Individual Work
Reconstructing Mayakovsky

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This entry taken from the ELO Showcase curator statement by Joseph Tabbi. See the original entry here.

"Reconstructing Mayakovsky" is hybrid media novel that derives its story lines from historical fiction, science fiction, the detective novel, and film. In “Reconstructing Mayakovsky,” Szilak engages with “the spirit of Russian futurism” as a way, in her words, to “[corrupt] the panoptic logic of the database, the 19th century novel and the Internet itself.” A renewed engagement with earlier avant-gardes, the work is also a fairly wide engagement with contemporary media that are poised just now, in the second decade of the 21st century, to incorporate, consume, and possibly control the still-emerging field of electronic literature. This is being done through an increase in centrally produced, distributed, and controlled media under corporate ownership, many of which are present in Szilak’s assemblage and parodied in the “movie” section that advertises a future One World “united ... by faith, by freedom, by opportunity.” A world where “art and technology unite to offer infinite possibilities.”

The impending corporate context and conglomeration can explain the edginess with which recent e-lit authors re-engage past avante gardes—as seen in Justin Katko’s “Up Against the Screen Mother Fuckers” and also in the documentary work of Andrew Norman Wilson and Sharon Daniel. In “Mayakovsky,” Szilak attempts similarly to position the old avant-gardes by channeling their energies into mainstream media outlets. The work itself features animations, a content cloud, audio podcasts, live theater invitations and a listing of the extensive reading that went into the making of “Mayakovsky.” The readings are given at “My Books on Google Play.” If such an assemblage leads readers too directly from a literary work to a frankly commercial media platform, there is also (within the work) an idiosyncratic, customized “archive” that assembles further literary and political sources related to Mayakovsky and much else the author happens to have at hand while composing the novel. (The novel itself is given as plain text numbered chapters, accessible through the “mechanisms” tab under the moving title, “Mechanism B”; alternatively it can be heard in an audio version.)

All media and modes add up to a multiplicitous but very mainstream presentation by Szilak of a very disruptive artist. The contradiction is captured in the first line of the work’s “Manifesto”: “All realities are virtual, but few of us can live there. For us, reality remains fatal. A bullet to the brain.” Mayakovsky’s 19th century gestures are as much geared toward violence as Katko’s Motherfuckery (2008), Norman Wilson’s monotone corruption of the panoptic security at the Google complex in California, and Sharon Daniel’s recording of the words of prisoners at a California penitentiary for women, which seems to her to be better described as a “penal colony” than a prison. These works together enact the combination of literary and political memory that is setting itself in opposition, while at the same time recognizing the inevitability of the coming corporatization of literature in newly integrated, popular modes of presentation. Such oppositional literary work, if it can establish itself soon within alternative modes of production and circulation can help to assure that modernist, avant-garde, classical, and postmodern precedents can be found even if they don’t prevail and the long literary network can be set against more popular modes. This way, the two can at least develop differently than their sponsors or even authors might have intended.

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Author statement: 
Inspired by the poet Vladimir Mayakovsky who killed himself in 1930 at the age of thirty-six, this hybrid media novel imagines a dystopia where uncertainty and discord have been eliminated through technology. The text employs storylines derived from lowbrow genre fiction: historical fiction, science fiction, the detective novel, and film. These kitsch narratives are then destabilized by combining idiosyncratic, lyrical poetic language with machine-driven forms of communication: hyperlinks, "cut-and-paste" appropriations, repetitions, and translations (OnewOrd language is English translated into French and back again using the Babelfish program.) In having to re-synthesize a coherent narrative, the reader is obliged to recognize herself as an accomplice in the creation of stories whether these be novels, histories, news accounts, or ideologies. The text is accessed through various mechanisms: a navigable soundscape of pod casts, an archive with real-time Google image search function, a manifesto, an animation and power point video, proposals for theatrical performances, and mechanism b which presents the novel in ten randomly chosen words with their frequencies. Following in the tradition of Russian Futurism, the site adopts a "do-it-yourself," "art-in-the-streets" aesthetic that privileges ready-made code, found media objects, and thought and language games over high-tech wizardry. (via ELC)