Thanks to Evelyn R's link to languagehat , who posts a couple of good examples, here's a great updating of the "grab a book and turn to p23" meme we've all seen on various blogs lately. More examples are posted at the source of the corpse variant: Incoming Signals . (For the geekly curious, LaughingMeme offers an autopsy of the original meme's spread.) I've always been a fan of Exquisite Corpse games (for another interesting variation, check out Fotolog Exquisite Corpse -- an ever-changing visual collaborative experiment).
So here's how to do it:
Take the nearest six to ten books from your shelf.
Open them to page 23, and find the fifth sentence.
Write down those sentences and arrange them to form a short story.
Post the text in your journal along with these instructions.
So here's what happened with my shelf. Not so much a "short story" as some kind of meditation about interpretation:
During the time between ending one project and beginning another, I always have a crisis of meaning. Pardon me if I doubt whether you will ever produce a great poet from your choirs . . . or a great philosopher, or a great scholar. The cygnet finds the water; but the man is born in ignorance of his element, and feels out blind at first, disorganised by sin i' the blood, -- his spirit-insight dulled and crossed by his sensations. First, this myth of genesis involves an important separation between reading (in the ordinary sense) and writing. [*]The system of language displays itself as a theater of verbal and literal figures. The meanings and effects of any single image are always adjacent to this overloaded and plural sensory environment and to the observer who inhabited it.
My six books and a disclaimer:
(1) bell hooks, Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom
(2) Thomas De Quincey, "Joan of Arc," (essay pub 1847) quoted in Tricia Lootens, Lost Saints: Silence, Gender, and Victorian Literary Canonization
(3) Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Aurora Leigh, Book 1, lines 815-19. (Penguin ed.)
(4) Pierre Macherey, A Theory of Literary Production
(5) Jerome McGann, Black Riders: The Visible Language of Modernism. *Disclaimer: the first two words of this sentence actually read "In Stein, the system of language..." but I elided those to create a bit more fluidity.
(6) Jonathan Crary, Techniques of the Observer: On Vision and Modernity in the 19th Century
Like Language Poetry, such exercises remind us of the mind's amazing capacity to forge connections between disparate objects. (though of course books grouped on a shelf together might be expected to have some connecting thread either in subject, time period, or at minimum, the owner's interest in them)
I'd love to see other literary critical "corpses" -- don't know if this version's been spreading among that small subgroup of blogs or not.