In 1968, British writer B.S. Johnson (above) published a novel called The Unfortunates, with chapters of the story inserted at random in a removable wrapper inside a box. Printed on the wrapper was an author's note:

"Apart from the first and last sections (which are marked as such) the other twenty-five sections are intended to be read in random order. If readers prefer not to accept the random order in which they receive the novel, then they may re-arrange the sections into any other random order before reading."

In between those labelled First and Last, the chapters were each numbered uniquely starting with 1. In the new editions, each chapter has a unique symbol

The Unfortunates is about a sportswriter on assignment in a small town who encounters ghosts from his past including his best friends and a young cancer victim.

Johnson called the book "an attempt to convey the chaotic nature of memory".

Johnson also published a novel called Albert Angelo, about a substitute teacher who aspires to be an architect and is haunted by a failed romantic relationship. On pages 149-152 of the book, a rectangular hole is cut into the bottom so readers could see future events: 

The book ends with a meta-fiction cry of disgust: "Oh, fuck all this LYING!"

"The two terms 'novel' and 'fiction' are not synonymous," Johnson wrote in 1966. "The novel is a form in the same sense that the sonnet is a form; within that form, one may write truth or fiction. I choose to write truth in the form of a novel."

Johnson began his writing career as poet. But his poems were not, as you might guess, conventional.

I'm fond of women
But I like my salad

Johnson "explicitly rejects traditional approaches on the entirely characteristic grounds that it is ‘dishonest’". It's this passionate honesty he is remembered for today. His work is enjoying a significant revival in academia and Picador has re-issued The Unfortunates.

Quoting Samuel Beckett, Johnson explained his beliefs this way:

"What I am saying does not mean that there will henceforth be no form in art. It only means that there will be new form, and that this form will be of such a type that it admits the chaos, and does not try to say that the chaos is really something else. The forms and the chaos remain separate. . . to find a form that accommodates the mess, that is the task of the artist now."  

Above is a set of pages from his novel House Mother Normal which show his experiments with spacing and typography.

A Few Selected Sentences by Johnson appears in many anthologies of British literature. It is "a sequence of heterogeneous fragments", the shortest one simply saying "Life" and the last line pointing out that "Someone has to keep the records".

This text by B.S. Johnson reminds me of a Rothko painting. One's impulse is to try to understand what it is about.

But it cannot be interpreted or explained in any satisfying way. It just is.

The text resists our efforts to uncover meaning. 

Susan Sontag celebrated this effect, saying it teaches us to just to appreciate art for its inherent value instead of analyzing or deconstructing it. We learn to take pleasure in art instead of being concerned only with what it means.

"Fat Man on a Beach", Johnson's short film, is available on YouTube in 5 parts. 

Johnson committed suicide by slitting his wrists in the bathtub in 1973, the same year "A Few Selected Sentences" was published. He was 39.