Saturday, October 14, 2006

Surreal Text Collage

The organisers of this weekend’s science fiction convention in Stockholm asked me to give a fifteen-minute speech of praise on any theme I liked. I decided to talk about the Swedish city of Gothenburg. I’ve been there only twice for a few days as a grown man, and although I found the city to be nice, I can’t say I know much about it. There is a traditional rivalry between Stockholm and Gothenburg, but I decided not to allude to that at all.

My first idea, the occasion being an sf convention, was to praise a far-future Gothenburg and allow this to be known only gradually through the speech by dropping more and more futuristic hints. Then I had an idea I liked better: since I don’t really know anything about the place, I’d ask people to tell me what they like about Gothenburg, and then appropriate their sentiments for myself. Having done some of this, I decided that I would solicit other people’s praise for any city at all, and then turn all this material into my own praise for Gothenburg and mix it with the authentic Gothenburg appreciations. Some of this city praise I got from the readers of this blog, and then I collected more from the web through a few Google searches. I also stuck in a few snippets of famous song lyrics about Gothenburg. The resulting text contained no opinions of my own, and many opinions not actually about Gothenburg.

To structure the speech, I wrote an intro and an outro, put the snippets I’d collected into an Excel sheet, assigned an automatic random number to each of them and then sorted and re-sorted them on these changing numbers until they were in an order I liked. Then I printed the speech out, took it to the convention and read it out.

I was pleased to find that the audience seemed to like it and laughed a lot, particularly the ones who knew Gothenburg or recognised some of the snippets about other cities that I’d appropriated. So I find this to be a good technique to generate a surreal or psychedelic textual collage. But your mileage may vary: I’d say that science fiction fans probably have an exceptionally robust grip on primary reality, having so much experience with otherworldly or absurd fictional settings. Other people may find such a kaleidoscopic narrative – mixing truth, blatant falsehood and utter irrelevancies – pointless, confusing or even threatening.

A translation of the speech follows in the next blog entry.

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