Cyber Corpse 2
Exquisite Corpse - A Journal of Letters and Life
issue 2 home || ec chair || critical urgencies || burning bush || ficciones
stage and screen
secret agents || letters || portfolio

Skeuromorph Detective: A Serial
by Julian Semilian

Part One!

A few years ago a very good friend of mine who is not only a famous writer but a great one too, passed on to me, in an act of conspiratorial cultural demimonde dissemination, the very latest word coined in the English language as spoken in the United States. I was very proud. I admire my friend, and this act of bequeathment meant that I was included among the 'keepers of the flame', members of an underground hipster cultural disinherited gentry, whose power of understanding, vision, and lack of apparent status both in society at large and the academic community, insured the continuance of the esoteric hipster sine qua non.

If I remember correctly, and I'm not sure I do, my friend confided that he had received this term and its meaning from the horse's mouth itself, well almost: the acquaintance who had passed this information on to him was some sort of a cultural scientist (a what?) who had inherited the transmission of the term from the very individual who coined it. The term was so new, I was told, that it wasn't even included in the dictionary yet. That was proof enough for me that not only was my friend very high up on the ladder of this underground cultural hierarchy, but me too, like Dante after Virgil, tagged along to the privileged position at the very hub of the two way traffic between heaven and hell, where the underside of academia grazes on the trends of the cultural demimonde which in turn straw-sucks on the latest rages culled from the cream of the state-of-the-art advances in street life styles not yet filched by the long arm of advertising.

In short, it was proof for me that I had arrived.

This is how my friend explained to me the meaning of 'skeuromorph'. We were driving on Los Angeles's Interstate 10 going east, it was rush hour, we were stuck in traffic, so his example was appropriate. Take, he said, a bumper sticker with a simulated embroidered border, like grandma might stitch on a knitted kitchen adornment bearing such proclamations as "A house is built by hands, a home by hearts". Now, once you simulate that in print and glue it on, let's say, a bumper sticker, so as to invite positive emotional participation into that older world by stimulating (simulating?) the impression of the bygone era, then you have a skeuromorph.

The concept itself attracted me mildly and I casually asked my friend to write it down for me as the pronunciation did not readily reveal the order of the letters on the page. My friend quickly scribbled: 'Julian Semilian, Skeuromorph Detective' on a leaf of his pocket notebook, detached the tiny lined paper square neatly along the perforation and handed it to me. I thanked him, shoved the sheet into my coat pocket and promptly forgot about it. So much for my dreams of underground glory.

About three or four months later I awoke from a forest of feverish dreams with the words 'Skeuromorph Detective' ambling through my benumbed morning brain. I rushed to find the appropriate jacket and lunged inside the pocket I recalled having unconsciously thrust my friend's injunction into. It wasn't there. I searched all other pockets of same said coat, but my snooping brought no results. Could it be that I only imagined this incident? Or dreamed it? I phoned my friend. He recalled skeuromorph vaguely, but remembered nothing of putting the words 'Skeuromorph Detective' down for me. His new novel was due to the publishers in a few days and he was nowhere near the end, this was his third extension, he was closely watched by the mob to boot. I took the hint and hung up. You don't piss off your famous friends with personal trivia.


In the next few months I surprised myself with the attention I paid to means of transportation and with the socio- historico-philosophical bend of my observations. Shoes, in the last fifteen years had become more and more bulky. Trendy sections of the population who would never before be seen in bulky shoes now sport the combat boot like a delicacy. I recalled that around 1984 or so one of my best friends, a Jewish Hungarian painter, who had survived WW II, complained to me that his girlfriend, who was 21, Italian and a model, had stepped right off the runway and into their date wearing a tight black mini dress, which he liked, black stockings, which he adored, and... to his horror, combat boots. It's the latest rage, she announced. It's the beginning of the end, he proclaimed, who as a child had witnessed the boots of Nazi storm troopers goose-stepping down main street of his small Hungarian home town.

I didn't pay much attention to his bitch (as in 'complaint'). At the time I was too busy being envious: how could an old fart of fifty get a gorgeous young model of 21 to date him, more, to live with him and even support him when his paintings didn't sell, which was often?

Cars, too, had changed. Similar trendy sections of the population, who would normally whoosh down the Sunset Strip in the sleek Italian speedster or purr along Wilshire Boulevard in the German luxury model, are booming down Rodeo Drive in army jeeps. Designer army jeeps, to be sure, but army jeeps, nonetheless.

Philosophical bend in hand, I reasoned the reason for this is clear: our cities had become a combat zones. It was a kind of karmic payback for Vietnam and other various invasions. The jungles we blasted with agent orange had now invaded our veins and spilled out into the venation of our cities. The thousands of tons of explosives we detonated in Iraq have returned in scary mirrorings to haunt us in New York City or Oklahoma. And since we live in a combat zone, being the trendy brutes we are, we must dress up for the occasion, non? So, we have Versace (well, sort of) to design our combat costumes, Arnold and Sly to alternately teach us how to talk and gesticulate while wrapped up in them, sweat shops in Southeast Asia to stitch them up. We rocket in our Stealth bombers to the Middle East to insure the traffic of oil to power our Hummers and their humbler resonance, the SUV's, and the dumb show goes on.

So, here I was in the midst of rattling my philosophical bend, when one day, while searching for some lost object or another, out spills a bricollage of randomly abandoned pocket treasures: pieces of poems, lines that seemed great at the time, rubber bands I had planned to snap at friends but didn't, telephone numbers of people I will never call, reminders to do things I will forget to do anyway, and... surprise: a folded 8 1/2 by 11 1/2 page from whose middle glared at me a photocopy of the minute square of paper my friend had scrawled the words which are the raison d'être of this dissertation.

Had I left the original at Kinko's? The original I wished to protect by making this copy? Was it now drossy dust in the pocket of a shirt I washed? No matter how hard I tried to recall where I might have left it, it was lost, both to touch and to memory.

I now recalled vaguely having made the photocopy which I had wished to file away in a filing system I had planned to put into effect. And then... mon dieu! It dawns on me! I am a skeuromorph detective! A skeuromorph is, I recalled my friend cogitating, something acting like something else. Something acting like something it wants to imitate. Thus, we have skeuromorphed ourselves into images of real soldiers, two- dimensional in the drag of three-dimensional, icon in the con of I, virtual cross-dressing as real. We ourselves have become skeuromorphs of real people; what's missing is the real people. Proud of myself for having spied the morphology of this skeuromorphic metamorphosis, I silently thanked my friend for his prophetic illumination: simply by scribbling 'skeuromorph detective', he caused me to turn into one. Ah, poets! You are truly the ones who will outlive your skeuromorphs!


I took it upon myself to live up to the dictates of my new moniker. I meant to do my friend proud. Like a true detective, I slipped on the gumshoes of my new mission and went a-snooping in search of origins. There was something Greek sounding in 'skeuro' and I wanted to know what it was. I opened up the pages of the Compact Oxford English Dictionary, and with my detective's 8x spyglass spectacles I plunged into its minuscule print. I will not dwell here on the adversities I encountered in my encyclopedic odyssey. The hero - and what is a detective but a hero? - in his modesty, never complains. Suffice it to say I emerged from my snooping with a headache from attempting to make out the microscopic scratchings. And found zero under 'skeuro'. However, since my sad gumshoes were clumsily trotting in that bad neighborhood, my distended pupils, so dilated that the vitreous humors were nearly leaking on the humorless paper trotoirs, spied the following word: skeuomorph. No 'r' between the 'u' and the 'o'. From the Greek 'skeuos', meaning 'vessel' and 'morph', meaning 'form' First spied in the English language in 1889. And among its meanings: "An object or feature copying the design of a similar artifact in another material", and "so called skeuomorphs in architecture that involve conversion of originally necessary features into purely decorative patterns."

Is 'skeuromorph' a skeuomorph of 'skeuomorph'. You figure it out.

(to be continued)

Exquisite Corpse Mailing List Subscribe Unsubscribe
issue 2 home || ec chair || critical urgencies || burning bush || ficciones
stage and screen
secret agents || letters || portfolio
home || search || submit || archives || mall || cafe || our gang || hot sites

©1999-2002 Exquisite Corpse - If you experience difficulties with this site, please contact the webmistress.