Thursday, 20 December 2007

Porn for Copywriters: B.S Johnson's "The Unfortunates".

B.S Johnson has to be one of the most underated British writers of the last 100 years.


Ok. You see that slash in middle of "form/content"? Well, radical formal experimentation (which became Johnson's trademark) sits right on top of it and it. And radical formal experimentation swings around on "form/content" like a drunk on a scaffhold, scaring the children and generally behaving like a prick.

Big Modernists like Joyce and Beckett alienated a lot of readers with their high-mindedness. Burroughs' essays and theories read better than any of his cut-up novels, whilst Perec and many other OuLiPo writers simply became known for their virtuosity. BSJ on the other hand didn't just experiment. He innovated by realising that the evolution of writing lay not in it's content or structure, but in its presentation. Burroughs never shut-up moaning about the physical confines of the novel. BSJ escaped them in one effortess stroke by embracing... design. Yep, that's right folks. Design: that old sworn enemy of the writer. Fonts, layouts, even holes cut in pages found their place in Johnson's work and these devices were integral parts in the very architecture of his novels, elevating them from merely prose or content to physical objects and artifacts. Unfortnately as a result, his work fell out of print (or should I say production) for many years. But In 2004, the nice people at Picador published a B.S Johnson Omnibus (which I can't recommend enough) as well as "reproducing" some of his more important works. Among these is The Unfortunates, which until yesterday I'd never seen a copy of. And what a lovely thing it is too. Here's a sniff:

It looks just like a book but wait...

...It's actually a box. Inside: a neat pile of unbound pages and some crucial instructions...

Isn't that kinky, eh? Form and content all loved-up and hand in hand. Sigh...

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