Phineus is a work by poet D. Kaufman, a Jean-Jacques Rousseau fellow at Akademie Schloss Solitude, Stuttgart. The work amalgamates multiple renditions of the Phineus character from The Argonauts of Greek mythology. It is comprised of repetitive études in a fugue of various literary styles of the same story. The first part of D. Kaufman’s ongoing work, whose essay excerpt is presented here, was published in Vienna at an exhibition curated by Marian Kaiser.

Pier Paolo Perilli, Phineus

Etymological fallacy occurs when one confers a meaning to a word that is derived from its linguistic history, rather than from its semantic identity.

I am a fool for etymological fallacies.

Take for instance the word rendition. As Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary tells me, it entered the English language from Middle French and traces back to the Latin reddre, which means “to return.” The word rendition, the same dictionary tells me, has several meanings as well, most prominently of those are surrender, translation, and interpretation.

This work, titled Phineus, is made from different renditions, and like that etymological fallacy it has much to do with returning (reddre) as it does with surrendering, translating, and interpreting.

Consider the narrative arc in the abstract, whatever its premise and dénouement. Broadly speaking, we linearly pursue a dramatic unfolding of events. Though literary linearity, as expressed by the causal, temporal restrictions of time’s arrow may not be written as such (for instance, Homer only tells us of Odysseus’ raid of Cicones after narrating his Phaeacian escapades, disregarding event chronology.) Hence, one can infer that the nucleus of a story is not necessarily dependent upon the textual sequence of its words as they appear in line on a page.

Taking this inference to its logical conclusion, we may completely forego the assumption that a dramatic acts require a single narration in successive order to tell a tale. This is as there is nothing preventing us from telling the same story over and over again, but instead of progressing its plot, we progress its literary written form, as if swapping space with time. Phineus does just that. It amalgamates multiple renditions of the Phineus character from The Argonauts of Greek mythology. It is made out of repetitive études in a fugue of various literary techniques of the same story. It constantly returns to the same story and tells it through different themes. It surrenders entirely to a substantive interpretation of the plot rather than to a procedural one.

The conventional dimensions constructed by a series of descriptive compositions of fictional phenomena are hence told through multiple renditions, such as a soliloquy; first-, second-, or third-person narrative mode; syncope; ode; sonnet; polyphony; criticism; and so on.

Phineus, though, has precedents. Most notably Raymond Queneau and Oulipo’s work Exercices de style, first published in 1947, which is a collection of ninety-nine retellings of the same story told in different styles, itself recalling the thirty-third chapter of Erasmus’ De Utraque Verborum ac Rerum Copia, first published in 1512, which demonstrates rhetorics through one hundred and ninety-five variations of the same sentence. Similarly, Phineus, tells the same story in many renditions, but it extends the aforementioned previous works to more than mere rhetorical or mathematical exercises. It does so by exploring larger thematic schemes through elaborate retellings of Phineus’ conceit as it is told in the various versions of The Argonauts. It’s not only different structures put upon the same story, but abstract expressions or complex plot forms that add one frame of reference after another as plot progression. It’s both literature and an examination of literature through literature.

The choice of Phineus, as he appears in different versions of The Argonauts gathered from the different authors of its surrounding Greek mythology, is not arbitrary. A rudimentary account of Phineus’ story is of a king turned blind prophet through some mortal act followed by godly interference. The details of his tale have specific relevancy to this work. To add, the variations of Phineus’ story differ, whether told by Hesiod, Apollonios, et al., which makes for yet another Phineus plot device. We learn the (possibly endless) details that make for the story through repeated examination rather than a single ordered log of fictional minutia.

The few variations here included are: Second, a second-person narration mode; Molly Bloom, the tale as Molly Bloom tells it in the final soliloquy in James Joyce’s Ulysses; Metafiction, a metafictional retelling of the story; Jabberwocky, in the nonsensical gibberish made sense from as it does in Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There; Prufrock, inspired by the Modernist poetic form of T.S. Eliot’s The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock; Verbal Analogies, the isomorphic symmetry seeking linguistic puzzle; Review, as a literary and comparative review of the book; and finally Villanelle, as the poetic structure of a Villanelle.