes (and do click on excerpt below for more info):
The word asemic means "having no specific semantic content". With the nonspecificity of asemic writing there comes a vacuum of meaning which is left for the reader to fill in and interpret. All of this is similar to the way one would deduce meaning from an abstract work of art.
Well, now, Gaze has released a novel entitled 100 Scenes, a tale that unfolds through a hundred abstract “scenes” such as the examples below. Gaze says in the Notes section that the images touch “upon two emerging areas: abstract comics (known in French as bandes dessinées abstraites, or bds abstraites) and asemic writing. These areas transcend languages, and offer the possibility of inter-cultural communication without words.”
The images themselves were created, as Gaze explains, as follows:
The images are raw scans of original pages made by me, using cheap acrylic paint on sheets of ordinary office paper. The pages were made over a period of 4 or 5 years. It took a few weeks to select which hundred to assemble into this book, and a few more weeks to decide on which order to put the pages. One page has a conspicuous black line on the right hand side, which I left there.
Most of the marks were made using a technique known as decalcomania. You spread ink or paint on a surface, then print off that surface, which results in chaotic, organic, blotty shapes. The Surrealist artist Oscar Domínguez invented this technique in 1936. Max Ernst made several paintings which used decalcomania along with other techniques. One example is Landscape with Lake and Chimeras (ca. 1940).
100 Scenes may well be the first whole novel (whole novel versus sections of novels) written in this manner, or at least Gaze can’t recall another such novel written in this style. Gaze's recollection matters as he's somewhat of an expert in the area. As a result, one of the book’s strengths is the very useful Notes section that goes into a history of influences and/or historical references ranging over Max Ernst’s collage novels, The Giant's Fence by Michael Jacobson which is a novella full of symbols invented by the author, abstract short stories by Rosaire Appel, Nautilus by Andrei Molotiu which is a series of abstract comics sequences, the science fiction novel Golem100 [I don’t know how to do it on Blogger but that’s Golem to the power of 100] by Alfred Bester which contains graphic sequences among conventional chapters, other novels like Peter Handke’s The Goalie's Anxiety at the Penalty Kick (English translation of Die Angst des Tormanns beim Elfmeter) and Claude Simon’s The Battle of Pharsalus (English translation of La Bataille de Pharsale) which both contain a page or two that incorporates pictogrammes among paragraphs of words, Donald Barthelme's short stories The Flight of Pigeons from the Palace and At the Tolstoy Museum that utilize pictures as a basis for stories, the French avant-garde group known as the Lettristes (in English, "Lettrists" or "Letterists") who invented the hypergraphic novel (a novel which uses letters, symbols and images) and especially Alain Satié's Ecrit en prose (PSI, 1971) which Gaze considers “the most open-ended, and closest in idea to myown,” Henri Michaux’s works of hand-drawn symbols, the first edition of Laurence Sterne's classic experimental novel Tristram Shandy (Volume 3, 1761) which includes a single page of an abstract marbling design (examples can be seen at http://www.tristramshandyweb.it/sezioni/sterne/biography/
sterne_portraits/marblepage_gallery/index.htm) that could be interpreted to represent Tristram's state of mind and Victor Hugo who used to use inkblots as a “starting point” for his illustrations. As I said, the Notes are a good addition to the book.
And the Notes also provide a girding of sorts because the actual hundred scenes in Gaze’s novel will require proactivity from the reader. It is the reader who ultimately will create some story which Gaze’s scenes create but in a non-fixed form so that different readers can create different stories.
For example, here are Pages 7 and 8 from 100 Scenes:
Now, one can certainly do ekphrastic readings on the individual images. But key to reading them is also paying attention to the procession of images. So, for example, the first image above could be—lesseeee, well, it could be—an excerpt, I mean, a portion of a tree’s canopy. And then the second image could be part of a flock of birds winging away. When you combine the two images, it’s quite clear (ahem) that the novel’s protagonist (if such be the bearer of the gaze) was looking up towards the sky. With just such facets, layers of a story can be implied. Perhaps the gaze-bearer was a bird hunter, say…
… who, because of other images elsewhere in the book, was having an affair set in Italy and the couple managed to take a weekend off to go to Russia and continue their affair in some wooded area and the guy was taking a hunting break and then accidentally shoots the person he’s having an affair with and now must bury the body somewhere in the forest….and so on and so on. (I’ma jest sayin’, you know what I mean…?)
In conclusion, I recommend this book because it provides a good narrative. But you’ll need to read the novel as you might more effectively read a poem: you've got to invest yourself within its lines.
Eileen Tabios does not let her books be reviewed by Galatea Resurrects as she's its editor, but she is pleased to point you elsewhere to reviews of her books. Her newest book SILK EGG: Collected Novels is reviewed or generated responses by Joey Madia in The New Mystics HERE; Allen Bramhall over HERE; by Amazon top-notch reviewer Grady Harp over HERE; by Leny Strobel over HERE; and by Jean Vengua over HERE and HERE. Her THE SECRET LIVES OF PUNCTUATIONS, VOL. I is reviewed by Edric Mesmer in Yellow Field and reprinted HERE. Her THE THORN ROSARY: SELECTED PROSE POEMS 1998-2010 is reviewed by Arpine Konyalian Grenier over HERE. Allen Bramhall also reviews the "Hay(na)ku for Haiti" series over HERE. If the latter two get you curious, please note that participating in this fundraiser for Haiti is supported by Marsh Hawk Press, publisher of THE THORN ROSARY: if you order at least $15 worth of booklets, you will receive a copy of THE THORN ROSARY which is priced retail at $19.95; this is one of the best bargains in the poetry world, even as it helps out with a Haiti fundraiser.