The Zinophile: Three Views of Language


There’s a phone number on the back cover of the latest issue of Gigantic; dial it and you’ll be given an archetypally robotic list of authors’ names to choose from. Select one from there, and one of the authors featured in the issue will provide a pre-recorded message — Mitchell S. Jackson delving into some of the nicknames and slang used in his contribution to this issue.  The theme of Gigantic‘s fifth issue is “Talk,” and it suffuses its pages, from snippets of overheard conversation to a dialogue with Brian Christian about what it means to be human, the automation of certain tasks, and the ways in which generative literature and the Oulipo overlap. Elsewhere, Jon Cotner supplies a list of responses to potential conversational situations, Marie-Helene Bertino gives us a story set on a plane, and David Ohle contributes an excerpt from his forthcoming The Old Reactor.

This is a week for publications that delve into the minutiae of language, sometimes as it is written, at others in terms of speech. The highlight, for me, of the fifth issue of Cabildo Quarterly is a piece from Kate Lattari, an excerpt from a longer work titled All of the Everything. And it’s a particularly stylized take on social media and status updates — a subject I wouldn’t necessarily associate with thrilling (or even particularly compelling) fiction. And yet: due to the density of Lattari’s language, she makes the quotidian frustrations of updating one’s feed — and seeing the ways in which others update theirs — into something worth reading. I can’t argue with work that takes the familiar and renders it exciting.

In the case of the 1990 lecture by Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick that was recently published by Guillotine as Censorship and Homophobia, what’s familiar are the cultural clashes that its author writes about: arts funding and institutionalized bigotry and discussions of the meaning of political correctness. In a series of footnotes, editor Sarah McCarry provides background on some of the court cases referenced by Sedgwick — and, in several cases, points out that the legal questions raised in the late 80 and early 90s are very much still a part of the national dialogue. This is a vividly-written look at issues that remain essential.

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