Posts Tagged ‘Immanence’
First off I want to emphasise the tentative nature of the post below (and come to think of it, of everything I put up here in fact). Just me audibly struggling with the material really.
Ever since Vanessa Place and Rob Fitterman’s cute little, yet expansive (dubbed as such by Karla Kelsey), manifesto style book Notes on Conceptualisms came out last year people have been making much, or trying to make something of the statement made therein that Conceptualism is allegorical. How so? people asked. What does allegorical mean in relation to Conceptual Writing? Recently Vanessa Place, invited by Steve McCaffery, gave a talk, perhaps to clarify some of the confusion. And her language is indeed very lucid, as well as being suggestive, which for me sometimes creates a beautiful and/yet uncanny or haunting quality. A few days ago I received this lecture in the mail in the form of a handsome chapbook titled The Allegory and the Archive (published by derek beaulieu’s No Press). Like Notes on Conceptualisms this pamflet is feather light, beautifully bound with red string, but not a word is wasted and although hard work, I also found it a pleasure to read.
Although there is much more to say about the booklet in general I want to focus on how Vanessa Place’s use of allegory is a pointing to, but not a talking about: a decision, a bearing witness, but not a representation. In other words, how Conceptual Writing as allegorical writing rejects representation of in favour of presentation for or alongside the Real.
Place starts off by briefly sketching a history of various understandings of allegory: that of extended metaphor, a text with a literal and symbolic meaning. She then names Walter Benjamin as a turning point in the modern understanding of allegory; equating this through Baudelaire, with the inner life. Benjamin writes about Baudelaire that he, “always concentrates on the inner life, as Dante focused on dogma.” Michael Jennings in an anthology about Benjamin writes that for Baudelaire allegory was his “weapon of preference [against the] ‘harmonious façade of the world’ that surrounded him. This ability to unmask the given order, with its illusion of totality and organic wholeness, is the progressive tendency of allegory.” (in ‘On the Banks of a New Lethe’, in Benjamin Now: Critical Encounters with the Arcades Project, p. 101)
So in place of Dante where the internal/external divide concerns the whole text; the modern allegory is internalized. The internal/external dichotomy is located between the ostensible inner world of a despairing psyche and the supposed outer world. Conceptualism, however, does not accept an internal/external divide between psyche and world. “Rather, there is a recognition of the truth of the soup in which the individuated we and you stew.” Instead of the transcendence of the aforementioned divide, there is only immanence, only the soup of which, although individuated, we are still a part.
I would like to make a distinction between representational allegory and allegory of the Real. The former would be any story that allegorizes abstract universals (in the way that one individual represents the abstract universal Every(wo?)man in the famous medieval (15th c.) tale Everyman), or moral laws, common sense, and good/evil; the delicate balance (for example, the Narnia tales). Conceptualism on the other hand, can be seen as allegorizing specific effects of the Real. Not free-floating abstract ideas or notions right or wrong; but rather effects of language or the subject that are present in a text as lack or excess. These are, for example, effects of uncontainability, unreadability, and material fabrication that express themselves by forcing themselves through the Conceptual text (Place mentions Kenneth Goldsmith’s unreadable Day (for one it consists of 40% stock quotes), or Craig Dworkin’s Parse whose very constitutive procedure simultaneously eats away at the text from within).
Thus, when Place writes that Conceptualism “is concerned with the way that the surface excess of text mirrors the excess of the remainder”, I take this to mean that 1. there is an excess of the immaterial (the irrelevant and the unreadable) which pushes through a given text and 2. that Conceptualism bears witness to this remainder (points to it by way of allegory). “All that poetry is is witness… on a paradigmatic basis.” And the one who witnesses Place calls the “sobject”, to indicate the rejection of the old internal/external divide in favour of immanence. The sobject stands in immanent connection to the outside; is “the one who witnesses some thing it is witnessed by.”
Although I am still not clear on the added value of the coinage “sobject”. If the reason is to get away from a closed-circuit correlation between subject-object, then why not simply think of the subject as an object (albeit it a complex one, with self-awareness) in relation to other objects (and to the “thing it is witnessed by”). Part of what I think Place (and Fitterman (co-author of Notes on Conceptualisms)) are getting at with the concept of “sobject” is an inclusion of the (lyrical-)subject in the event of the poem’s emergence from the Real; or conversely, the rejection of the lyrical subject as discretely/autonomously present somewhere outside of the poem (which is part of the Real); without however, denying a role for the subject (of which there will always be a trace: Think of the interference of Kenneth Goldsmith’s subject position in his works: the typo’s in Day, the impossibility of an objective notation in Fidget; the incorporation of inebriation in Soliloquy. And likewise, in Vanessa Place’s own impure Conceptualism, where the language with effects of baroque/excess is her own).
For all of these reasons I think that philosophies of immanence provide good frameworks for understanding the significance of Conceptualism. Conceptualist writers, “witnesses on a paradigmatic basis” might be seen as clinicians of society (Deleuze), or subjects to an event of truth that emerges through poems, or bodies of work (Badiou). But one philosophy I think fits particularly well with the way Place presents allegory is the non-philosophy of Francois Laruelle. The “non-” is meant not as a negation of philosophy but as a suspension of some of its axioms. One claim Laruelle makes is that all philosophy creates a distance from the Real by talking about it. Even Deleuze’s plane of immanence, according to Laruelle, is already a distancing from the immanence in which it (the plane) must necessarily be contained. Likewise Badiou’s multiplicity too, is already posited. Instead Laruelle proposes a One that underlies everything and of which everything is an expression. Everything including all thought, all philosophy. This One is immediately reminiscent of Neo-Platonism, but Laruelle’s is not of course, a unified One that is transcendent to its expressions; it is what Laruelle calls radical immanence, about which nothing can be said. Therefore instead of making claims directly about the Real, Laruelle’s non-philosophy consists of learning indirectly, by treating works of philosophy themselves as effects of the Real. In the same way that Conceptualism undercuts the lyrical subject by way of the concept, Ray Brassier speaks of an alien subject of Non-philosophy, someone who only points toward, writes alongside, instead of about the Real.
As Nick Srnicek writes in an essay about Laruelle, “The question is not ‘what is the One and how does it operate?’, but rather ‘with philosophy being an object determined by the One, what can be done with it?”. Here echoes sound through of Christian Böks ‘pataphysics (the science of the possible), and more literally of Craig Dworkin’s question: “So that the test of poetry were no longer whether it could have been done better… but whether it could conceivably have been done otherwise.”
Non-philosophy as allegorical philosophy? Conceptual poetry as non-conceptual poetry?
The other day I listened to a lecture by [...] (afraid I can’t recall his name, or find the lecture now, although it’s online somewhere …) about lyricism in Walt Whitman. At one point the lecturer names Baudelaire and Whitman as the two poets who defined the modern(ist) era of poetry in the way that they wrote (about) openness. If I remember correctly he claims in this lecture that Baudelaire wrote a radically new openness of the body (in the sense of the sublime/abjection); and Whitman wrote (of) an openness towards America / the world. It seems like a pretty bold/sweeping statement to me, but I don’t know enough to (dis)agree with it. However, the question I want to take from this comment is how these forms of openness are being written (in/of America) today, recalling also Charles Olson’s great statement: “I take space to be the central fact to man born in America.” (And to that I would add woman, of course).
In particular I am thinking here of the Conceptual Writers, Vanessa Place, Kenneth Goldsmith, and Robert Fitterman. I think these writers similarly to Whitman are writing poems of America, and similarly to Baudelaire also explore notions of physicality. However, in the Conceptual poems this idea of America is not based on generalised, idealised, Romanticist notions, but on specific instances and places. The lyrical, which certainly is also present in Conceptual writing, is not abstract and idealized, but specific and subject to scrutiny.
A passage in a review of Vanessa Place’s sprawling, polyphonic novel (or: Conceptual poem?) La Medusa demonstrates a sort of clinical approach to the lyrical, very different than Whitman’s exalted expansiveness:
The book began as a procedural piece: to write down everything that occurred to me for 41 consecutive days, in 15 minute installments. As I was reading in cognitive science at the time, I had a suspicion that if I kept going after that time, narratives would begin to emerge. Or narrative fragments, some of which would ripen (or bloat) into narratives, some of which would simply stay shards.
What interests me here is the intersection of lyricism with conceptualism and empiricism. The book is obviously lyrical in that it consists of episodes of unmediated subjective expression: “everything that occurred to me for 41 consecutive days, in 15 minute installments”. But it is not naively and uncomplicatedly so: it does not assume that the lyrical subjective position is separate from the world and observing the world from outside. Instead it is (among many other things) a study of consciousness, of how we are prone to make stories from randomness, and of the situatedness of consciousness in a particular historical moment (in this case an American moment, more specifically Los Angeles). “At the novel’s highpoints, an appropriately messy narrative of the contemporary City of Los Angeles emerges from its pages.”
In any case, consciousness in La Medusa is no longer a pondering on/of the real, it is written as (already part) of the real; that is, Place was interested in the pertinence of cognitive science when writing (about) consciousness; in consciousness as a physical/material process. Perhaps we could say that Vanessa Place pursues further and consequently rejects, some distinctions that Baudelaire still upheld. If Baudelaire wrote with an innovative awareness of the openness of the mind to the body and the body to the outside world; Place writes of consciousness itself as a material phenomenon. And similarly, if Whitman, in his poem Leaves of Grass, created a figure who represented the ideal democratic man, a reflection of American society in the figure of one individual; Place, in turn, studies both her place and time by dissecting her mind ‘clinically’ (with empirical procedure) as part of the world, instead of the intuitive barbaric yawp, uttered from a distance to / projected onto the vast world (“I sound my barbaric YAWP over the roofs of the world.”)
This is also true of Place’s trilogy, Statement of Facts, Statement of the Case, and Argument, where Place’s subject position is reduced to the sorting of statements by defendants involved in court cases (Place is also a practising attorney). Instead of holding forth about a projected, ideal, imagined democratic American figure, Place bears witness to real/actual voices (of America). Place’s writing is ‘clinical’, then, in so much as it is empirical and analytical of the (un)healthy symptoms of society (this is a Deleuzian approach, since in his Essays Critical and Clinical he talks about writers as symptomatologists (analysts of the various (un)healthy symptoms of society).
In terms of formal aspects of the text Place equally confounds borders and therefore writes (with (a new?)) openness. Whitman smudged the line-break, extended it all the way up to the edge of the page and beyond. But, finally, he kept his enjambment. Place instead, creates prose texts in which enjambment is transposed to / replaced by the excess of language itself, and (in her trilogy) the exposing of the State’s ordering of / subjugation of language (of both victims and perpetrators).
It is interesting how, in The Guilt Project Place does not start from the position of the victim but from that of the perpetrator, and so showing the ambiguity and ramifications of be(com)ing an offender. The argument of The Guilt Project is that an increasing inclusiveness of the legal definition of rape
means there are now more rapists among us. And more of rape’s camp followers: the prison-makers, the community watchdogs, law-and-order politicians, and the real-crime/real-time entertainment industry. Vanessa Place examines the ambiguity of rape law by presenting cases where guilt lies, but lies uneasily, and leads into larger ethical questions of what defines guilt, what is justice, and what is considered just punishment. Assuming a society can and must be judged by the way it treats its most despicable members, The Guilt Project looks at the way the American legal system defines, prosecutes, and punishes sex offenders, how this Dateline NBC justice has transformed our conception of who is guilty and how they ought to be treated, and how this has come to undo our deeper humanity.
The critic Terry Castle describes Les Figues Press (co-founded by Vanessa Place) as, “an elegant vessel for experimental American writing of an extraordinarily assured and ingenious sort.” Of Vanessa Place’s writing I think it could be said that it is on its way to becoming an elegant/uneasy ode to and portrait of America of an extraordinarily assured and ingenious sort.
Perusing some very readable essays by Henri Bergson, The creative mind: an introduction to metaphysics. Thinking immanence through space:
Reality, as immediately perceived, is fullness constantly swelling out, to which emptiness is unknown. It has extension just as it has duration; but this concrete extent is not the infinite and infinitely divisible space the intellect takes as a place in which to build. Concrete space has been extracted from things. They are not in it; it is space which is in them. Only, as soon as our thought reasons about reality, it makes space a receptacle.
I want you to look at the hinges (Tjanting, 203)
They are holes in habit, what cracks in the existing order appear to be from the molar perspective. The site of a breach in the World As We Know It (Brian Massumi, A User’s Guide to Capitalism & Schizophrenia
What we encounter are the demons, the sign-bearers: powers of the leap, the interval, the intensive and the instant (Difference & Repetition, 182)
Step lightly. Your judgments dance on the brink of a teeming void.
Time for some sprinkling of water, a little plunge in the shallow puddles of an open-ended pool, a light-hearted but long overdue baptism for that poor [gap] that has wandered, nameless, for so long (it just turned 32 for Chris’sake). The gap that has been lodged unasked between New sentences, has been unjustly marginalized, remained shamefully unrecognized. Although [gap] has been incomparably influential for poetry since her inception, the reference points of secondary theoretical discourse have always been her neighbours (the New sentences), nestling snugly at either side. ‘The gaps in my language are the gaps in my world’. So let’s fill our world up a bit, connect the dots (between the sentences), and finally give [gap] a name. In the introduction to In the American tree Ron Silliman reminisces:
It might have been more properly termed the new space, insofar as it is in that gap between sentences – a location in the field of writing for which we still lack a decent term – that the new sentence’s functionality appears. But as this device turns the reader’s attention to the immanence of the sentence at hand, whatever it might be, I settled on that broader category for my noun. (no page; italics added)
To (over)extend a metaphor; Wikipedia (forgive the source) informs us that baptism means dip or plunge. How serendipitous, considering that in today’s ceremonial naming, she who has gone under the name [gap] will be discovered as having in fact been a dip (i.e. inflection) all along.
The space between sentences is the most salient feature in Tjanting where a sort of ’drilling through’ to the outside of language occurs. These spaces can be seen as islets / inlets on the surface of the text that makes up Tjanting (’I swim below the surface’, Tjanting 19). They are the places where the threads of knit wool, or a woven cloth pass beneath other threads, thereby folding into itself. Alternately, they might be thought of as the typical depiction of mini-blackholes; dipping into and through the surface of matter.
It is in the disjunctive space between New sentences that the reader peers over the edge of the surface of sense into the abyss of non-sense (that which, with every sensible statement, always remains unsaid, constituting an aleatory point of nonsense), the Void of the unnameable. It is this space that most interests Silliman as a possibility to keep the reader with her nose constantly to the text. ’I was very much interested in the relationship between the sentences.’ (Silliman 1996: interview). Critic George Hartley sums it up thus: ‘What Silliman claims to discover is that the sentence is the hinge between fragments and wholes, the privileged point of focus for his study of reification in language’ (Hartley 1988). Parataxis certainly also focuses attention on the sentences themselves, but the ‘gap’ between the sentences is more interesting because, part of the experience (being between two sentences), is already wholly on the outside of language. While the new sentence itself brings similar ‘affective effects’, or ‘effective affects’ (Tjanting 19, 25) about, it does so completely within the realm of language. We would argue therefore, that the space between fulfils more of a hinge function than the sentences themselves.
So for the sake of making good with history, let’s give [gap] a name and baptize her ‘transversal inflection’. ‘Transversal’ because these spaces lie across the rest of the text. In a few short comments about Proust’s Recherche that apply remarkably well to Tjanting, Deleuze writes:
‘it is transversality that constitutes…singular unity and totality…without suppressing their difference or distance…transversality which passes through the entire sentence, which proceeds from one sentence to another in the entire book’ (PS, 168, italics added).
Transversality here is like a cord that pulls taught a curtain or a bag, or the path of a needle through a cloth. To that notion we add the fact that the points that cross the text, are points of singular inflection. ‘Inflection’ because rather than being discrete points, separate from either sentence they connect, they are singular points of inflection of the surface, pulling the meaning of each respective sentence toward the depth from where sense arises. They are spaces where signs converge and fold into themselves, like knots of concentrated meaning (Flesh at the elbow…gathers in folds…Each sentence stakes out. Knot this.’ (Tjanting 20). Transversal inflection is the space where the surface of meaning opens up and comes to include its outside. It is like a coin with sense on one side and non-sense on the other: spin this coin around and the distinction between both sides fades into infinite disjunctive syntheses, ‘the great relentless disordered drone of discourse’. (F, 47), the obscurity that precedes and subsists in any clarity. To excerpt Bob Perelman’s somewhat anachronistically strained juxtaposition of Flaubert with Silliman:
‘the lunatic abyss underlying the pedagogical narrative of organized knowledge. The lack of necessary connection is a cause of despair on Flaubert’s part; for Hejinian and Silliman it creates an opening for the next new sentence.’
These openings are not gaps where language spirals into an endless via negativa. They are
veritable Ideas that the writer sees and hears in the interstices of language, in its intervals. They are not interruptions of the process, but breaks that form part of it, like an eternity that can only be revealed in a becoming, or a landscape that only appears in movement. They are not outside language, but the outside of language. (CC, 5)
As Barret Watten remarks in his introduction to Tjanting: ‘Between the dots and the connections is a statement…the serial order of the work finding itself out is equal to the fixed attention to be found at all points.’ (Tjanting, 11) As a plane of immanence, Tjanting finds itself out by unfolding itself at its points of transversal inflection.