Circumtext is a literary event where participants share texts that they did not write.
Texts that are found, sought, collected, curated, transcribed, translated, or otherwise transformed, arranged, generated, or produced by some process of constraint, search, crawling/scraping, aggregation, filtering, or hand-picking, from sources high and low and far and wide, especially those not already recognized for their “literary” qualities, texts that are removed from their original context or put into new ones, taken apart and put back together, into pieces that are fit for the page or screen or for other adaptation but also ultimately meant to be read aloud or otherwise shared in groups of people, including:
• one-of-a-kind library finds
• obscure dictionaries and specialized reference works
• signage and advertising copy
• instruction manuals, fine print, and legalese
• email spam, classifieds listings, and internet commentary
• vintage correspondence, historical ephemera, and de-classified documents
• marginalia, latrinalia, glossolalia, and other linguistic paraphernalia
• transcripts, translations, and other transformations
The name “circumtext” comes from the Latin prefix ‘circum’, meaning “around” or “about”, and the root ‘text’. A similar construction is used in the English words context, subtext, paratext, hypertext, et cetera. The name is also patterned after Seattle’s Subtext Collective, one of whose members (Nico Vassilakis) we talked with at various bars in Georgetown – and asked permission to use the name – when we were starting our group. We wanted to wrap all of the other “-text” prefixes into one, and to suggest that texts worthy of our consideration arise from many different cultural (and non-cultural) sources – high and low and everything in between, and that these texts can be approached from many different angles – above, below, and all around. Hence circum-text. The name also gave us a word for some of our common writing practices and reading preferences, which might be called “circumtextual”.