Contemporary literature generally aims to make the reader’s job easy, at least insofar as it pertains to the pure act of reading. Experimental literature often challenges that, creating scenarios where the reader’s job can be quite difficult, not just to engage in understanding a text, but to engage in purely sensible reading of a text. Thankfully, Mike Corrao’s experimental novel Gut Text treads a careful line that asks the right amount of the reader without ever lurching into unreadable opacity.
Set up as a series of four unique entities (named “nn”, “yy”, “ff”, and “vv”), the plot, if you can call it that, revolves around these four entities grappling with themselves as textual beings and the implication of such for their existential status. The book is challenging and provocative in the ways it forces the reader to upend preconceived notions about the kind of relations an author has to a text, a text has with its author, and the ultimate relationship the text is able to form with the reader. The four entities communicate directly with the reader and they are not just removed from Corrao as author per se, they are actively antagonistic toward him, as they seek to exist separate from and independent of any lingering attachment to a creator. Thus, Gut Text becomes a fascinating experiment in how a work of art comes to live and breathe on its own.
As mentioned previously, this book asks a lot of the reader in following not just its text, but the visual interstices that break up the work that act as scintillating counterpoints to sections of extended text. I hesitate to call this a visual novel, but it’s true that its visual components do equal lifting with the text to create something more than text alone might do.
The book progresses through its four entities, each getting a self-contained space to talk and dance about in language that gives nothing away and requires constant scrutiny in the act of making meaning. Each entity references a previously read entity until they begin to read like a kind of evolution, as if nn were morphing into yy as the book progresses and so on, providing what might be termed a sort of character development, however odd and abstracted that conceit feels in such a novel.
Part of nn’s section devolves into what might properly be termed literary scat on the theme of “text”. nn says, “text of the author who doesn’t matter. text of the author’s desire not to matter.” Certainly this type of relation of text to author has been explored previously, but the way Corrao visions his text from something he undeniably wrote into something that I almost believe spawned itself from some biological soup makes Gut Text feel like a landmark in the realm of experimental fiction, the kind of thing serious experimental writers will need to interact with at some point in their own development.
Later, yy says, “This narrative is a labyrinth.” And “I do not look like a collage. I look like a human being (language).” Here, Corrao reduces the human form to language, which is a critical factor in elevating humans above lower species. He also acknowledges the infinity in any text and the infinite relationships a text is able to have with those outside of it. It is these moments of brilliant lucidity that separate this text from other experimental work that ask much of the reader but offer little in return.
The book accelerates, seeming to devolve in straightforward sensibility as it nears a conclusion before colliding with a last statement on authorial creation and a text’s response to that imposition that is far too effective on its own to ruin in a review. It’s rare that I come across a book that I feel might be used to define a genre or capture the ethos of a movement in original ways. But in considering the landscape of experimental fiction, that is exactly what Gut Text accomplishes.