:: Article

How You Too Can Write Certain of My Books

By Mark Amerika.


In 2014, I published Locus Solus, a book that defies categorization. Some might call it novel, others a novel-length work of conceptual writing, and still others a rather poor translation of a classic work of proto-surrealist fiction by the French novelist Raymond Roussel. In my own mind, I thought of the work as an auto-translation that I remixed in collaboration with Roussel who, as Marcel Duchamp said, “showed me the way” while creating his famous La mariée mise à nu par ses célibataires, même aka The Bride Stripped Bare By Her Bachelors, Even (The Large Glass). You see, I do not speak or read in French, so similar to Duchamp’s experience with Roussel, this early 20th century recluse-writer was having a permanent effect on my writing, casting me under his spell even as I fought to break from it by taking great liberties with what the assorted online translation programs were transmitting to me as, line by line, I began cutting and pasting his original French text into the auto-translation box.

My experimental procedure, wherein I would take a line of text from Roussel’s original French version of Locus Solus (available at Gutenberg.org) and paste it into the online program so that I could then immediately sample the garbled and glitched auto-translation into my own narrative universe was something very much akin to the spirit of the original Rousselian work itself. Roussel had a very specific procedure for writing his books, something he outlined in the posthumously published How I Wrote Certain of My Books. The original title of the Afterword included in my version of Locus Solus was titled How I Rewrote One of His Books.

Roussel’s original work was published in 1914 and so my publication marked the centenary edition. I created the work as both a work of fiction and a loving critique of the act of translation itself. The actual creative process I immersed myself in while “(re)writing” this book was, for me, a kind of durational achievement or, if you will, a work of performance art that tested my endurance. What kept me going was the fact that I knew there would be an end point, a moment of absolute closure when there would be no more lines to auto-translate and simultaneously remix back into the narrative I wanted to create. When I came upon the last line of the French text, I selected and copied it and then, with a slight feeling of dread, plugged it into the online translation program where it provided me with the final data bits I needed to come up with my own ending.

Of course, this “performance art” project wasn’t an experimental one-off. The thing is, I almost always deploy some quirky procedural compositional constraint to trigger the formal substance of many of my artworks no matter what media or mediums they happen to be passing through. In fact, there are quite a few procedural tricks that I have stolen from other writers before me, so if someone were to want to steal some of the procedures I have plagiarized over time, they would really be pilfering the clever maneuvers of artists and writers who were much more ahead of their time than I am.

Having said that, it would only be fair for me to share with you some of the tricks of the playgiarist’s trade (I borrow the term “playgiarist” [with a self-consciously performative and playful use of the letter “y”] from my dear friend and postmodern impresario the late Raymond Federman who also used the French neologism “plajeu” to describe his procedural composition style).

Here are a few ways that you too can write certain of my books:

– Remember what Count de Lautréamont said: “Plagiarism is necessary. Progress implies it”. One can read The Count’s dictum as a call to literary action. For example, imagine writing a pseudo-memoir composed of other writers’ texts that you have cleverly remixed into your own personal narrative. To do this, take a passage, any passage, and copy it, but overwrite it so that it meshes with your own fictional memoir-in-the-making. Now copy another passage, and once again apply your own customized stylistic filters. Your objective is to erase the false idea within the copied text, the idea that you can’t relate to, and replace it with the remixed one so that the idea must now relate to the persona whose memoir you’re composing. Continue doing this until you have something you can reliably call your own, even if it has nothing to do with you.

– Play with homophones. For example, take the words sight / cite / site and write a theoretical fiction that uses these terms as the procedural composition device to trigger a narrative architecture. Think of the theoretical fiction as a cite-specific story about “losing sight of oneself” while unconsciously operationalizing your creative writing practice as a site of disturbance. Make a prenuptial agreement with yourself that you will not stay married to the project as something you will want to always go back to. When the right time comes, or you feel yourself unable to breathe anymore, just stop feeling attached to it and leave it for good.

– Go to a used bookstore, second-hand shop, or garage sale and scoop up cheap magazines or books you normally would not buy. Literally tear into them until you have a pile of fragmented text. Cut these text materials up into little word and letter pieces. Put the pieces in a bag. Draw the pieces out one at a time. Arrange them however you want. Pretend they are magnetic poetry except, this time, arrange them on something more appropriate, like your naked lover’s body. Take some tweezers and slowly pick text fragments out of the bag and gently place them on your naked lover’s body as if you were tending a garden of potential delight. Place these extrusions within visual range of each other and, as necessary, rearrange these word and letter samples so that they read as if they were actual sentences, shards of poetic possibility, or experiments in defamiliarized syntax. It’s always best if these “bricolage actions” are conducted randomly i.e. without thinking through why you are making specific selections and arrangements. Use these randomly extracted and rearranged word grobs to create an original work of prose poetry. When the work is finished, pull out your phone and take a photo. Repeat this with each iteration as soon as you feel it’s done. Once you take the photo, eat your words, literally scooping up and ingesting the paper word fragments. Make 100 of these works and collect the photos in a box that you sell as a book that resists its binding.

– When you first wake up, before you do anything (eat, drink, dress, go to the bathroom), immediately start writing whatever comes into your mind. Do not stop writing. Do not think. Do this for exactly thirty minutes (set an alarm). Then put it away until one hour before you go to sleep that night and look at it again. Give yourself only one hour to revise it. It’s done. The first chapter of your new novel. Repeat this procedure ten more times and you will have finished another book except instead of publishing it as a book, laser print it out as a stack of 8.5X11 pages and exhibit them in your bathroom atop the toilet so that visitors have something to read.

– Make an exquisite corpse with a group of strangers you accost on the street. Tell them you are robbing them of their imagination and demand they contribute or you’ll take their life. Tell them you are a non-violent person but are very passionate about your work. But here’s the rub: you must make them do your work for you. Besides, if they submit, you are taking their life from them anyway. It’s a win-win for whoever complies.

– Write a twenty-sentence manifesto about any subject of your choice. Number each sentence 1-20. Possible subjects could include gender fluidity, “old school” feminist narcissism, hypermasculinist beauty, and/or the death of the 90s academic identity politician. Sign it at the end with the date and location of writing.

– Write a flash fiction, 1-2 pages, where every word begins with the letter a. Do the same thing in a follow up flash fiction using only the letters a and b. See the connections between the first two flash fictions and now try to turn the work into a longer form narrative. The third chapter can now include words beginning with the letters a, b and c. Keep doing this until the 26th chapter whereupon you can use all of the words in the world. Then start going backwards dropping letters with each chapter, z, y, x, etc. until you reach the 52nd chapter at which point you are back to only using words that start with the letter a. Convince yourself that you have invented a new procedural aesthetic even though you know, or should know, this has all been done before.

– Go to Gutenberg.org and find a text in a language you do not speak. Line by line, cut and paste that text into an online auto-translation program and use that auto-translation as source material to remix a totally new story. If your source text is pornographic, try and keep some of the original text in your remix so as to defamiliarize the mundane.

– Roam around a city using methods associated with Situationist dérive and psychogeography but employ a counter-Situationist strategy by getting in the way of your hastily constructed flow by proactively using your mobile phone to record what the people around you are saying. Eavesdrop on all conversations, even if it means having to stop and stand around acting as if you are using your phone for a completely different function. Later in the day or even that night, after you have captured the surrounding sounds, do your best to transcribe everything you have recorded so that you can then use it verbatim for a story that only contains dialogue or voices. Make it into a work that investigates polyphonic noise and intellectual banality. Publish it on the Internet as a freely downloadable ebook or PDF and start writing provocative essays and short theoretical texts that claim these are stories written by The People for The People. Claim that The People are the true inheritors of the historical avant-garde and that everyone else are the indentured servants of the ruling oligarchy whose reigning forms of false consciousness have been permanently superimposed on the populace to keep them down. Celebrate the self-contradictory premises of everything you say by insisting it is intentional and that you are operating in a long tradition starting with Nietzsche. Do everything in your power to turn this one PDF download and all of the other works that inevitably grow out of it into a raging success that establishes your brand-name identity in the reputation economy.

– Take your mobile phone or tablet and open up a web browser. Go to Google and type in phrases that resonate with your current ideas about art and writing. For example, you could enter the words “form is nothing more than an extension of content” and/or “content is nothing more than an extension of form” and then hit the search button. One by one, click on the first twenty entries that come up. Scan these random pages for source material that triggers a new aesthetic feeling inside you (something that “speaks to you” for reasons you can’t explain). Use your tablet or mobile phone information behaviors to zoom in on words, images, or designs in those web pages that capture your fancy i.e. that either “speak to you” or “speak for you” and crop the image to your liking. Now take a screenshot. Keep taking screenshots of the words, sentences, paragraphs or images that you have cropped and that resonate most with your information aesthetic. Edit these images as you wish and then upload them, in reverse order, as image attachments to a Twitter account that you control under an assumed pseudonym. The pseudonym can be the name of your new novel.

– Whatever you do, don’t use a bot or write any algorithm that will do all of the work for you. This is cheating and, besides, who’s the real bot here? Or, to put it another way, every decision you make is creative in nature. It’s part of your unconsciously generated procedural aesthetic, a uniquely embodied praxis that perpetually postproduces the total-sum-in-formation.

– Keep circulating this document and/or whatever version of it you happen to remix into the networked space of flows. As Marcel Broodthaers once wrote, “the definition of artistic activity occurs, first of all, in the field of distribution”. In other words: transmission is destination.


Mark Amerika is the author of many books including The Kafka Chronicles (FC2), remixthebook (University of Minnesota Press) and Locus Solus (Counterpath Press). You can follow him on Twitter @markamerika. He was interviewed twice in 3:AM Magazine back in 2001 — here and there.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Monday, May 30th, 2016.