Against the Written Word: Toward a Universal Illiteracy By Ian F. Svenonius, 256 pgs.

Jan 27, 2023

This is the third book by Ian Svenonius I’ve reviewed for Razorcake and I’m starting to sense a theme in his writing. There’s a lot of academic-level thinking with a sense of, “Is he joking or not?” Against the Written Word is comprised of nineteen essays that cover such topics as Instagram, record reviews, the power of rock’n’roll, and erotic fiction, just to name a few. The material is quite varied but all of it is written with Svenonius’s intelligent and revolutionary prose.

None of the writing comes across more adroitly than in the first essay, “Against the Written Word.” Here the author writes about how reading is something that should be done away with. Reading and writing is what causes too many of the world’s problems. Humankind, Svenonius argues, is unable to not be affected by the written word and is subject to the whims of many an author. Svenonius acknowledges that it’s ironic to share this idea via writing, hence why he suggests that his essay should be the last thing that an individual reads before deciding to never read again. (Which is ironic given that it’s the first essay in the book.) Instead, he argues, rock’n’roll should be the language that takes over and teaches us what we need to know. Sound crazy? Welcome to the world of Ian Svenonius.

The writing in Against the Written Word is shared not just in essays, though. Also included are screenplays, lectures, and manifestos, which makes for some diversity in the reading. And sprinkled throughout are plenty of references to revolutionary historical ideas and figures. Svenonius is obviously a student of history and connects his writing in the context of greater ideas. This has been a pretty consistent theme in his life since The Nation Of Ulysses, so it shouldn’t be too surprising to find his writing still moves in such grand ideas.

These essays are amongst the more palatable and intriguing Svenonius has written, although they’re still pretty heady. While I appreciate the thought of, say, how limiting the alphabet is on our lives or the role of tourism in our society, I wonder if Svenonius could write about them in such a way that wouldn’t seem so academic and pretentious; and more importantly, leave me wondering—yet again—whether he is being serious. –Kurt Morris (Akashic, 232 Third St., Suite A115, Brooklyn, NY 11215)

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