Sunday, February 15, 2015

Don DeLillo and Richard Prince, "The Word for Snow" (Karma/Glenn Horowitz, 2014)

The Word for Snow is a maddening one-act play by Don DeLillo recently published by Glenn Horowitz and Karma, a New York publisher/gallery/boutique. Karma produces artist's books and unconventional exhibition catalogues, ranging from small staple-bound zines ($5) to hardcover volumes with unique, illustrated covers by the likes of Julian Schnabel and Chris Martin ($300 and up). The great thing about Karma is they are constantly producing work, launching exhibitions in New York or Easthampton, and co-publishing with other galleries in a way that broadens their roster. They also track down rare exhibition catalogues, which all seem to sell out promptly.

The Word for Snow is a very strange book, a remarkable literary piece snuck out amidst a slew of books on contemporary artists. Illustrated sparingly with bleak photographs by Richard Prince, the majority of The Word for Snow is emptiness. DeLillo's play only appears on the right side of the gutter, with the left pages blank except for a few Prince photographs every five-or-so-pages. The text is in a slightly deteriorated, large typewriter font, almost as if a lost manuscript was scanned and bound together. The play runs less that 30 pages, but packs a world of apocalyptic terror in its sparsity.

The conceit of the play is that a Pilgrim has finally achieved an audience with a Scholar, secreted away in some "mud hut" on an "unnamed mountain somewhere in a lost corner of west-central Asia." His discussion with the scholar is filtered through a third person, The Interpreter, which quickly mutates their Q-and-A into a play for three distinct voices. The Pilgrim, to his dismay, discovers that the Scholar's past teaching are considered obsolete, and that focus must be shifted instead onto the "death wish of technology," when "all languages are one language" and "the word becomes the thing." Confounding, classic DeLillo, futurism wrapped in fearfulness.

Richard Prince's photographs of old run-down homes and basketball hoops look relatively innocuous at first glance, but they transform into an appropriate doomsday motif once DeLillo gets momentum. Seen alone at a gallery show, I would hardly be moved by these visuals, but in tandem with The Word for Snow they drift towards meaning.

The Word for Snow was available in an edition of 1000 copies, 125 of which where bound in hardcover and signed by Prince and DeLillo. Signed copies are available at $350 from Karma's website, but the rest of 875 are completely sold out. They occasionally come up on eBay for around $45 (think there's one there right now). Highly recommended.

Currently reading:
Ander Monson, Letter to a Future Lover

Currently listening to:
"Returnal" by Oneohtrix Point Never

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