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  • Rewiring the Culture
  • Brian Evenson
Marcus, Ben. The Age of Wire and String. New York: Knopf, 1995.

Pierre Klossowski, in Sade, My Neighbor, offers two statements that might serve to introduce the startling, and often transgressive, vignettes of Ben Marcus’s The Age of Wire and String. The first is the assertion that “it is not by arguments that [he] can obtain the assent of his interlocutor but by complicity” (27). The second is the realization that “reason itself . . . is but a form of passion” (67–8).

The Age of Wire and String thrusts into the forms of reasonable thought a great deal of passion, revivifying dead ways of speaking by short-circuiting them. The formal genres of both the hard and social sciences are manipulated by eccentric but nearly invisible narrators who, having emptied objective forms of their original content, fill them with highly original visions of the world. By applying extreme subjective pressure to the objective world, Marcus warps and splays the forms of capture we have come to expect. Where Marcus differs from less successful experimenters is that rather than merely allowing science to turn inward, revealing the subjectivity innate to any apparently objective process, he forces the subjective pressure to deflect again outward — thus revealing an objectivity that can only be reached through the subjective. In pursuing a line of flight that cleaves through a progression of selves and then flees outward, Marcus offers an array of voices to lay bare the whole of contemporary culture.

The Age of Wire and String is a non-system masquerading as a system. It is referred to, in the mock-argument at the book’s beginning, as a device for “cataloging a culture.” The book consists of eight divisions of stories which parse the culture into eight broad interrelated topics — Sleep, God, Food, The House, Animal, Weather, Persons, The Society. Each section is supplemented by a list of terms which sets out to define words that may or may not be relevant to the fictions of a particular section. These include objects as promising as:

FUDGE GIRDLE, THE Crumpets of cooked or flattened chocolage, bound or fastened by wire. This garment is spreadable. . . . (43)

MATH GUN, THE 1. Mouth of the Father, equipped with a red freckle, glistening. It is shined by foods, dulled with water, left alone by all else. 2. His pencil. . . . (26)

ARKANSAS 9 SERIES Organization of musical patterns or tropes that disrupt the flesh of the listener.


The arrangement of the book and the definition of terms seem formal and orderly enough, and on the surface The Age of Wire and String seems to offer a fictional world holding the same sort of relation to the real world as does Borges’ Uqbar. However, the orderliness of the surface is quickly disrupted, and it becomes clear that what Marcus offers is not a single world but elements of several similar, but not completely compatible, worlds. Though the pieces all have some relation, they cannot be thought of as generating a single alternate reality; instead, the space they create is heterotopic, bringing together disparate elements whose connection cannot be adequately mapped, but which are joined nonetheless. How is one to bring together, for instance, the introduction (in Montana) of clothing made from food products, the song’s capacity for mutilating the body of a man on horseback, sleep’s ability to forestall the destruction of the house, a string’s tendency to fall in the shape of the next animal to be slain, and the more passionate and worldly spectacle of the mad invader who ties up everyone in the house and forces them to watch as he commits suicide? The impact of the book can be found less in the individual pieces than in the connections which spread from text to text, which make a rhizome of the different pieces and which allow one to travel from one disparate locale to another.

Within the text, the author’s name, as an administrative function by which to gather the book into a whole, falls under suspicion, for one discovers multiple definitions for “BEN MARCUS, THE,” including:

1. False map, scroll caul, or parchment . . . a fitful chart...

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