The Black Merkin

New Society of DilettantiNorman James HoggLaura Edbrook


Book, 17.5 x 10.8 cm, 266 p, language: English, publisher: New Society of Dilettanti in collaboration with Collective, Edinburgh and AND Publishing, London, ISBN: 9781873653135.
Materials: Ink, paper

Collection: Collection M HKA, Antwerp (Inv. no. B 2026/331).

Literary synopsis

The Black Merkin is a ‘broken’ novel authored by 170 writers; the unrestrained swarm of authorial impulsions hollows out narrative structure and coherence.

Relation of the novel to the artist’s practice

Bad Romance was a crowd-sourced project managed by Laura Edbrook and Norman James Hogg under the transitory moniker New Society of Dilettanti. Edbrook and Hogg initiated the project during their writing commission for the 2010 New Work Scotland Programme at the Collective gallery in Edinburgh. The idea was to write an entire romance novel using a ‘tribal’ model of authorship. The project began by randomly selecting one e-book from a downloaded bit-torrent of over 100 romance titles. This ‘template’ was then split into 170 sections of around 300 words each. An advert appeared in the NWSP newspaper, offering individuals the chance to ‘become a tribal author’ by participating in a mass reconstruction of the novel. Participants rewrote sections in the manner and style of their choosing. They received only a few basic instructions, including a request to leave all character and place names intact. Over the course of nine months, the society managed the sending, receiving and editing of texts entirely through Google docs, until the last section was returned in July 2011. At this point, all character and place names were overwritten with new names using the ‘find and replace’ function. The result is The Black Merkin—a ‘new’ novel bearing little if any resemblance to the donor text.

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