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the Complete Review
the complete review - metamorphiction


Jeff Noon

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To purchase Cobralingus

Title: Cobralingus
Author: Jeff Noon
Genre: Metamorphiction
Written: 2001
Length: 117 pages
Availability: Cobralingus - US
Cobralingus - UK
  • Introduction by Michael Bracewell
  • Illustrated by Daniel Allington
  • Written 1998-9

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Our Assessment:

A- : interesting literary experimentation, attractively presented

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Rev. of Contemp. Fiction . Spring/2002 David Ian Paddy

  From the Reviews:
  • "There are echoes of Burroughs/Gysin's cut-up method, surrealist automatic writing, and, most prominently, the Oulipo's literature of constraint. Many of the pieces take on a visual form reminiscent of concrete poetry, which is enhanced by the inclusion of illustrations by Daniel Allington (...) In Cobralingus he's definitely created an experimental work you can dance to." - David Ian Paddy, Review of Contemporary Fiction

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Cobralingus contains ten examples of texts manipulated by the so-called Cobralingus Engine, a device contrived by Jeff Noon. It "makes use of the Metamorphiction process", using text as "signal" and passing it through FILTER GATES, transforming the text/signal. The FILTER GATES range from DRUG ("injects artificial stimulant into the language") to EXPLODE ("breaks up signal into highly disordered fragments") to PURIFY ("loses deadwood").
       It sounds fairly mechanical, and Noon presents it as such. There is an INLET and an OUTLET (read: input and output). The FILTER GATES act on the input text, transforming it in a variety of ways. Noon writes of the "specific effect" of each FILTER GATE, as though it were a precise algorithm and the text transformed according to very precise rules. In fact, the Cobralingus Engine is no such thing. The rules, beyond their most basic operation, are entirely of Noon's own choosing. By comparison the rules of Oulipo are rigid and exacting. Somewhat closer (though nowhere near as varied) is Raymond Roussel's procédé as a starting point for literary creation.
       Cobralingus is artifice, an excuse for literary play (though it does, admittedly, impose some restrictions on the texts). It is perhaps a sign of the times that the author feels the need to couch artifice in such pseudo-technical terms (though it is by no means a completely novel idea), as though doing so lends the resulting text(s) credence and weight. But, hey -- whatever works.
       Ultimately that should be the point: whatever works. And what is striking about the pieces constructed and dis-, re-, or just plain assembled in Cobralingus is that they do work. However Noon wants to present his method, the results are striking and absorbing.
       Noon begins with a variety of texts: passages from Thomas De Quincey, Shakespeare, Emily Dickinson, the King James Bible (Ecclesiastes), Michael Bracewell, and others. Each text is presented in the original, and then shown after going through each of several of the FILTER GATES. Most of the transformations wrought by the FILTER GATES -- exploding, enhancing, disordering the text -- are tried and true devices: adaptations, transformations, and reworkings of literary texts as they have also been practised by others (if not generally presented as such cobralingual output). But Noon also adds a bit more: he utilizes the idea of "sampling", trying to do what has worked so well in music with literary texts. Lists of the events of a typical Noonian day are utilized, or horseracing terms, the names of musical instruments, chemical symbols, or areas of Manchester. They are sampled and integrated into Noon's texts. It is a neat little innovation, making for some interesting effects.
       Noon has a fine ear (and eye), and his texts are uniformly successful. From the transformations he subjects his texts to -- drug-filters such as "anagramethane" and "etymol" -- to the presentation of the various outputs Noon does not stumble. In large part the fun is in the metamorphiction -- in how the texts relate to one another, and in how Noon has reshaped each successive version -- but they are also almost all accomplished texts in their own right.
       What has he wrought ? Many things. Many different things. There's not much sense in trying to describe it here: it would take up too much space, and it would be a further metamorphiction of the texts in question. Readers should see for themselves. Check out the Cobralingus website, at least.
       Noon makes the work look effortless. Like the work of a machine, in fact. And these results make the Cobralingus Engine seem an inspired machine. But it is very much Noon's work (and, one suspects, a great deal of effort went into it), and its success lies with his talents, well-employed in this unusual genre.
       There is some danger here too: in the wrong hands this could lead to the production of much nightmarishly bad stuff. Once can only hope that the concept of the Cobralingus Engine doesn't catch on in the finer Creative Writing programmes. It is not a toy.
       Note also that the volume is beautifully presented, enhancing the effect. With illustrations by Daniel Allington, a nice layout -- and in blue-grey print (photocopy proof ?) -- it is an attractive book and a pleasure to read.
       Experimental fiction of the finer sort. Worthwhile, and certainly recommended.

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Cobralingus: Reviews: Jeff Noon: Other books by Jeff Noon under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       English author Jeff Noon has published several novels, including Vurt and Needle in the Groove

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© 2001-2010 the complete review

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