Re-emergence of the Intercuttings

Every last ‘intercutting’ has now been re-published over at Underneath the Bunker. Navigate your way through this exciting literary medium by visiting our new ‘Intercutting Homepage’.

Allow me, in the meantime, to anticipate some ‘intercutting’ related questions:

1. What is an ‘intercutting’?
Answer: Please see here or here.

2. Fair enough. But what’s the point?
Answer: I think the answer to this one is obvious. You may as well ask what the point of art is (please don’t).

3. Are all the ‘intercuttings’ written by the same person?
Answer: All ‘intercuttings’ are written by Pierre Monceau and Jean-Pierre Sertin.

4. Do they write the whole thing together, or write each narrative separately and join them together later?
Answer: No one knows how their collaboration works, though it has been suggested that Sertin does the majority of the writing.

5. What else do we know about this Sertin character?
Answer: See here and here. Or here.

6. Why do some ‘intercuttings’ end with a full stop and others don’t?
Answer: Lazy writing/editing.

7. Are Monceau and Sertin still writing ‘intercuttings’?
Answer: As far as I can tell, no. Sertin, certainly, has moved onto other things.

8. Can I write my own ‘intercuttings’ at home?
Answer: Please do, dear reader, please do.

Flaps and Folds

Allow me to correct a misconception that has been flying like a reckless winter swallow around my corner of the literary world the last few days or so. In a previous post – and over the course of several recent conversations – I have been calling, with little cautiousness, for the creation of ‘the adult pop-up novel’. Too long, I have been crying, have flaps and folds been a feature of children’s books alone. Why can’t adult readers have fun as well?

All very well; but I fancy a handful of readers may have grasped the pole by its erroneous end. When I say ‘the adult pop-up novel’ I am referring to a pop-up book that can be read by any adult and that deals with adult themes. This may include themes of a sexual nature: it does not have to. Should the book in question deal entirely with themes of a sexual nature, I think it may have moved in a market on which I am not, at this point in time, inclined to dwell. To put it yet another way: thank you, Mrs Rawney, for the example of the ‘adult pop-up novel’ you sent through the post – but it wasn’t exactly what I had in mind.

More on this, maybe, one day…

More to Pop Up

Thinking about the form of novels has led me down many paths: some narrow, some wide, some dusty, some hard, some stoney, some light and some dark. Nothing like mental peregrinations when the evenings draw in. Let us hibernate, by all means: so long as our minds remain awake. Springtime shall ever blossom in the brain. No go for snow there.

For a few days, I had nothing but heptagons flying through my head. I was fixated by the idea of the seven-sided novel. No longer. Which is not to say that I have lost faith; merely that I have begun to consider other futures for literature. Other, perhaps brighter, futures.

One of these futures rolled into my mind this morning as I reconsidered, not for the first time, the literature of my children. What books there were, what books there were! So many books, of so many sizes and shapes!

This last point is significant: at what age is it, after all, that we tire of reading strangely shaped stories? Where does the colour go as we grow? It seems to me that words get smaller, pages duller and shapes ever more uniform. Tristram Shandy’s black page, celebrated as it is, remains a rarity: so too B S Johnson’s cut-out. Books for adults have little time for play – or if they do, the play is wrapped in esoteric complexity that it ceases to be play at all, at least beyond the surface.

All of which, I think, amounts to the following short, considered observation (or, if you choose, rallying cry): Where, oh where are the pop-up books?

The Shape of Things

Patagonian priests pray by it, Chilean miners cherish it, and Brazilian beach-bums beat drums in its honour. They mull over it in Mexico, praise it in Peru and argue for it artfully in Argentina.

I am talking, of course, about the octagonal novel: the most exciting thing to hit the South-American literary world since Lupez Lupez wrote a novel on a football and kicked it through a publisher’s window.

Why the octagon? I know not. All I do know is that the shape seems to have its followers. ‘Novels will never be the same again,’ wrote one Bolivian critic. ‘Forget the four-sided book,’ sneered another: ‘any self-respecting story these days is safely printed on eight-sided paper’.

Over in Venezuala that may well be the case. But here in Europe we entertain different ideas. Eight-sided novels have yet to take off – but that isn’t to say we aren’t experimenting shape-wise. Circular novels have been doing the rounds for some decades now. Remember Benjamin Yodek’s Mulberries and Mudcakes? That has to stand as one of the most headache-inducing novels of the last hundred years (speaking as one who has a penchant for difficult forms). And what about Boris Bash-Benver’s triangular novel Tripulation? I say triangular – and yet, of course, the book revolved around three circles in a triangular formation. It was, in that sense, multi-shaped.

What of the future? I have heard vague rumblings that Oa Aayorta (Andorran master of strange forms) has abandoned his plans for a ‘twitter-novel’ (praise each and every lord) and is turning his attention to the trapezium (or ‘trapezoid’ as the Americans call it). Over in Norway, meanwhile, Edmund Ek has (apparently) been musing over pentagons. His ex-wife Heidi Kohlenberg claims to have received a long-winded letter from the former firebrand in which he recounts a dream wherein ‘a man flew down from the sky upon a plate of burning food, and said to me: “put the words within the pentagon”‘. Some would take this to have some relation to the headquarters of US defence; Ek has clearly taken it to refer to a pentagon-shaped book. Good on him.

That leaves us with various options. Am I the only one rooting for the heptagon? I can’t think of many books that wouldn’t benefit from being printed on seven-sided paper. Don’t ask me why. Call me a prophet if you will, but part of me can’t help perceiving that this, truly, is the shape of things to come.

A Brief Introduction to Various Spliced Texts

As you may – or may not – have noticed, I have re-published a couple of interviews with the experimental writer Jean-Pierre Sertin. During the course of these interviews, he mentions something called ‘Intercutting’. Those with fine and delicate memories may recall that Underneath the Bunker used to have a page dedicated to ‘Intercutting’. Alas, no longer. But fear not: ‘Intercuttings’ will return.

Before they do, I suppose I ought to explain what it is that they are. This is not easily done. Fortunately I have to hand a description written by Sertin himself:

In the simplest sense, an ‘intercutting’ is a piece of prose spanning thirty lines, consisting of two seperate fifteen line stories ‘cut’ into one another. The significance of this exciting medium is best explained from within the form itself, like so:

Living in the city, or simply in the modern world, we are almost

in films, an intercut happens when two different streams

always surrounded by myriads of stories: fiction and non-fiction

of narrative are spliced together, or perhaps sliced

beckoning us from advertising boards, snatches of mobile phone

apart, in order to produce a spark of creative contrast

conversations, news reports, books we’re reading, music we’re

in the space between their divergent images – this

listening to, even our thoughts: our memories and our fantasies – all

cinematic technique offers all sorts of possibilities if

these narratives competing for space, sometimes all at the same

reconceived to work in a written context. One of the most

time. Some people call it information overload. And yet most of

obvious, if surface, pleasures is the unexpected marriage

us have developed the curious talent of compartmentalising, so

of phrases or images that the conscious mind would have struggled

that we are able to jump from a story about a deadly famine to a

to produce, though this is necessarily elusive, based as it is

a review of a children’s film without thinking it odd. Intercutting,

on chance. Of deeper significance is the way in which

on the other hand, confronts this absurd world of alternate

the pair of narratives can work to undermine the

narratives, telling two stories at once, which are to be read as one.

complacency of each other by offering an oblique

It plays with juxtapositions, relying both on surrealist accident and

commentary or criticism, by approaching the same idea

deliberate contrast; the stories chosen to go together, but ordered

in a different tone or voice, by taking a repeated word

without reference to the manner in which they form a single story.

or image and spinning an alternative world – a partial truth.


There you have it.

(more on this later).

Something More

‘Yellow, Red’ is over-rated. There is nothing more to be said….

So maybe, just maybe, I spoke too soon. I drew my dagger early. I jumped the blessed gun. Anticipation got the better of me.

No need, however, to throw a guilty fit. I admit: new information has come my way – information which lends a different light to proceedings. But when I say a ‘different light’ – do I mean that I am wrong? Not at all. I mean, simply, that there is another way at looking at my correctness. My voice told the story well enough. Another voice, however, does not drown the sense of the original song. The additional line it offers, in fact, merely strengthens the sound.

All of which is a somewhat roundabout way of saying that the author himself, of all people, appears to be on my side. Yes, oh yes indeed. Jean-Paul Xengho agrees with Georgy Riecke over the peculiar popularity of his novel Yellow, Red. ‘Why does everyone think it a masterpiece?‘ he questions in a recent article, before adding: ‘it clearly isn’t‘. Later he elaborates: ‘in my opinion, the book is an un-holy mess. Any editor worth his salt would have cut it down by a thousand pages at least. Most publishers would never have accepted it – I doubt I would have. Indeed, I have always struggled to get through the damn thing. Can’t abide it in any form. Never do readings of it. Hate it, in all honesty. It’s worthless’.

Ah, but it doesn’t end there (if only it did!). I’d like to think that Xengho’s moment of self-realisation was suggestive of a deeper problem: i.e. the fact that he simply cannot write. Instead, the author seems to have dismissed it as but a temporary obstacle. So Yellow, Red was ‘an un-holy mess’? So it isn’t even remotely the masterpiece everybody thinks it is? Never mind: Xengho has other books up his sleeve. And here’s the worrying part: his other books sound, on the surface of things, as if the lesson has not, in fact, been learnt at all. Inchoate Shift (due early next year) is described as ‘a three-thousand page, multi-faceted romp through twenty-first century culture and technology‘. Is it, perchance, the ‘masterpiece’ that everybody mistook Yellow, Red for? The author, for one, is sure of it….

Waiting for Posterity

I’ve said a lot of things about Jean-Paul Xengho’s Yellow, Red. Here, for your convenience, is a short collection of them:

The busy dragonfly of gossip has been bringing news of Xengho’s genius ever since the publication of ‘Yellow, Red’ in 1997, but I’ve been struggling for some time to discover who let the insect out. You speak to someone, who heard from someone else that the book is brilliant. You track down that someone else, who turns out never to have read it, but takes someone else’s word that it is the best thing they’ve ever set eyes on….

….A lot of ‘clever’ people are holding onto Jean-Paul Xengho, just in case he comes up trumps. They can’t pinpoint the genius in ‘Yellow, Red’, but they’re convinced it’s in there somewhere. There’s far too much risk in pushing it aside, let alone drawing people’s attention to the possibility that the book is, ultimately, an incomprehensible tract, jam-packed with meandering, fundamentally hollow judgments, and wrapped with as much finesse as a fish and chip dinner around a plot that could well crumble when poked with a moderately sturdy fork…

….I’m not saying that Jean-Paul Xengho is not a clever man, rather that ‘Yellow, Red’ is not half the book we think it is – and serves best, I think, as an illustration of how far an author can travel on a mysterious reputation alone, whilst his words subsist in a state of almost complete perplexity, understood by no one that I know – and quite possibly no one at all….

…it’s a masterpiece in so far as it gives the appearance of being one…

…Never has a book stood so forcefully on such soft ground….

The bell rings loud, the bell rings clear. The image is received by the eye in its totality. The message is transmitted, the message is understood. The fact stands tall, and the fact is this: I don’t rate the book. In fact, I suspect a con. Since I wrote this review, you won’t be surprised to hear that I have received violent messages of dissent – all from anonymous sources – which only confirms my point. My judgement is used to being doubted, and the chances of a u-turn are smaller than a dwarf wren. Yellow, Red is over-rated. There is nothing more to be said.