Mark Laliberte’s brickbrickbrick (Toronto: Bookthug, 2010. ISBN: 978-1-897388-57-0) is a meditation of how the details explain the whole. Studiously expanding how dozens of comic book artists (from Frank Miller to Charles Schultz; from Charles Burns to Martin Vaughn-James) represent bricks, brickbrickbrick revels in the details by looking beyond the dominant narratives of comic books into the ubiquitous cityscapes. brickbrickbrick deftly uses comics to create a metaphor for writing, entreating that readers explore how idiosyncratic writers build their environments one word at a time, brick by brick. Laliberte’s volume is a metaphor for contemporary avant-garde practice as it moves the centre of attention from narrative and its hallmarks (character, dialogue, plot) and, in a form reminiscent of Alain Robbe-Grillet’s nouveau roman, focuses instead on setting. Robbe-Grillet argues in his “A Future for the Novel” (1956) that
[…] words are neither significant nor experimental. They are, quite simply. That, in any case, is the most remarkable thing about them. And suddenly the obviousness of this strikes us with irresistible force. All at once the whole splendid construction collapses; opening our eyes unexpectedly, we have experienced, once too often, the shock of this stubborn reality we were pretending to have mastered. Around us, words are there. Their surfaces are distinct and smooth, intact, neither suspiciously brilliant nor transparent. All our literature has not yet succeeded in eroding their smallest corner, in flattening their slightest curve.
This conflation of words and surfaces is what drives brickbrickbrick and visual poetry as a whole. By focusing on the surfaces in any given frame, Laliberte moves the lens of our reading from the narrative to the smooth, intact (though not particularly brilliant nor transparent) surfaces that are an author’s stylistic quirks. Published in a beautifully designed 3-colour volume, brickbrickbrick is a thoughtfully humourous exploration of how writers struggle with their own linguistic bricks.