“Many artists seek to attain immortality through their art, but few would expect their work to outlast the human race and live on for billions of years. As Canadian poet Christian Bök has realized, it all comes down to the durability of your materials.”—The Guardian
This evening I attended the last QUT Literary Salon of the year, where Christian Bök was set to read from his book, “The Xenotext”. Bök is a Canadian poet who does a lot of experimental work. I’m a big fan of his book, “Eunoia”, where he dedicated each chapter to using only one specific vowel. His latest project is something I had never heard of before – he has encoded a poem into a strand of DNA and then put that DNA into the genome of a living, and unkillable, organism. This organism’s proteins then respond to the poem, and spell out the subsequent lines, creating a never-ending, living, and unkillable poem. This idea absolutely fascinates me, although I’m still a little confused about how it all works while I’m writing this. I feel so privileged to have heard Bök read out the first words that the organism responded with. The “Xenotext Experiment” means so much more to me than a fusion of science and language; it shows that language can live forever.
I’ve always looked at books as time capsules. I have a book in my bookshelf about Leninism, and I love it not because I’m really interested in its content, but because it was published in Russia during the second World War. It has seen so much, and has been passed through the hands of so many. Bök’s “Xenotext” is an extension of the notion of language as a time capsule, as this poem will continue on long after humans have gone, or until, in Bök’s words this evening, “the sun itself explodes”.
Christian Bök was the final reader of the evening, and there were three student readers before him. Each of them had their own specific style, ranging from prose poetry to more traditional, rhythmic verse. I always love to hear the work of other young writers, and be inspired by the uninhibited risks they take. Hopefully next year I’ll be reading some of my own work at the literary salon.
The salons are held every month at the Menagerie, an intimate café/bar in the QUT Creative Industries Precinct. For more information on the salons, and videos of the readings, check out their official blog at: https://qutliterarysalon.wordpress.com/
Thanks so much for reading,