Wednesday, October 30, 2013

S. Ship of Theseus: First Blush

While I have read and do read a lot, I own way too many books to ever get to them all. I just picked up S., also known as Ship of Theseus by by J. J. Abrams (Creator), and Doug Dorst (Author). As with all things J. J. Abrams, this is a puzzle. Like LOST, there is likely going to be no easily and comfortably discernible answer, either. Will I get to eventually consume this entire novel/puzzle/art book in its entirety?  I now own dozens of books I had every good intention of getting to, only to have them get swallowed by my shelves. Cream tends to rise to the top, so only time will tell if I actually get to finishing this. I hope to. Even if I never get to finish this, here is my first impression of what this novel is.

As soon as I used a knife to slit off the paper tab that sealed the book in the slipcase, I knew this was going to be something special. It's a book within a book. It is a pseudo novel, like the pseudo found footage film by J. J. Abrams, Cloverfield.  Think of this as a novel within a novel within a novel. Most novels are written by one real person about a fictional tale. This project was conceived by J. J. Abrams. Then Doug Dorst—the actual author—wrote it, but he did so as if the novel were authored by someone else, a fictional author V. M. Straka. Then there is a fictional translator's note and foreword by F. X. Caldeira. Then there are margin notes by two fictional people who passed this copy back and forth. It's complicated.

It's fiction within fiction, with the goal of taking you away from its fakeness and making it seem real—as if you are the one and only person to have stumbled upon this old book, personally notated by two strangers. This aims to make you, the reader, feel like a special part of the next step in this book's journey through the ages.

Aside from all that, if I still have you, there are papers, clippings, postcards, scraps, napkins, photos, and some cypher-code wheel in the back. The second I flipped through the book for the first time I was instantly reminded of Griffin & Sabine: An Extraordinary Correspondence, by Nick Bantock. Like Griffin & Sabine, S./Ship of Theseus has a correspondence inside it too—in the margins of the novel.

I'm reminded of Joseph Cornell / Marcel Duchamp...In Resonance, a fantastic show I saw in Philly once about the collaborative efforts between those two real 20th century artists. S. feels like Griffin & Sabine a bit, which itself feels like it could have come from the mind of Joseph Cornell. I can't help but also think of House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski which is also written as a found manuscript. This is nothing new in the world of writing. Nabokov did this with his pseudo poem, Pale Fire. Edgar Rice Burroughs too, presented A Princess of Mars as the retelling of a found journal.

S./Ship of Theseus looks and feels old. It's meant to appear to you as if you too are part of the chain, the next in line to have stumbled upon this matryoshka/Russian nesting doll of a novel. It's obviously a puzzle. Like The Egyptian Jukebox: A Conundrum, it needs figuring out. How to go about this? Start reading. I questioned how I should do this. Should I just read the novel first and then go back and read the dense margin notes? To do so would almost be impossible. The notes are so obvious and glaring with underlining of sentences, pointing things out, etc, that ignoring them would be an exercise in futility. All the ephemera, too, is stuck throughout the book, begging to be fondled and read.

The back cover of the slipcase—the only part of the novel that attempts to explain itself—states: "It is also Abrams and Dorst's love letter to the written word." It most certainly is that and more. I am sensing this is perhaps the precursor to something else. A film? A TV show? Music? The sky's the limit with J. J. Abrams. He obviously loves the projects he works on and never does a hack job. The projects closest to his heart that come from his mind all tend to be portals of a sort to another time, place, or period. He makes you feel like you stumbled upon an old film from the 80s in Super 8 (with a kids' film within that film). You feel like you somehow managed to survive a plane crash and stumbled upon a secret island facility in the hit TV series, LOST. And you somehow came upon found footage possessed by the government in the monster film, Cloverfield. With S. you are now in possession of a one-of-a-kind book, with handwritten notes by its last owners. You are the next piece of the puzzle. Adding your own notes, art, photos, clippings, and more is advisable. Then leave it for someone else to find. :) It's like an exquisite corpse or the surrealist automatic writing techniques, but produced for the masses.

Dig your nails into it. Smear lipstick on it. Give it to your lover to borrow and make their own notes. Spill coffee on it. Hide money in it. Take pictures of it. Mail it to your elderly neighbor with no return address.

Enjoy it.

Here are some similar bits of art, music, literature to explore in the same or similar vein as S., so have fun...

Griffin & Sabine: An Extraordinary Correspondence by Nick Bantock
House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski
A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs
The Egyptian Jukebox: A Conundrum by Nick Bantock
F for Fake by Orson Welles
Outside by David Bowie
Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band by The Beatles
Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov
The Blair Witch Project
Beyond the Black Rainbow   Wikipedia
Joseph Cornell / Marcel Duchamp...In Resonance

Similar J. J. Abrams fiction/media to consume:
Super 8

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Another thought I'd like to add is that this pseudo creation of media—created specifically as if it were manufactured in another time and unearthed now—is somewhat akin to what mstrmnd theorised Kubrick was doing with The Shining, creating a new film language that would spur disparate meanings from one film. With S. being presented as multiple levels of fiction, where we are intended as the next participant in the fiction and not just a passive real-life reader, multiple interpretations are sure to arise.