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The Age of Wire and String

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3.77  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,274 Ratings  ·  133 Reviews
In The Age of Wire and String, hailed by Robert Coover as
"the most audacious literary debut in decades," Ben Marcus welds
together a new reality from the scrapheap of the past. Dogs, birds,
horses, automobiles, and the weather are some of the recycled elements
in Marcus's first collection—part fiction, part handbook—as familiar
objects take on markedly unfamiliar meanings. Gra
...more
Paperback, 160 pages
Published September 1st 1998 by Dalkey Archive Press (first published 1995)
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Holy Bible by AnonymousNaked Lunch by William S. BurroughsAlice's Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking-Glass by Lewis CarrollHouse of Leaves by Mark Z. DanielewskiA Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
Weirdest Books Ever
64th out of 432 books — 571 voters
If on a Winter's Night a Traveler by Italo CalvinoHouse of Leaves by Mark Z. DanielewskiPale Fire by Vladimir NabokovCloud Atlas by David MitchellSlaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
Oulipo,etc.
55th out of 236 books — 231 voters


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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Joshua Nomen-Mutatio
Fuck everything. For my purposes today, this is less a nasty hyperbolic command about coitus and more of a two-word summation of a somewhat complex suite of contradictory and powerful human yearnings. A yearning to tell the Universe to go fuck itself while at the same time demand that it hold you close to its motherly bosom and make all the bad things go away. A yearning to differentiate oneself from the dull hum of the world at large, to have the throngs fall at your feet and acknowledge that y ...more
Greg
Mar 04, 2010 Greg rated it it was ok
Shelves: fiction
Ben Marcus infuriates me.

I had safely dismissed him as the type of writer I didn't enjoy, but then in the current issue of Tin House he wrote a jaw dropping, throw yourself down the stairs, amazing story; so I had to go back and give his older work another shot.

I'm not quite sure what these stories are supposed to be achieving. I think they are not 'stories' per se, but just parts of a whole that is only being partly exposed in this book. Every so often there is a great line or a glimmer of an
...more
MJ Nicholls
Regard the mushroom people: their Vauxhalls are emblematic of an anti-inflatory ecosystem. To decode their literature, commit the following procedure. [1] Insert a zucchini into the Upper Ventilation Shaft, taking time to scalp the rogue dripping insidious seedpeople. [2] Suggest a mode of dance for the staplers. Do not describe their weevils as disrespectful. You risk criticism from the unholy arc of M.J. Nicholls—a disgraceful cannibal among the pigeons. [3] Caulk the skirting boards of the Sh ...more
TK421
Mar 20, 2012 TK421 rated it it was ok
Shelves: literary
Perhaps I bit off more than I could chew with this one. I mean, I like me some experimental fiction, but this was the kind that aggravates me more than enlightens me. Allow me to elucidate. Ben Marcus is a genius, no doubt. But the pieces collected in THE AGE OF WIRE AND STRING seem to me to be little more than random thoughts jotted on a piece of paper and then followed by a brainstorming period of writing down whatever comes to mind. Again, I can appreciate that…if its intention brings me some ...more
Nate D
Mar 21, 2012 Nate D rated it liked it
Recommends it for: If you rush the eye, they can't sight-stop you
Recommended to Nate D by: dog, mode of heat transfer in liquids
Ostensibly a sort of anthropological self-description from the depths of a baffling society, this is a series of mytho-scientific descriptions of mundane and maybe much-less-mundane phenomena in the most alien ways possible. Marcus has a couple tools for this. First, running against the claim that this is a culture describing itself, he has a kind of terminal outsider-confusion where everything, even normal things, are utterly unfamiliar and so described in garbled manner. (My favorite wikipedia ...more
Phil
Apr 12, 2015 Phil rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
The third generation of smoke builders wove bean sprouts into sky frameworks. Though the annals of the dirt cobblers explain these actions as worship of Winston, veterans of the Soup Wars still surviving in dusted-light suspension tanks tell a different story. The Winston worship story is only a husk covering the truth inscribed on the sides of seedling cattle. These husks protect our swarm walls from the errant cable swings set in motion by cloud goblins. When they make these attacks, the gobli ...more
Jimmy
Feb 15, 2009 Jimmy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
In order to avoid a lot of vague babbling about this book, I'm going to do the cheap thing and leave everyone with a somewhat exemplary passage.

"Words have as little individuality as people-there are moments when any of them will do, provided the parts allow for a thrusting enunciation. The proper use of space is to find out the things we have not said, and how our hands might make sure they stay that way."

What Marcus does offer is a sort of encyclopedia of the modern human condition. Parts Lyn
...more
Kevin Holden
Mar 18, 2008 Kevin Holden rated it it was amazing
This is the most exciting book of fiction I've read in a while. It makes me really, really happy. At the (very) start I was resistant, as it reminded me of a lot of contemporary work (poetry) in which "stuff," it seems to me, is just made "up." But as I kept reading, I realized it was much stranger, much more lovely, much more thoroughly imagined. I keep thinking of a blend of: Calvino, Lisa Robertson, and Wittgenstein. The invention is like Calvino, as is the world-building activity, and the la ...more
Andrew
If nothing else, Marcus is completely and absolutely uncompromising, and for that I admire him.

It's a baffling book in the same way that something like Gertrude Stein's Tender Buttons is. Except more comprehensible-- the sentences themselves are short, declarative, and straightforward-- but the net effect is entirely disconcerting. I'm still not sure how well Marcus accomplishes his goals, especially when a writer like David Markson can be similarly daring and experimental but still utterly hear
...more
Printable Tire
Finally I have discovered what all the "fiction" writers in the College Hill Independent have been ripping off!

At the risk of sounding like a philistine, I will state the obvious by saying this book don't make a lick of sense. Yet I think it does achieve whatever it set out to do, and has the elegance of narrative-spam, or words that form a sentence without much logical meaning, and has the ability to create magical elements or talismans out of the ephemeral detritus/arch platonic junk of a land
...more
Steven Peck
Sep 09, 2012 Steven Peck rated it it was amazing
An amazing book! For the first half of it I kept expecting to find a key, that would translate all the concepts into those from our world . . . a 'this is really this' so that I would get a translation back to the world I knew. When I realized this was not coming, I settled into it and allowed the world to manifest itself on its own terms. It was an amazing ride. I had to read it slowly because taking it in all at once gave too much at one time, there was something lyrical and poetic that seemed ...more
Ian
Apr 10, 2007 Ian rated it really liked it
"Experts believe that our bodies grow heavier after being noticed, lighter when touched, and remain the same when left alone."
Michael Dworaczyk
Dec 16, 2012 Michael Dworaczyk rated it it was amazing
I need to find a bird that has eaten white air to give me light to write my review. No need for wire and string to cover my mouth since communication will be over laptop composed of rice and blood. If I whirl the dead leg of forgotten brother, perhaps enough song will escape to allow formative sentences to escape.

Did I like this book. No, I loved it with all my skin and hair (more skin than hair, in my case as well as Marcus', I presume.) It will take another few readings to fully come to somet
...more
Jeroen
Aug 29, 2015 Jeroen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
AGE OF WIRE AND STRING, THE – Period in which English science devised abstract parlance system based on the flutter pattern of string and wire structures placed over the mouth during speech. Patriarchal systems and figures, including Michael Marcuses, were also constructed in this period – they are the only fathers to outlast their era.

If the above passage sounds mildly bewildering to you, you have probably not yet read this book. It is given us at the tail-end of a romp through a bizarre inside
...more
Marc Nash
Jan 15, 2013 Marc Nash rated it really liked it
you can let the words and language here wash over you as if you are in a wondrous hot tub, having the lexemes lick at your skin and gently massage the subcutaneous tissue. Or you can begin to feel mounting paranoia of the relentless jets of bubbled water buffeting and barraging you as if trying to dissolve you entirely. depending on your temperament and predilection, this book will either offer you up its delights, or have you hurling against the wall. I can't take responsibility for this review ...more
Rob
Mar 15, 2008 Rob rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: no one.
Shelves: fiction
it's interesting that this came first from ben marcus, and Notable American Women came second. i often think of avant-garde authors going further OFF the beaten path with each effort (think of joyce: portrait->ulysses->finnegans). but this thing was 90% gobbledygook and only 10% semi-comprehensible whacked-out surreal stuff. the 10% was pretty interesting, e.g.:
"They saw other people broken by fast water. Some schemed to escape in this flow, wrapping themselves in rubber from the rice mill
...more
Carol Jean
Dec 16, 2015 Carol Jean rated it it was ok
Well, he had a very touching story in the New Yorker about a man feeling increasing distance from his wife and children. This is completely different. Here, he makes up names for clothing which consists of food, for odd weather phenomena which cause death by sucking people through broken glass, for suicides by lotion rigged up to look as if the homeowner has committed murder... Inconsistently funny and not particularly engaging.
Aaron Kent
Dec 17, 2011 Aaron Kent rated it did not like it
Shelves: 2011
Experimental fiction is just that. While I like to embrace everything that literature has to offer, I'm always leery of experimental stuff because it either really works, or really doesn't. Case in point here. I couldn't, for the life of me form some kind of attachment to anything in this book. I thought at one point, I'll read it again and make notes and things will begin to make sense, a pattern will start to form, but then I realized I was so bored I couldn't be bothered to do that. I feel li ...more
Akiva
May 16, 2012 Akiva rated it liked it
As far as I can tell this book is mostly nonsense. It's Experimental with a capital E, more a catalog than a novel, seemingly describing relatively mundane things, only bizarre versions of them and some of the words aren't being used like you think they are. There's sort of a Codex Seraphinianus like almost coherent but actually bugfuck nuts feeling to it, but it wasn't nearly as compelling. Occasionally the descriptions are laugh out loud hilarious in their oddness and incongruity and bits of t ...more
Laurel L. Perez
Feb 25, 2016 Laurel L. Perez rated it really liked it
In these 41 fictions, most less than a page, Marcus takes us on a postmodern ride through the mess of our homes and social customs. Deformed structures, using a form pioneered by Gertrude Stein. Coining new terms as necessary, this sensuous realism full of disjointed action, where Marcus is the editor. it reads like a technical manual and like lyric poetry, Marcus's clear eye for the suburban sublime allows his definitions, of the structures and categories we impose on ourselves to take hold, to ...more
Will
Apr 01, 2014 Will rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
"Wire man, electric cell in which the family energy from the naming of a man is converted directly to electrical water flaps in a continuous person. The efficiency of conversion from name to water in a wire man is between Ocean (Gary%) and River (Lewis%), nearly twice that of the usual dry method of switching, in which wires are used to whip steam to turn a man connected to an electric family of waters. The earliest father, in which a Gary and Lewis were mixed to form Michael%, was constructed i ...more
Nickolai
Aug 21, 2012 Nickolai rated it it was amazing
one of the most splendid books that influenced me strongly and changed my perception of literature and reality, mythology and culture, society and civilization.
the book is more a catalog, so you can read it like any other book or just look through the themes.
read it many years ago and planing to read it again soon one more time.

if you understand russian you can read here my short remake of this book
http://polutona.ru/?show=dvoetochie&a...
Drew
I feel like this is a perfect example of what Wallace was talking about in terms of literary fiction going the way of poetry; that is, serious literary fiction being written mostly for other authors and maybe a small, isolated little group of smart readers. Marcus is clearly talented, and he's clearly got something to say, but there's got to be a way to do it that doesn't make the casual reader feel like the victim of an elaborate prank.
Steve
Jul 26, 2015 Steve rated it really liked it
If an alien suddenly landed in the middle of America (Ohio, say) and wanted to know what this place was all about . . . he might actually learn something from this book, but he wouldn't learn what you think he'd learn. In truth, this book reads something like a guide to Modern America for the entirely uninitiated. And in doing so, the book achieves the classic literary purpose that the Russian Formalists would call defamiliarization. But it does so in an entirely fresh way (not unlike the classi ...more
Carmen Petaccio
Jan 07, 2013 Carmen Petaccio rated it it was ok
I very much enjoyed "Intercourse with Resuscitated Wife," and this bit from the Animal Terms section: Legal Beast Language: The four, six, or nine words that technically and legally comprise the full extent of possible lexia that might erupt or otherwise burst from the head structure of Alberts."
Matthew Peck
Mar 05, 2014 Matthew Peck rated it really liked it
A really odd book to which it's difficult to assign a star rating, 'The Age Of Wire And String' is a technically a book of short stories in the way that 'Revolution 9' is technically a Beatles song. It's written like an almanac or encyclopedia of the rituals, history, and jargon of an America in a parallel dimension. The idea of a normal sentence or image is tossed out into the abyss as one reads clinical descriptions of musical legs and angels in the grass. (I read the 2013 Granta version with ...more
Christy Stewart
Apr 08, 2010 Christy Stewart rated it it was amazing
I don't know any of any other work from Marcus but this book seems to me to be a novelist who has been reading a lot of Artaud.

Lots of great short pieces that you can just flip through whenever you need something to keep your attention.
Megan
Jan 28, 2008 Megan rated it liked it
in many ways this book is brilliant, but it's only rarely enjoyable and hey, i like character -- this book has none. oh, sure, character is replaced by a million other interesting things but still.
case tentatively rested until i finish, if i do.
Herbie
Jul 04, 2007 Herbie added it
"Sadness: the first powder to be abided upon waking. It may reside in tools or garments and can be eradicated with more of itself, in which case the face results as a placid system coursing with water, heaving" (13).
Jonathan
Dec 18, 2012 Jonathan marked it as to-read
I want to know why people like this. seriously, why? I've started it a couple times, and just can't bring myself to care.
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Angelic, transcendent nonsense 1 15 Apr 05, 2008 10:05PM  
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Seemingly the most conspicuous aspect of Ben Marcus' work, to date, is its expansion on one of the most primary concerns of the original Surrealist authors -- perhaps most typified by Benjamin Péret, husband of the acclaimed painter Remedios Varo -- this being a very deep interest in the psychological service and implication of symbols and the manners by which those symbols can be maneuvered and r ...more
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“Intercourse with resuscitated wife for particular number of days, superstitious act designed to insure safe operation of household machinery. Electricity mourns the absence of the energy from (wife) within the household’s walls by stalling its flow to the outlets. As such, an improvised friction need to take the place of electricity, to goad the natural currents back to their proper levels. This is achieved with the dead wife. She must be found, revived, and then penetrated until heat fills the room, until the toaster is shooting bread onto the floor, until she is smiling beneath you with black teeth and grabbing your bottom. Then the vacuum rides by and no one is pushing it, it is on full steam. Days flip past in chunks of fake light, and the intercourse is placed in the back of the mind. But it is always there, that moving into a static-ridden corpse that once spoke familiar messages in the morning when the sun was new.” 4 likes
“Terms


BEN MARCUS, THE 1. False map, scroll, caul, or parchment. It is comprised of the first skin. In ancient times, it hung from a pole, where wind and birds inscribed its surface. Every year, it was lowered and the engravings and dents that the wind had introduced were studied. It can be large, although often it is tiny and illegible. Members wring it dry. It is a fitful chart in darkness. When properly decoded (an act in which the rule of opposite perception applies), it indicates only that we should destroy it and look elsewhere for instruction. In four, a chaplain donned the Ben Marcus and drowned in Green River. 2. The garment that is too heavy to allow movement. These cloths are designed as prison structures for bodies, dogs, persons, members. 3. Figure from which the antiperson is derived; or, simply, the antiperson. It must refer uselessly and endlessly and always to weather, food, birds, or cloth, and is produced of an even ratio of skin and hair, with declension of the latter in proportion to expansion of the former. It has been represented in other figures such as Malcolm and Laramie, although aspects of it have been co-opted for uses in John. Other members claim to inhabit its form and are refused entry to the house. The victuals of the antiperson derive from itself, explaining why it is often represented as a partial or incomplete body or system--meaning it is often missing things: a knee, the mouth, shoes, a heart”
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