PJAS 11 Autumn-10

Marianne Olholm
Other Discourses in Poetry: Christian Bök’s Crystallography
and The Xenotext (Book 1)

Polish Journal for American Studies, vol. 11 (Autumn 2017), pp. 377-390


A characteristic feature of contemporary poetry is the interaction with other, non-literary discourses. In conceptual works, material is adopted from external sources and the artwork is extended to include the surroundings in what Nicolas Bourriaud has termed “relational aesthetics.” Christian Bök’s writing can be seen as a continuation of avant-garde practices concerned with the medium and materiality of the literary text. In Crystallography (1994), elements from scientific discourse such as tables, graphs and fractal geometry are incorporated into concrete poems and in his most recent project The Xenotext (Book 1) (2015) the interaction with other forms is taken a step further as Bök moves the text away from the literary medium and into the field of biotechnological research. A matrix sonnet is encoded into the DNA of a bacterium, and the protein of the bacterium produces a new text in the form of a sequence of amino acids. This process makes the resulting text inaccessible to the general reader who is left with the description of the work in the accompanying book and the project thus radically challenges the status of the literary artwork.

Keywords: Conceptual poetry, relational art, materiality, concrete poetry, avant-garde

DOI: 10.7311/PJAS.11/2/2017.10

Full Article