A few years back I came across a short story by Peter Higgins called ‘Listening for Submarines’. It was published in the Oct/Nov 2008 issue of Asimov’s Science Fiction magazine. I was so impressed by this dark, sombre, mysterious tale about a sound surveillance monitoring station on the Atlantic coast of Wales, that I made a mental note to keep an eye open for future work by this new British writer. His debut novel, Wolfhound Century, was published by Gollancz last month, and I’ve been reading it all this week with immense joy.
Norman Douglas (1868-1952) was an author and travel writer who also provided crotchety, exuberant, and highly-praised comic indexes to his own books:
Cocoa, an abomination, 10
Peasants, catch pneumonia supervising cows
at pasture, 104
Weisskreuz Hotel, its manager well worth making
love to, 103
He led a flamboyant, scandalous life, forming relationships with literally dozens of young boys and
small girl children, hopping across Continental borders with regularity to avoid
arrest. All of this is fully documented in Mark Holloway’s magisterial and
sympathetic biography of Douglas (Secker & Warburg, 1976). But turn to the index: no entry for “sex” or “paedophilia” or “child friends” or “perversion”. No
entries on Douglas’s erotic life and crimes. No entry, indeed, on Douglas at all. Just a disappointing list of names and book titles. As an indexer, I’m sure Douglas would have greatly disapproved.
Can indexes be poems? Can poems be indexes?
Here’s an accidental rhyming couplet from the index to WH
Hudson’s The Book of a Naturalist (1919):
Mallow, geranium-leafed scented, 256
Marmoset, charm of the domesticated, 222
In the late 1960s a new school of poetry emerged which came to be known as LANGUAGE poetry. Centred in the early days around leftist politics and West Coast lifestyle, LANGUAGE poetry denounced traditional, conservative verse with its heightened or overly lyrical poetic register, and focused instead on method and structural devices which actively engaged the reader in constructing a meaning out of the work. Language poetry can be difficult and alien.
As an example of LANGUAGE poetry (neither difficult nor
alien), here’s a clip of Astrid Lorange at a recent poetry reading reciting the entries for letters M and F from her index to Gertude Stein’s prose poem Tender Buttons. The audience's reaction is interesting.
Comedians and comedy writers are among the most
unreliable of indexers. If their books have indexes you can be sure they will tamper with them to insert one last gag (and why not?). Here are a couple of entries from Barry Cryer’s index to his Butterfly Brain (Orion 2010):
Sweden, King Gustav of: alliance with, 223;
non-aggression pact, 224; duel, 225;
Trump, Donald, never met the man
In October 2011 the value of pi (the ratio of a circle's circumference to its diameter) was calculated to 10 trillion places by Shigeru Kondo, a Japanese systems engineer. I believe this is still the world record.
Lu Chao, an electronics engineer from China, holds the Guinness record for correctly reciting 67,890 digits of pi from memory in 24 hours and 4 minutes.
Pilish is a dialect of constrained writing where the number of letters in successive words follow the digits of pi
(3.14159265358979323846…). For example:
3.14159265 = Yes, I, Dave A. Green, compiling an expert index
From Lulu you can still buy Pi to Five Million Places. The book is 558 pages long. I haven’t read it myself but apparently it’s a bit boring and has no sex in it. Worse
still, the author and publishers have failed to provide an index, which I regard as an unforgivable flaw in a supposedly academic work of reference....
Alejandro Cesarco is a Uruguayan artist who lives and works in New York. Like Helen Mirra (see previous post) he hangs indexes on gallery walls. Cesarco creates scrupulous, meticulous indexes for books that do not exist, then enlarges and frames them in glass. His
latest work – the fourth of a projected six piece series - is entitled ‘Index, An Orphan' (2012). It deals with mourning and the loss of childhood. The index is semi-biographical and contains references to
children’s films - The Wizard of Oz, The Jungle Book - as well as personal boyhood memories of stamp collecting, bicycles, toy cars, bedroom posters, Lego bricks, etc. In this sense, these index canvasses might be viewed as partial self-portraits.
Cesarco is presently exhibiting at the Kunsthalle Zurich till 26 May 2013.
In August 1992 the German writer W.G. Sebald journeyed on foot around the coast of Suffolk. He wrote about his experiences in The Rings of Saturn. The author's wanderings took him to places like Lowestoft, Dunwich, Southwold, and the salt marshlands of the Waverney Valley. It’s a wild, beautiful landscape, a world of waterlogged peat meadows, tidal pools and shimmering mud flats near the restless sea. It’s an area I know well, having rambled there many times myself in the early 1990s.
A few years back the artist Helen Mirra compiled an index to the The Rings of Saturn and used it as the basis for her solo exhibition at the Meyer Riegger gallery in Berlin. She typed out her index onto 13mm wide strips of cotton then affixed the strips around the otherwise bare gallery walls: the viewer therefore needed to travel around the gallery to read the index (much as Sebald travelled around the East Anglia coast in 1992).
Other Electricities (Sarabande, 2005) is a collection of short stories by the American writer Ander Monson. The book is crammed with ice and snow, and it growls with the sound of storms tearing across the Great Midwestern Lakes. It presents a bleak look at life and death, loss and loneliness, in small town northern Michigan.
The author uses a variety of scholarly devices to
embellish the themes running through his book: there’s a Table of Contents, an annotated list of characters, schematic diagrams, and an index.
The index has since been re-worked into a standalone
piece called ‘Index for X and the Origin of Fires’. Here's a snippet from the S section:
Sequence of folds
Silk. Skidding distance.
Smoke, around bullet holes.
Smoke, significance in fire investigation
David A. Green is a freelance indexer living in Petersfield, Hampshire.
The Indexed Word
Random thoughts about books, indexes, and book indexing.