Alternate Titles Revealed
By Wally Bubelis
A scrap of paper blowing in the wind three years ago in the Manhattan breeze was caught by South American auteur/impresario Icaro Canto, who hailed it as a major, if tragic, literary discovery. Although he gauged the wind speed and direction to locate this sheet somewhere close to the World Trade Center towers, the source of this paper, a sheet of cheap blue-lined newsprint measuring 8 1/2” by 14”, remains a mystery.
Canto announced his discovery before a full house at Carnegie Hall, showing close-up scans of the letters forming this paper. The carefully written script was simple, if inelegant, and showed its author (female, he posited) to be a deliberate, considerate thinker. The anonymous author had written a simple proposition entirely on this page, and had given Canto some clues as to its possible meaning, although he did not reveal the entire paper to the audience until he had drawn some conclusions.
“What we have here is a sheet of paper with every possible literature in any Western language written upon it. The entropy of the moment of destruction is revealed to be the source of an infinite number of stories. We begin with the titles.”
Canto’s discovery leads him to argue that a number of authors, working usually with single-letter titles, considered other titles to their works. Signs point to the likelihood that Andy Warhol’s short novel A was going to be titled Z, for instance, before Warhol realized it would be read much less, being shelved far and low in any library collection. John Updike’s novel S had the working titles of Q, D, and Z (giving Roland Barthes S/Z a real deconstructionist challenge). William Gaddis toyed with EZ and OI before settling on JR. Agatha Christie didn’t try to finesse too much; she thought M or N? made more sense than N or M? until her editor convinced her otherwise. John Dos Passos tried NYC and BBQ before settling on USA.
Even James Joyce gets in on the act. His famous pun in Ulysses, “AEIOU,” is seen here in its entirety (although with some other letters interspersed), and shows that he actually considered throwing in the Y, although he had trouble relating that semivowel to the source of the joke, the poet AE.
Canto’s arguments were tenuous at times, and his lecture was a bit strained until he revealed that Thomas Pynchon’s novel V. may have begun as a short story with the working title of X, W, Y, or possibly J.
“When one considers how the meaning of certain works is dependent to some degree on the title of the work, one sees how the meaning shifts greatly the moment that title is even considered to be something else. The V of Pynchon, an emblem of convergence and divergence, of womanhood and entropy, is strange to us when we consider that Pynchon might have called the work J. When I see a J, I see a fishhook, and I start wondering why there are no scenes with fish in them, or how the author is hooking my attention into his story.”
Canto returns to his theme: “Entropy, here revealed, unfolded, even exploded, gives rise to the possibility of all these stories. What was solid and real is thrown up into the air, and every letter that returns to earth is in a new place, only waiting for an author to come along and set it down next to another letter, and another, until we have a story. We have only examined the titles of works here, but given enough time, we could reconstruct all of Western literature out of this one sheet.”
It was at this point that he revealed the sheet in its entirety, an alphabet carefully written by a child at school.
(Entry by Wally Bubelis)