Reviewed: Registration Casparby J. Gordon Faylor Published by: Ugly Ducking Presse
Michael Bell-Smith, still from mbs_fp_090712_demo_reel.mov. Source
“On the horizon you could literally see the businesses watching you back.” Welcome to Ceaurgle: the home of Caspar, the de facto protagonist in a novel unlike any I have ever read. In fact, it’s hard to tell if Caspar is even a living being, if Ceaurgle exists in cyberspace, and if any of these questions matter in the first place. I’ve never felt something dissolve so much as I attempted to read it. I found myself sifting through words like pixels, grains of sand, or miniscule cryptograms. Simultaneously arcane and technological, J. Gordon Faylor’s novel Registration Caspar is a harrowingly complex puzzle of language.
Presented as a series of spastic networks disguised as chapters, the narrative travels millions of directions at once, mediated by measurements and units of time, quadrants, degrees, and coordinates, all of which establish an off-kilter rhythm through the noise, allowing the reader a moment’s breath before being submerged again into the chaos. Monetary amounts pop up like minor annoyances or credit card charges. Part of the publishing contract for the book itself appears, injected in, almost camouflaged and unassuming. The chapter “Nura Dulcis” consists of a single sentence: “Improvements in speech recognition.”
The slippery plot follows the day-to-day malaise of the office drone Caspar, doomed for preeminent deletion. Bureaucratic tasks of absurd and befuddling survival are frequently enmeshed within the psychedelic nonsense language of a malfunctioning email server. It all feels like a purgatorial acid trip. Take, for instance, this pastoral meditation:
It had been April or May at this point. I noted the pitch emotion and liked the intent of it, its charming and educated treats: them. Our four trusting chief time series models hydrologic designations of some note some four months ago, intended for river flow forecasting, the mummified beach generation of the synthetic data collections, their “stochastic, chains rows satisfactorily identified and represented in computer time,” the faded pink colors, the carved blocks, the bright rain.
The reader is given moments of recognizable imagery (“faded pink colors,” “bright rain”), but these clash with abstract, vacuous clumps of managementese (“chief time series models,” “synthetic data collections”). In the fallout, all that’s left are the remnants of a blown-out, hyperextended language: a Junkspace, which Faylor seems to simultaneously embrace and deconstruct, hex wrenching the corners of his damaged text. The architect Rem Koolhaas, who developed the idea of Junkspace in his eponymous essay/jeremiad, describes it in many ways, including as such:
…because it cannot be grasped, Junkspace cannot be remembered. It is flamboyant yet unmemorable, like a screen saver; its refusal to freeze ensures instant amnesia. Junkspace does not pretend to create perfection, only interest…The aesthetic is Byzantine, gorgeous, and dark, splintered into thousands of shards, all visible at the same time: a quasi-panoptical universe in which all contents rearrange themselves in split seconds around the dizzy eye of the beholder.¹
Caspar appears to attempt to answer, by frenetic posturing and sampling, the rhetorical question later posed by Koolhaas in his essay: “Why can’t we tolerate stronger sensations? Dissonance? Awkwardness? Genius? Anarchy?”
What is a name but a username of another nature? As the text continues, it becomes increasingly difficult to differentiate between the titles of persons, corporations, pharmaceuticals, and strange non-places. Proper nouns (Ionelia, Chane, Clessiexecs, Praxylight, Billy Papyal) diverge on the banks of an anthropocenic ooze.
A slowly congealing sludge or slime, the text treads in its own quagmire, melting into itself time and time again. However, this never feels as destructive as it could be. Like several dozen photoshop layers dissembling one another at different opacities, certain phrases, terms, names and situations emerge in the foreground as if by their own volition. A story does appear, if somewhat vacantly.
Most times I loafed around the sleeping quarters, pausing then and again in the waiting room main and cerulean diner—as opposed to the two flanking fire brick corridors—jotted food into them as Narisovanna, Vineet, and Sylvan read stat and talked about quietly by a number of my peers, a dulcet collaboration, puzzled over the most recent garocerathure malfunction like any other old friend would on your behalf, angel—meanwhile, a woman and eighteen men plugged in at a corner embroidered with sheet tubes syech, with and to archive it their stalls in the upbrast video, marooned for the night in the encampment with access to so many outlets, silent, she further neuroticized blurbers off the punguent set and provided a sense of fixity such that the overall situation could continue.
In the manner of a Grey goo eschatology, the deluge of Caspar & company’s mutated word space consistently expresses a sense of suspended animation, a spiraling whirlwind where “intermittent pet hairs” can tango with “self-absorbed fuckery” in the same sentence. Everyone is constantly laboring, complaining, and collaborating to complete tasks that are never directly described. Is this a world of post-work or post-Fordism, where, hauntingly similar to our current situation, our labor has been integrated into the politics of the everyday, of leisure, of Facebook and Angry Birds? There’s no free time in the junkspace politics of Caspar, and Faylor’s words are all the more claustrophobic for it.
Sometimes it feels as though this book rearranges itself once it is closed. It is this writhing, filigreed language that differentiates the novel from other “conceptual,” stiff-upper-lipped, Kosuthian book projects made popular (or infamous) within the last two decades.
Most readers, both indoctrinated to experimental literature and not, will find the text intentionally ‘difficult’ or ‘unreadable,’ ‘hard’ like a gneiss or schist: structured as some interwoven metamorphic rock of undulating patterns, colliding and confounding within itself. I smirk at the idea of Faylor toiling and calibrating over every morpheme (and he quite likely did in many places). That said, spam emails, text generators, speech to text recognition software, and other found texts surely formulate the sediment of this construction. However, certain moments of linkage, repetition, and insinuation could have only come from a tactical unraveling.
Ionelia tracking their intensity and frequency one cell to the next, stabilized and incoming—the southeastern unit’s stationarity wouldn’t show up pseudospectrally, on part of the Trunc. The last one, at a branding every quarter hour, a minute’s worth of video was taken. Struck & Writhe methodology at its finest—as pure liability—scampering, cathectic, obstinacy they took for a peridirection and industrial reason-dredging voice by these puny, daily tasks, as they were, “weight, shit, dimensions, service ceiling, and speed,” the Kery Bach, a Thursday shift; the Friday payload, a trial.
If it can be said that we currently live in a “post-truth” society, Registration Caspar suggests the possibility of a post-real society. In a rhetorical landscape where “telling the truth” and “reporting reality” has seemingly failed us, the novel seeks to reconsider these critical binaries (truth/lies, fact/fiction, sense/nonsense) entirely. Strange as it seems, there is something joyous in seeing language pushed to critical mass, and Faylor’s astutely corrupted language gets alarmingly close. By scrying the post-logic of Ceaurgle’s garbled salvage zone, readers may discover new possibilities for the way our language compartmentalizes affect, story, and rhetoric. Caspar is an aleatoric novel that shocks the form with the electricity of a destabilized techne.
“These discrepancies, these glitch aesthetics,” captain kid sits him down, “n worth the forgery, squirrelboy. Budgy squirrelboy.”
A true stumper.
¹ Rem Koolhaas and Hal Foster, Junkspace with Running Room. Notting Hill Editions, 2013.
Barrett White is an editor for Tagvverk. He currently lives in Seattle.