Pre-Articulation: On John Trefry’s Unfinished Massive | Part 1 by Mike Corrao


In the soft apocalypse of the 2020s / John Trefry is assembling the text-body of Massive / Massive is—will be—a tome of striated / severed prosaic slabs / Each page modulating into ambiguous veins / creating a multitude of potential pathways across the surface / various narratives intermingling / fusing together & mutating their contexts //

In 2017 / Trefry put together a small booklet / exploring potential variations of this method of prosaic slab striation / utilizing one of the books primary narrative threads / focused on Osip and Nadia Mandelstam’s movement across Russia / The Transport, An Event In The Study of Block Time For The Judas of Peoples To Come, An Atemporal, Spatial Text, For Unique Reading Performances / phrases shift between standard type / underlines / bolded phrases / spacing fluctuates between automated and schismed //

The text takes up a certain ludological quality / it is playable / the reader / the user / can explore various routes through each surface / they can follow conventional lines from left to right / or they can put their faith in the schism / letting the text naturally break into thin columns / occasionally bridged by thin underlines / The Transport undermines the trust that you have placed in your eyes / the position of the reader is active / they must make choices / map out and test routes / even as a slim volume / around forty pages long / the book / this early iteration [test run] of Massive / articulates a kind of endless narrative potentiality / in which every route is capable of recontextualizing the material / reorienting the perspective of the reader / this then asserts that Massive / which is expected to be vast / massive / would create an endlessly navigable geography of interconnected / yet independent / surfaces //


But the book is not done yet / Massive has yet to fully form / in its current state the book is primarily composed of various notepad files [.txt] / all split into categorized folders / the text is raw / set in the program’s base font of Consolas / the same font used in the Windows command console and most basic coding programs / the pages are white / the text is black / there are no italics / no bolds / every file is one block paragraph / a rudimentary text slab in its own rights / egalitarian in its presentation / no word appears more important than another / no file more central / each slab is only distinguishable by its cut / the length and width that it takes up on the monitor / my experience with Massive thus far has been purely digital / I have / excluding The Transport / not truly encountered this text in its immaculate form / I have arrived early / in the midst of conception //

Trefry’s work here is difficult to summarize / not only due to its size / but due to the way that it seems to amass data / it hoards language from disparate sources / pulling discussions from different forums / descriptions of biological processes / ekphrastic explorations of various mediums / dashcam footage / anagrammatic lists / geographic information / skull landmarks / construction procedures / this data creates an all-encompassing noise / the primary narrative thread / follows Nadia and Osip Mandelstam’s life and exile in Russia during Stalin’s control over the Soviet Union / it is not an exact retelling of the events / of Osip’s death in transport to a gulag / Nadia’s nomadic life across Siberia / it is more a mutation of this reality / formulating a new history from the base of the Mandelstam’s / primarily Nadia’s / lives during these time / manifesting a landscape infected by their dreams / desires / their bodies of work / all surrounded by the mass of data / encompassed by / obscured by / a wall of information / the godhead / the egalitarian dome of knowledge //

The text in-progress thus performs a kind of self-assembling / it acts as a gravitational body / pulling data into its radius / slowly constructing an enlarging body around its nodal point / Massive / is not yet massive / it is the framework / ongoing procedure / of a soon-to-be massive / becoming-Massive / organized into prosaic slabs / we formulate a kind of pre-articulation / the text bending its limbs psionically before attempting its first corporealized movement / to a certain extent / The Transport renders this pre-articulation into the physicalized realm / the lizard grows its tail / severs it / and performs an autopsy / the body is mutilated / and studied by the head / Massive has only begun the slog towards its final form / and this means that our analysis of the text must be of a language-in-itself / excluding the potentialities of navigable routes / or of striated orientation / it does little to speculate //

The mass of data / the prose of a wall densely textured / creates a kind of pseudo-digital space / across the following installments / we will examine not only the means by which Massive performs this pre-articulation / but the means by which its language is assembled / the mutagen cut-up / the egalitarian presentation of narrative [routes] / all of this compounding into a vast network of interconnected slabs / which begin to resemble the longue duree of the digital landscape / and the informatic saturation of the database //


Dashcam Kino Gaze

The collected files of Massive / begins with a subfolder called, Dashcams / Dashcams is exactly what it sounds like / it is footage from various cameras across Russia’s numerous roadways / each operating with an egalitarian vision / in which no object / no subject / is of a higher importance than those around it / “The machine will record everything in front of its sensors” [Metahaven, Digital Tarkovsky] / and this is primarily how the text of this first section appears / as the output of all things seen / all things noticed and unnoticed //

In the finalized edition of Massive / these sections / & portions within these sections / will be scattered across the entirety of the book / embedding themselves as growths upon different narrative routes / but in this pre-articulated zone / I have the luxury of viewing each element in its own isolated hub / where each subject has congregated before integration / in the case of Dashcams / this pre-novel form takes on an interesting aesthetic / with the book currently existing as notepad files / and the prose appearing as unindented / stylized blocks / it reads as a kind of data feed / as if someone has tapped into the surveillance network / and begun siphoning this information off into a .txt file on their hard drive //

Metahaven says that dashcams “…like web cams, are the (s)lowest common cinematic denominator of a slightly shifting present.” [Metahaven, Digital Tarkovsky] / due to digital media sources / like Youtube or Facebook / there seems to be a misconception about what dashcams do / it is not difficult / often without looking at all / to find compilations of car crashes / of police stops / of strange encounters / but in truth dashcam footage is incredibly slow / it is uneventful / “to the actual dashcam film as cinema, it matters much more that most of the time, nothing much is going on in its longue duree.” [Metahaven, Digital Tarkovsky] / Metahaven themselves use the example of the Chelyabinsk meteor / the collected gaze of the dashcams / forming a totality-of-the-image / Massive shifts this totality-of-the-image into a form of apathetic surveillance / exploring its function when the scene in front of us is not unusual / or exciting / or intergalactic //

The subject matter of Dashcams is of little to no interest / it is the nothing going on / in which every narrative route has not so much been severed / but never threaded in the first place / we might view narrative here as a distinction between prevalent and irrelevant information [hierarchy of scenes] / the dashcam is not a narrator / it is a device for recording visual data / here, Massive feels like the mapping out of a crime scene / but one in which every object has been abstracted / rendered absurd and foreign in its minutiae / “with no potato flesh” / our vision is often metonymic / in which components are used in order to represent their whole / cars are described by the texture of their hoods / or the scratched paint on the door / the road is a bed of asphalt / the longue duree carries us through mundane information / utilizing the totality-of-the-image as a means of inducing a hypertemporal state / slowing time into a Tarkovskyan crawl / dreamlike almost / in the assured concreteness of its images //

Part of this is of course due to the conversion from image to text / the former inevitably is capable of / in some regards / a much more efficient and condensed means of communication / the scene is elongated through its transcription into the .txt / what might appear in our minds instantaneously is stretched across fifty or one hundred words / at times more / every detail is rendered / the kino eye records all / because it is not the object of temporal subjugation / it is the panoptic guard / but subversively so / the totality-of-the-image is not an oppression through surveillance / it is an immobilization through the saturation of sousveillance / where the user is drowned in data / all information in front of them / meticulously presented / the kino eye fattening its calf / language compounds across the text / “runninglights” / “closefollowing” / “fistflesh” //

Here / an ambiguity forms between intentional and unintentional / it is near impossible to tell what grammatical mutations are errors / and which are maintaining the aesthetic inclinations of the text / but this only emboldens the kino eye / its job is not to identify or assess / its job is to record / to document / there is no authorial retrospection / no revisitation after transcription / the longue duree does not just depict the vast periods of lagtime / but elongates this lagtime / Trefry turns the kino eye into a device of drone literature / rendering pre-stratified text over the blank monitor //

The kino eye is not only a posthuman cinematic tool / the eye that pans / the eye that does not jump from object to object / “first thought of the Kino-Eye is a world perceived without a mask, as a world of naked truth (truth cannot be hidden)” [Dziga Vertov] / it is a means of data aggregation / it absorbs all information with an egalitarian breadth / all subjects / all objects are equally as important as one another / and not only this / but being a text of machinic possession / it does not necessarily operate with the same semantic or syntactic functions as we do / language is not bound to sentence structures / there are no periods /  conventionally speaking / across the duration of Massive / they may appear during the Lists section / or in other unconventionally formatted areas / but in the slabs / the .txt wall / we encounter a continuous stream of prose / only interrupted by / << / >> / — / and on occasion commas / there is no reprieve from the longue duree / your drying eyes / placid over the dashcam’s dynamic staging / setting / “the great hemisphere of asphalt” / pockmarked by undetectable timestamps //







Mike Corrao is the author of two novels, Man, Oh Man (Orson’s Publishing) and Gut Text (11:11 Press); one book of poetry, Two Novels (Orson’s Publishing); two plays, Smut-Maker (Inside the Castle) and Andromedusa (Forthcoming – Plays Inverse); and two chapbooks, Avian Funeral March (Self-Fuck) and Spelunker (Schism – Neuronics). Along with earning multiple Best of the Net nominations, Mike’s work has been featured in publications such as 3:AMCollagistAlways Crashing, and The Portland Review. He lives in Minneapolis. @ShmikeShmorrao

October 5th, 2020|
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