Ten Maps of Sardonic Wit is a book, whose cover, spine, pages, and words are constructed from nothing but Lego bricks (thousands of them conjoined together, each brick no bigger than a flat tile, four pegs in size). Each page is a rectangular plate of tiles, three layers thick, and the surface of each page depicts a black-and-white mosaic of words. Each page depicts a single line of poetry, and each line is an anagram that exhaustively permutes the fixed array of letters in the title. The poem suggests that just as permuted elements can create compounds, so also can permuted phonemes create syllables. The letters of the poem become the literary variants of subatomic particles, and the book itself embodies these molecular metaphors, insofar it too consists of discrete elements that can likewise be dismantled and recombined so as to form a radically different structure. The book might easily disintegrate into a granular pile of atomic debris, whereupon the reader can assemble these plastic remains into an unrelated sculpture. The book is a concrete allegory for what Baudrillard calls a “‘Brownian’ stage of language, an emulsional stage of the signifier, homologous to the molecular stage of physical matter[— a stage] that liberates ‘harmonies’ of meaning just as fission or fusion liberates new molecular affinities” (1993:218). The anagram does not recycle so much as atomize its meaning, dissecting it, dispersing it, until the keyword vanishes (just as the object itself might disintegrate into the entropy of its own molecular decay).
After contacting Karsten Kristensen at Lego Systems Inc. in the summer of 2000, I submitted a detailed proposal to him, and he provided advice about the potential design of this project. I then ordered nearly 10,000 separate components, which the company graciously donated, even though some of the items did not exist in North America and had to be imported from the factory in Denmark. I experimented for nearly three months, trying to find a crystal pattern, whose clathrate integrity could resist the torque and stress caused by the turning of a page. I played with a whole variety of crystalloid lattices (be they checkered, staggered, etc.), and I soon discovered that, because the letterforms on the surface of the plate always broke the regularity of the underlying, imbricated pattern, the words of the text actually constituted a structural flaw that weakened the strength of the page, thus causing the page to fracture and fragment. I worked for several weeks, using graph-paper, to design a suitable typefont, one that required the least number of pegs to create a letterform, but one that, nevertheless, reinforced the strength of the whole plate (hence, no letter could have parallel lines of equal length, and no letter could have lines enclosing an empty space). I eventually spent six weeks online with a whole array of computerized resequencers, trying to create an elegant anagram that could fit the dimensional constraints of the page. I pursued many dead ends, often making some minor input error that would result in days of wasted effort. I also dabbled with the design for the cover, before settling upon the image of a black snowflake.
_______________________ INVENTORY OF TILES _______________________ SMOOTH 2 x 2 white 1349 1 x 2 white 768 1 x 1 white 301 1 x 4 black 217 1 x 2 black 425 1 x 1 black 263 SUBTOTAL 3323 _______________________ PEGGED 2 x 2 white 4230 1 x 2 white 471 1 x 1 white 4 2 x 2 black 216 1 x 2 black 120 1 x 1 black 16 2 x 4 hinge 81 SUBTOTAL 5138 _______________________ FINAL TOTAL 8461 _______________________