The Book of Jokes

Momus (Nick Currie)


Book, 20.3 cm x 13.9 cm, 189 p, language: English, publisher: Champaign, IL/London: Dalkey Archive Press, ISBN: 9781564785619.
Materials: ink, paper

Collection: Collection M HKA, Antwerp (Inv. no. B 2025/632).

Literary synopsis

The novel is a phantasmagorical ride through dirty jokes that, in Momus' twisted alternate reality, dictate the lives of a very unfortunate family. It's all here: bestiality, incest, rape, murder and combinations thereof, as if related in the locker room of a junior high. There is no clear narrative structure; the action meanders through anecdotes told by the narrator—sometimes a young boy, and sometimes his hugely endowed father—who lives in a glass house and is sometimes imprisoned with a pair known only as the Murderer and the Molester.

Relation of the novel to the artist’s practice

Momu’s work is concerned with making up, telling and re-telling stories. His work is "postproduction" in Nicolas Bourriaud's sense; it remakes existing narratives –in this case, jokes. He is “drawn to short forms”. Failed Comedy was first proposed for the Performa Biennale in New York in 2007, where -- appropriately enough -- it failed to be selected. The idea is simple: Momus appears as a stand-up comedian whose jokes fail; he "dies on stage", as comedians put it. An empty space (the white cube of the gallery or the museum) is filled with words, sounds and actions which still bear the marks of their invention. Hesitant, half-formed and clumsy, these utterances are the beginnings of something, but in their present shape are also "failed forms", vulnerable because they aren't yet possessed of the confidence of the streamlined and persuasive phrases that fly about in the professional media. It is precisely in this renunciation of effectiveness, however, that they might stake their claim to originality, for it is in broken, eccentric, puzzling or failed forms that new ideas can best take shape. Paradoxically, however, the failure itself fails, for this estrangement is precisely what a traditional art performance requires, just as a traditional comedy performance needs familiarity. And even as comedy the failure is likely to fail; as in Mel Brooks' The Producers, some of the intended non-jokes may well turn out to be funny after all.

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