Wigrum by Daniel Canty: An Excerpt

There is only one way to survive time's war: Depart, leave yourself far behind, rub yourself out of the picture. At dawn, Wigrum will no longer be there. Yet as long as objects will continue to speak in his place, he will be certain of remaining alive. 


This collection presents, in alphabetical order, [a selection of] all the objects connected to the “ordinary collector’s” work. They belong, in fact, to three distinct sets.

The Collection of the Mirror, mentioned in Joseph Stepniac’s preface, contains fourteen objects. Discovered in 1986 at 41 b Regent’s Lane, London, it is unequivocally attributed to Sebastian Wigrum.

The artefacts whose nomenclature is accompanied by a date are part of the Prague Collection. Their descriptions were perhaps written by the metaphorical or human hand of Joseph Stepniac, the first scholar of Wigrumian literature, who vainly applied himself to pastiche his style.

The other objects make up the Excerpts from Patience. This graceful title is possibly the invention of Klára (or Clara). Her name haunts this book and she is also the author of the “Blank Page” entry, found on a postcard of wintery Mount Rainier, in Washington State.

Readers who wish to consult the collection in more depth are invited to read Daniel Canty’s afterword and postcript. Those who wish to untangle the threads of fact from fiction can also rely on the Inventory of the Succession, the index arranged by Leroy Stein at the end of this volume.

- The Publishers


Wigrum: A Partial Selection from the Collection

Claus Dentures
Collection of the Mirror

The dental impression conserved by this cookie is of particular interest. The bite mark was identified in 1899 by Sam Marwinkle of the NYPD as characteristic of the wooden dentures worn in the late eighteenth century.

Three cookies were placed on a plate on the mantelpiece of the Baum domicile in Chittenango, New York, by Lyman Frank, age eight, on Christmas Eve, 1863. There are no fingerprints to substantiate the case, since the traditional glass of milk was left untouched, but one of the cookies was not of the type left by young Lyman Frank.

Twenty years later, Baum evokes the incident in a letter to Dorothea Cramberg of Wichita, Kansas:

These cookies are impossible to find in the Confederation. If Egon, the Norwegian friend I wrote you about, had not sent me a tin for the holidays, I would never have known why I wrote The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus. You will agree, I am sure, that this sign—for I consider it as such—is not devoid of character…

Fate's Armament
Collection of the Mirror

This stone was in the possession of a Baptist preacher from the town of  Peterborough, Ontario. It was lodged in the mouth of a possible  suicide, one Mr. Staunton, who was found drowned in his auto- mobile at the bottom of Minnewebake Lake.

The preacher has chosen to remain anonymous. In the winter of 1907, his wife, let us call her Mary, was hit between the shoulder blades with a snow- ball containing this stone. She and her husband had apparently stumbled into a kids’ battlefield.

Shortly thereafter, Mary abandoned the manners that had made her an icon of virtue. Some of the town’s citizens—particularly the men—called her a saint or a witch.

Whether or not he is responsible for Mary’s shocking personality shift, the person guilty of launching this stone has yet to be identified.

October Tape
Collection of the Mirror

This measuring tape was given to Miss Zeno, child prodigy, on her fifth birthday.

Clara Zeno astounded England and Europe in the 1930s with her uncanny measuring ability; with a simple glance she could determine the exact dimensions of any object according to the metric or imperial systems.

When putting her gift to work, Clara would in- tently examine the objects, clutching the rolled-up measuring tape in her right fist.

Mrs. Herménégilde Zeno, a French woman who had crossed the Channel to marry the sea exporter Joseph Zeno, tells how her young daughter would routinely go to the seashore in her native Brighton carrying her measuring tape and come back with a gibberish of measurements chalked up on her slate. Upon her return, she would proudly show her mother her “results,” always maintaining that she was “getting close to a solution.”

Clara disappeared on October 29, 194 4, during a family trip to Land’s End. The tour across Europe had exhausted her and this generally taciturn child had been diagnosed by Dr. Aloysius Tattertale as severely “splenetic.” He had prescribed a trip of rest and relaxation.

The measuring tape was found by Clara’s mother on the beach near their hotel. Until high tide, this message could be read scrawled into the sand, measuring the exact length of the tape, outstretched beneath it as though to underline its significance: “I vanish from the coast of Britain and light out for the October Country.”

Poisoned Spinning Top, 1959
Prague Collection

This top is dangerous. Its gyratory movements augment the effects of a powerful hallucinogen concocted from the muglorian blossom, used by some dying junkies in Tangier in the 1950s.

The effect of the muglorian drug is particular because, to borrow the lingo of this illicit milieu, it starts on a down to end on a high. In this, it is similar to a vaccine or an antivirus. According to some former users, its injection enables them to traverse “The Expanse of the Great Sickness.”

The addict lies on the floor, gives the top a spin at eye level, then injects a hit. Wilhelm Broch, an expatriate who advocated its use with the slogan “Young Boys Need It Special,” said that “its spiral leads out of this world, hooked into the pupil’s depths.” A general muscular relaxation follows, combined with an extreme nervous tension, where the addict expels all bodily fluids through diarrhea, vomiting and ejaculation. During the process, the addict has the sensation their body is being constellated by gelatinous tumours and gradually becomes transparent.

The subject’s identity seems to eventually separate and transfer to the pool of secretions around them, as though constituting a discrete entity. Something then comes loose in their consciousness and the subject begins a strange dialogue with all their internal organs, babbling disjointed phrases, entangling verb tenses and inverting sense. The particular rhythm of these phrases lends them a certain lyrical cohesion. This rhythmic dyslexia is accompanied by a feeling of temporal dislocation, in which the language seems a kind of “machine for folding time.”

The addict sees, in the pool of their fluids, the contours of another world, and the trip ends in a parallel reality, where the invariant properties of time and space have been turned from their course. Feet planted on the edge of the world, swollen with language, the subject, inhabited by an indescribable feeling of plenitude, witnesses certain primordial scenes. The addicts describe transparent beings, huge apes and gnome-like workers in overalls bustling beneath the spiralling sparkle of stars. These accounts are similar to the results of sensory deprivation experiments. At this crossroads of worlds, subjects say they “touch the exact idea of the soul at last.” Then a serpent springs from the void, jaws agape, tongue spiralling, and they let themselves be snatched out of “this spaceless space.”

Wilhelm Broch, guru of the spinning top, had inscribed on the toy’s packaging: “There are subtler bites than those that pierce the flesh. Their invisible poison sinks into us and already we travel out of ourselves and out of the world. It is never too late to know that we are not from here. One day, thanks to you, humanity will wake from the Great Sickness.”

Suicide Pens
Collection of the Mirror

In his New Arabian Nights, Robert Louis Stevenson describes the activities of a London-based suicide club, whose jaded members seal suicide pacts ac- cording to the whims of a game of chance.

Recent evidence proves the existence of this “suicide club.” A sheaf of exhaustive minutes from their meetings, describing dozens of sordid suicide plans, was unearthed by Scotland Yard’s agents in an  abandoned building overlooking the Thames in front of their offices. These documents were instrumental in solving several unexplained deaths amongst London’s elite.

Used pen nibs were found with the documents; the razor blade a reminder that the last page was signed in blood.

The club’s members seem to have terminated their activities in the early 1920s.

Unpoppable Bubble
Excerpts from Patience

A bubble is a surface curved around a void, distended with the least resistance. This bubble is particular as, until proven otherwise, it is unpoppable. While it hasn't yet been tested by a direct pinprick, its perfectly balanced elasticity resists a pin’s touch.

Its origin goes back to Archimedes’s “Eureka!” which brought him out of his bath with his finger enthusiastically raised. Archimedes, carried away by his discovery of the principle of buoyancy, didn't notice the bubble’s durability. It is thanks to the Pythagoreans that it has come down to us. Informed by a servant, who was a member of their cult, of the unpoppable bubble’s existence in the master’s bathroom, they stole it. They regarded it as a violation of the natural law, the perfect geometry that made up ideal thought, whose image they strove to preserve on earth.

The bubble likely passed down from generation to generation, like a Grail, in the hands of various closed orders. In the seventeenth century, it reappeared in one of the bathrooms of King Leopold of Prague, who amused himself by bouncing it between his fingers, reflecting out loud: “Nature is indolent, yet it is constantly renewing its efforts. Science stands on the tip of a pin. The house of knowledge is challenged by a bubble’s integrity.”1 It was pilfered from the pedestal where he used to set it after his baths, and returned, like waste water, to the subterranean sewers.

The signal of this bubble, approximately two centimetres in diameter with a bronze complexion of ancient marrow soap, circulated amongst the most passionate followers of bubble baths. Many are those who go for a quick dip with amplified alertness, in fear of inadvertently breaking this perfect bubble, their hope for a new revelation.

1 Příroda je líná, ale znovu a znovu obnovuje své úsilí. Věda visí na hlavičce hřebíku. Konstrukce vědění stojí na bezúhonnosti bubliny.


Translated from the French by Oana Avasilichioaei 
Originally published in French by Le Peuplade, published in English by Talonbooks

Daniel Canty is a Montreal-based writer and film director who works in literature, film, theatre and design, and new media. Canty collaborated with the pioneering multimedia studio DNAMedia, in Vancouver, and directed the inaugural issues of Horizon Zero, the Banff New Media Institute’s web space on the digital arts in Canada.
Canty’s first book, Êtres Artificiels (Liber, 1997), is a history of automata in American literature. From 2002 to 2005, Canty co-directed the poetry magazine C’est Selon. He has devised three award-winning collaborative books: Cité selon (2006), on the city; La Table des Matières (2007), on eating; and Le Livre de Chevet (2009), on sleeping. He has also translated books of poetry by Stephanie Bolster, Erin Moure, Charles Simic, and Michael Ondaatje.
Canty has directed several short films. His latest, Longuay (2012), melds the gaze of an ancient French abbey with that of a tablet computer, while Cinema for the Blind (2010) lets the audience slip into oneiric depths behind the cinema screen. Canty also conceives poetic interfaces for the Web and live interaction; he built Bruire (2013), an architectural poetry-reciting machine, and wrote the libretto for Operator (2012), an alphanumeric automata by Mikko Hynninen presented at Lux Helsinki.

Copyright 2011 by Daniel Canty and Le Peuplade
Translation copyright 2013 by Oana Avasilichioaei
Drawings copyright 2011 by Estela López Solis