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The Age of Wire and String

3.72  ·  Rating details ·  1,582 ratings  ·  157 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 ...more
Paperback, 160 pages
Published September 1st 1998 by Dalkey Archive Press (first published 1995)
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Glenn Russell

Astonishing, unique, endlessly fascinating.

In a Fahrenheit 451 world, The Age of Wire and String is my book.

Oh, how I relish every single sentence. Here's how Marcus the Ben begins:

"This book is a catalog of the life project as prosecuted in the Age of Wire and String and beyond, into the arrangements of states, sites, and cities and, further, within the small houses that have been granted erection or temporary placement on the perimeters of districts and river colonies."

Welcome to an alternate
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
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
Mar 04, 2010 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
Nate D
Oct 22, 2010 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
Feb 01, 2012 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
Marc Nash
Dec 21, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
Apr 26, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Art, great Art, tasks us to think beyond the narrow shutters we self-impose upon ourselves via our accepted form(s) of reality. Anything that pushes against these borders is too often disregarded for non-conformity to our understanding of aesthetic beauty, qualifications of form, etc. As a result, certain instances of art, defying the social convention, fly by us unmolested by thought through the sheer determination of our own willful ignorance. The great Art? On vine, dying.

But sometimes you ju
Kevin Holden
Mar 16, 2008 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
Aug 09, 2011 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
Steven Peck
Sep 09, 2012 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
Alexander Weber
I have a lot to say, but generally I write short reviews...

First of all, I really like the essay Marcus wrote for Harper's about why experimental and difficult novels are important.
I read it after looking up what the heck I was reading, somewhere in the middle of this book.
I didn't find anything useful out there, maybe this:
"The Age of Wire and String" shows us what we don't see. An unspoken story, apparently autobiographical, pushes in against the words we are given to read--a story of a f
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
May 02, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Most texts this outre are absorbed without a plop, why did this one make such a splash? Rather than spend a few weeks researching the historical context, let's just read the damn book again. It's all grown up now, with two decades of debate and acolytes and detractors in tow. Does anyone remember dodecaphony? It is much much older, yet to this day it will still clear a room of Music Lovers quicker than a fire alarm. Thus it is with experimental writing and Book Lovers. How do we know what we're ...more
Feb 06, 2009 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
Nov 14, 2020 rated it really liked it
Reading, a process by which humans interiorize and digest words from outside sources, often found in books on which they cast their vision. The words are usually codified by means of strings of symbols of varying length which have one or more associated meanings to be discerned by high level readers from context, namely the pattern created by the flocking of other words around their intended target.

A Ben Marcus exemplar is read not with the natural assumptions of a discerning reader, but with n
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
Michael Dworaczyk
Dec 11, 2012 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
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.
Apr 06, 2007 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."
Aug 20, 2007 rated it really liked it
Beautiful shorts in the style of Cortazar's Cronopios and Famas and Beckett's prose, wonderful anti-fictions with playful, surreal language, oddly affecting and humorous.
Sep 06, 2020 rated it did not like it
The author sets out with an unpromising idea and manages to disfigure it beyond recognition. A wretched experiment.
Oct 07, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Marvelously esoteric and inaccessible. Marcus' first collection serves to remind us of what is possible in short fiction. What exactly constitutes a story? Well, from reading this book it's clear that all is needed is vivid imagery, wordplay and an absolute authoritative conviction in describing the world created. The stories bear little resemblance to actual life--yet feel very real. Some stories are merely glossaries, "Terms."

The book is divided into sections: Animal, Weather, et cetera, and
Ed Erwin
Dec 29, 2013 rated it liked it
Walks a thin line between meaning and non-sense. When it veers too far to either side of that line it becomes uninteresting, but the skill involved at staying on that line is impressive. It takes considerable skill to pull that off. There are some passages that make just enough sense (or from which I am able to make just enough sense) to blow my mind. But the other 99% leaves me not even scratching my head, since I know that wouldn't help.

The closest comparison, in terms of the blend of comprehe
May 24, 2017 rated it really liked it
Completely unlike Marcus's later work (which is aggressively unimpressive, imo) and certainly one of the most unique works of fiction published since 2000. Similar to Stein or Beckett -- or Merwin's early work, in poetry -- Marcus uses everyday words in a creatively disorienting way; in this case, to create a faux-documentary account of an alternative reality.

There's something a bit abstract or austere about Wire and String, but this is one of the only purely experimental works published by Dal
Carmen Petaccio
Sep 28, 2011 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."
Richard Dunham
Jun 01, 2015 rated it it was amazing
A beautiful book. Being John Malkovich meets Fantastic Planet in the hands of a technical writer who has gone stark raving sane.
Mar 26, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: cba
A Shinto Realist novel, variable in quality, lovingly crafted, which never quite lives up to the first entry.
Nov 23, 2013 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
Feb 19, 2008 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. When
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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

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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