Posts Tagged ‘Void’
In literary theory the term ‘world-effect’ is used to talk about a story in which a certain intensity supersedes the surface events of the plot (see here (footnote 6) for cross-reference). This is the feeling that Lloyd Durling’s art tends to evoke. One of his latest pieces, the biro-pen ink-drawing ‘Threads’ is a landscape of strange phenomena that elude unambiguous recognition. There are those that resemble exotic irises, corals or petrified trees, waterfalls, vines or thick syrupy substance that drips down out of nowhere, mountains of clouds. The colours and theme suggest Japanese silk paintings, or more distantly, Indonesian Batik.
We are presented with an other-worldly world that nevertheless has a visceral way of affecting the onlooker.
Something that is immediately noticeable is that this is a world devoid of people. Perhaps this is not a world then that we inhabit, but rather one that resides within us. Not merely some dream-landscape, of the unresolved thoughts we process in our sleep; or a surrealist depiction of a strange transcendent corner of the sub-conscious. What if this is a world that is interlaced with our thinking, as opposed to something we think about, or which underlies our consciousness?
‘Threads’ presents us with an image of becoming and movement, in which nothing remains static. Unusual elements are brought together without a jarring effect. In the same way, our thoughts are constantly making the most improbable connections. Some of us are better than others in formulating this associative chaos into a cohesive, linear presentation for the benefit of their interlocutor. (I for one am a disaster and have more or less learnt to accept a certain rambling incoherence to my speech, or even, on occasion, manage to adjust it to fit a more formal setting. I have always listened with puzzlement and amazement to those, admittedly rare, speakers who are able to fill ninety minutes with a near-perfect lecture, delivered in full sentences with only the occasional dead end and where even digressions are redirected so that they neatly lead back the main line of argument).
The Romantic poet (and writer of most other genres) Heinrich von Kleist was (as far as I know) one of the first to write about this relation between thought and speech, arguing that since a disconnected way of speaking is closer to the way we think, it’s maybe not something we should necessarily repress (see how Freud would have liked this train of thought). He didn’t like neatly organized speech: “Only truly vulgar spirits, people who have learnt by heart yesterday what the state is supposed to be and who have forgotten it tomorrow, will have a ready answer. ” Rather, he was more interested in finding the moment where thought and speech are closest together. Here he explains the feeling of allowing his thoughts to slowly materialize (or is it etherealize?) into words:
But since I have some vague thoughts that are in some way connected with
what I am looking for, then once I have embarked on the formulation of the
thought it is as if the need to lead what has been begun to some conclusion
transforms my hazy imaginations into complete clarity in such a way that my
insight is completed together with my rambling sentence. I mix in inarticulate
noises, I draw out my sentence connectives, I use appositions where they are not
strictly necessary and I use other rhetorical tricks that will draw out speech: in this
way I gain the time to fabricate my idea in this workshop of reason.
And further down he writes:
If therefore a thought is expressed in a fuzzy way, then it does not at all follow that this thought was conceived in a confused way. On the contrary it is quite possible that the ideas that are expressed in the most confusing fashion are the ones that were thought out most clearly.
This probably sounds counterintuitive and I don’t know what present linguists would have to say about it; but personally I quite like it (since it would allow me to conclude that my confused way of speaking reflects profound deliberation). Deleuze likes Kleist precisely for the way in which he puts his theory into practice in his fiction. For Deleuze such a disjunctive style – always proceeding from the middle and straying off into the horizon – is closer to reality than a rigorously structured hierarchical account that subsumes all thought to one Central idea. Deleuze reads Kleist in terms of blocks of becoming, affect, shifts in speed.
Kleist invented a writing of this type, a broken chain of affects and variable speeds, with accelerations and transformations, always in a relation with the outside… No form develops, no subject forms; affects are displaced, becomings catapult forward and combine into blocks… (Thousand plateaus, Continuum transl.; p. 10, 295)
To lead what has become a bit of a digression in itself back to ‘Threads’: this is a place that similarly constitutes a block of becoming, a sensation of crystallized movement that is ready to shoot out in multiple directions all at once. In this way, these elaborate and detailed ink drawings are congruent with thought. Somehow a sort of resting place for the mind, that simultaneously stimulates it to branch off into new directions. The sharp pen lines allow the coexistence of fluid with brittle, smooth with rough. The different layers project out from one another with the suggestion of different speeds and movements, over a backdrop of opaque darkness. If that darkness is the Void that travels with our thought as undetected dark matter, then at least ‘Threads’ shows us a world that is filled with the peace of coming home and the exhilaration of this very moment as the birth of any thought at all.
OfItMaybe wrote a dense little gloss, meditation, some thoughts, in reaction to my post about [gap] and the New sentence. His mention of ‘the blank page as variously intimidating or inviting, breathing room’ reminds me of Yra van Dijk‘s book (a published version of her Doctorate dissertation) Emptiness, emptiness that breathes: the typographical white in modern poetry (my translation, sadly the book, as far as I am aware is not available in English).
In her study Van Dijk – after analyses of four poets – distinguishes ten different functions of the use of white in poetry. I’m not going to recount them here (because I don’t remember them, and don’t have the book), but from what I gather now, her emphasis is more on the Void ‘behind’ language as some kind of emptiness as absence (as opposed to an infiinite generative potential of language). I once ordered the darn book and then sent it back. Oh well.
Also curious is that for Van Dijk a defining trait of poetry is apparently the more prominent role of white on the page (than in prose). Obviously this is true 90, 95 percent of the time. But euh, what about prose poetry, concrete poetry, sound poetry? I got that statement from her University website, I don’t buy that Van Dijk would be happy with such a facile delineation of her subject matter. Would like to have the book in hand and see for myself.
And what about Christian Bök’s Xenotext experiment, in which he plans to inject (or already has?) an alphabet into the genome of a bacterium? How will science and technology change how we think about poetry? Firstly, they lead to a hybridization of disciplines (poetry + art, architecture, music, and now even biology/gen-technology). Secondly, they complicate the question of what constitutes a language-act. I wonder what will become of poetry if/when(?) the Singularity ever happens.
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.