“Books: Parasitic Dick Shrinkage.”
Eye Magazine, 1 March 2007
Brian Joseph Davis
Apparently, editing Moby Dick down from over 700 pages to 284 isn't as arduous an ordeal as it may
seem. As new, Toronto-based art-book publishers Parasitic Ventures Press discovered, it's as easy as running each chapter
through the auto-summary function of Microsoft Word. That simple act has resulted in Four Percent of Moby Dick
(284 pages, $25), one of five titles the house issued this winter. It's not really an appropriation. By politely having
the now-public-domain author retain credit, “conceptual editing” seems a more apt category for a book as elegant
and readable as it is abbreviated.
While any semblance of discrete plots or arcs have been obliterated, the text doesn't become a Burroughs-style cut-up
and it's far too poetic to act as Cliffs Notes. All of Chapter 37 now reads, “I laugh and hoot at ye, ye cricket-players,
ye pugilists, ye dead Burkes and blinded Bendigoes. Ye cannot swerve me, else ye swerve yourselves.” Chapter 107
is likewise terse, and no less evocative, with “An oarsman sprains his wrist: the carpenter concocts a soothing
lotion. A sailor takes a fancy to wear shark bone ear rings: the carpenter drills his ears.”
If you've never finished the original, that's probably the best state to approach a conceit like Four Percent of Moby
Dick (and the conceit extends to layout, with text set at a quarter of standard size). You can read it as free association
poetry on blubber – a lot of blubber – or let it act as a Roget's “sailor talk” thesaurus. Either
way, projects this simple but satisfying are rare. As the company name implies, recalibrating the classics may be the
main concern of Parasitic Ventures (also in their catalogue is the two volume, 1,136 page set All the Names of In Search
of Lost Time, which edits out everything Proust wrote, save for proper names). But the house has also released several
artists editions, hovering somewhere between books you read and books you look at. One of those titles is the mostly textless,
and very intriguing, whereabouts (96 pages, $20) by Toronto's Sandra Rechico.
Rechico spent much of 2004 mapping her daily paths with quick sketches and arrows and those drawings constitute the whole
of whereabouts. They're not maps – they lack any kind of orientation – but rather navigations with the urgency
and obliqueness of grocery lists (see image below). There are occasional hints. “Dinner and a opening” leads
one entry that looks like it could be Toronto (the path is oppressively rectangular). “Water/ studio/ frills”
is another. Considered individually, one imagines an alternate universe where Sol LeWitt works at Rand McNally. Flipped
through fast, the effect is akin to trying to describe a year of your life through small talk. Words always fail in that
situation but, as Rechico's work shows, scratchy, general shapes might do the job admirably.
Parasitic Ventures press titles are available from www.artmetropole.com. .