START > INLET
Welcome to the review of Jeff Noon’s latest book, Cobralingus.
DRUG: HYPERBOLIN > ENHANCE
Jeff Noon’s latest masterpiece, the work of literate beauty that is Cobralingus, takes the reader on an unparalleled journey; one which will never be forgotten. This exemplary poetry, finely encapsulating the very essence of language, ensures an experience the like of which has never seen before. Noonatics will find everything to their taste.
CONTROL > OUTLET
Cobralingus is a book revealing Noon’s previously hidden techniques of wordplay by opening the process up to the reader.
Confused? You may be.
For a while now, Jeff Noon has made much use of the prefix "Liquid" when discussing his art. Ever one to draw comparisons with music, Noon’s premise is that writers should have access to the same ‘mixing filters’ as modern musicians. Sampling, Decay Filters, Randomising, Looping. Cobralingus is an explicit example of what he means, and the result is beautiful, poetic work.
The book first presents these filters to the reader, with explanations of how they operate. Many of these are direct parallels to music (SAMPLE, ENHANCE, MIX), while some are specifically text-related (FIND STORY, GHOST EDIT). Those remaining associate with a variety of concepts, from DRUG (where a ‘language drug’ is released into the text) to RELEASE VIRUS (which "Attacks text, changing words of choice into others of a similar sound.")
Each piece begins with an Inlet, most of which are taken from classical works of literature; Thomas Lodge, Shakespeare and Zane Grey are all included. Others are from more modern texts, though only one is from Noon’s own writing. Some are simply lists, such as Constellations or Areas Of The Moon. The filtering process is then followed dogmatically, with the text of each step shown in full, and a "Word-Snake Diagram" showing which filters have been selected at each point.
The Inlets bear little or no resemblance to the final piece, which can take as many as twenty filters to appear at times. But that’s the whole point of this book: to show the reader each piece of the language puzzle which changes Emily Dickinson’s "Split the Lark – and you’ll find the Music" into a four-stanza alliterative poem concerning the limits of man’s spiritual knowledge.
The individual results of the filters are also in themselves worthy of reading – to my mind, many of the ‘halfway points’ in each exercise are actually better than the final text, but this is of course a matter of taste. After all, this is poetry we’re talking about, here…
Each piece is presented as a separate chapter, with an accompanying illustration by Daniel Allington. The illustrations are sometimes simple and iconic, at other times multilayered and obscure – not unlike the text. They match well, and reading under the assumption that Allington had at least some communication with Noon over them, you can’t help but feel that perhaps they contain some clues and references which only relate to the subtext.
Make no mistake, Cobralingus is not a ‘normal’ book. It would be difficult to even class it as a normal poetry book, given that there are only ten ‘finished’ pieces within it. But this is not the point.
The point is to demonstrate how language can be manipulated and harmonised, like any other instrument of creation, and that stepping beyond the accepted boundaries of what one can or cannot do with language is entirely necessary to produce something original and personal. The very fact that Noon draws on other people’s sources, yet is able to play with them to the extent that they become very much his own, is testament to this.
Playing is a very apt description for the feel of this book, as a sense of enjoyment and frivolity is evident in the texts. Not to say that Noon doesn’t take his work seriously – but I for one suspect he is very aware of the ‘value of play.’
It’s difficult to predict exactly who would enjoy Cobralingus. Cracks about ‘Noonatics’ aside, anyone who enjoys the man’s work will likely appreciate this insight into his thought processes and command of language structure.
But beyond this simple voyeurism, there is real beauty in here. Some of the pieces ("What The Flower Holds Most Sweet," in particular) are breathtaking at every step. To watch them unfold and mutate through the filters, into separate texts which could easily stand on their own as moving and powerful poetry, will delight anyone looking for something a little out of the ordinary. Even – dare I say it – a little Liquid.