Illustration: red, black & white text only
Dimensions: 170mm x 245 mm
Starting with a passage from Gottlob Frege, Craig Dworkin replaced each of the words in Frege’s sentence with its dictionary definition. He then replaced each of the words in that new sentence with its dictionary definition, and then each of the words in the resulting sentence with its dictionary definition, and so on. DEF presents five iterations of the process using the Oxford English Dictionary and another five using the first, 1806 edition of Noah Webster’s Compendious Dictionary of the English Language.
DEF thus follows a proposal that Raymond Queneau called “definitional literature” and that Stefan Themerson called “semantic literature.” With precedents including a collaboration between Georges Perec and Marcel Bénabou, the rule-based technique became one of the hallmarks of the Oulipo. However, where earlier experiments were only ever tentative and limited, DEF carries their suggestions through to a marathon extreme — with a trajectory aiming at the physical limits of the bound book itself.
Structured like an hourglass, DEF begins with the longest of the O.E.D. sentences (at almost forty-five-thousand words) and hones in to asymptotically approach the vanishing point of the Frege source before expanding back out with the Webster versions. Although written manually, in order to provide the document of a readerly performance of consulting the dictionary, the project’s enactment in our current moment of algorithmic networks and scripted computer texts finds the nascent concerns of the mid-century avant-garde to be newly relevant.
DEF is generously supported with a grant from the Henry Moore Foundation.
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