THE POETICS OF L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E
(Talk delivered in the Textual Operations Talk series, organized by A. S. Bessa, at White Box in New York City, September 25, 2001)
Reading can look at language as the arena,
as the medium,
the mode of engagement,
the centerpiece of Method.
What’s social here is not some separable content,
but the Method of writing & of editing.
Editing is the reading moment.
And it does so by combating the obvious at all levels —
in order to maximize openness at every level:
acoustics, ‘looks’, page layout and design, authorship, genre, grammar.
The normal starts to seem precarious, contingent, even exceptional.
I want something that holds together that’s not smooth.
Something that would agitate or reinscribe the social raw materials of agency, of subjects, of subject positions, of persons, of discourse —
and make them the building blocks of whatever it constructs.
An Informalism. Of connections.
The connectionism is a Surprise Machine.
It works by ...
So-called Language Writing distinguishes itself:
by challenging the transitive ideal of communicating, of the direct immediate broadcast,
of the Truth with a capital T (you pompous fool) —
by challenging the usual generic architecture of signification,
of the unrequited or unrequitable sign.
by foregrounding in a pretty drastic way the materiality (and social materiality) of the reading surface, down to its tiniest markers.
(Even punctuation. Remember: Russia, the 1905 revolution –
the first soviet was formed in St Petersburg in order to coordinate a print-workers strike called to demand payment for typesetting punctuation marks and not just ‘letters’).
In reading, this makes for, instead, a drastic unnerving constructivism all the way down to the level of the sign.
And then beyond, backstage.
It looks behind the sign for the particulars, for an extremism of raw material, of what comes before signification, of preposterous dispersal & modularity, of energizing strangeness, of interferences, interruptions, & noise without a beat.
(This puts the reading experience closer to sacrifice and surrender, to anti-productive expenditures and excess, to a surplus or hyper-trophy of enjoyments.)
Faced with Collage & Noise,
Reading can be set loose from its usual anchorings (and hankerings).
Making it hard to recuperate it, or reterritorialize it, back onto the continuities that those anchors prescribe:
First, set loose from GENRE
[The writing is more like the music of so-called ‘free improvisation’ which means free from prescribed genre or idiom. Nonidiomatic.]
(Is normative syntax a genre?)
And second, set loose from the usual demands for a Psychology-Centered
Subjective Expressiveness on the part of the Author (that all-purpose glue the traditional reader is supposed to identity with)
Language as an infinitive would mean to make different —
given to us as an opportunity.
To reentangle rather than decipher.
To rerehearse the shocks.
I’m all scattered.
We make ventriloquism out of the building blocks, the raw materials of a social readymade.
And try to turn literary space into a more wide-open information space or architecture, of materialized complicity.
If Making Meaning or Making Sense is Establishing Authority,
how is this done?
That’s what I want to nudge at tonight —
with glances at some parallels between how this plays out in experimental writing and how it gets sidetracked in hypermedia’s absorbing 3-D illusion (taking off from some points raised in a new book by Lev Manovich on The Language of New Media).
To start with:
The page, like the windowed computer screen, can encourage a looking through or a looking at approach —
Looking through: as a transparent, dematerialized virtuality, cinema-style),
or a looking at (as an opaque, action-oriented, control-panelled material reality).
Reading works as a simulation of a flat control panel
where users are getting access to a complex body of information —
more like using a search engine, an online encyclopedia, a hyperlinked website.
And just like when we use computers for gathering information, or as a storage medium, we move away from some of the usual expectations about being transported through an illusionary or fictional narrative.
We get closer to the experience of actively using a database
Words can become interfaces —
precisely because of the way they are already ‘wired’ to social codes (like the programming codes of the computer).
Writing preforms and reading performs the equivalents of software extensions to the digital world’s ‘Dynamic Hyper Text Markup Language —
B.Y.O.: pulldown menus, cascading style sheets, layers, invisible tables, applets.
The Reader becomes the software of textuality.
References? WE are the Other of words
This doesn’t call for a reading that rejects or negates the referential, or even the baldly representational forces of language,
but one that resists letting those forces be confined & recuperated & territorialized.
It would join in the adventure of keeping them active at a micro level,
as singular & literal events —
constantly varying, skidding, interpenetrating, mutually transforming, out in the open, on the surface.
We don’t start out with the usual phobic rejection of reference,
and certainly not with the usual squeamishness about the non-literary social.
What are we eliciting?
Something of the sensing that the social order isn’t freestanding, that language is a part of that system and its surround, part of the way the reproduction needs of that system get met.
So that we recognize how much both writing and language could work to record or construct or reactivate the social body.
But not smoothly, not without an edge.
Trouble is immanent to the social.
The process of social investment (and social trouble) is ongoing.
And with this kind of writing, the reading process just pleasurably performs that social investment, or some alternatives to it.
The words aren’t idealized, or de-realized, but hyper-realized.
The politics in reading doesn’t work by disavowal.
Signifying isn’t ruled out of court.
But it’s not an end in itself; it’s put back, in a social contextual rerouting, at the service of a socially worked-up affect.
We’re not taking up some moralistic distance from which the mechanisms of the normal would be exposed.
It gets down and dirty, covered with ashes.
We can emphasize the force of language and not just what it ends up meaning in its customary genre-confinement.
But the force of words doesn’t just come from writing’s refusals (of anecdote or representation, of participating in a larger scaffolding of illusion.
Because to go all the way with this refusal, to only allow purely nonreferential material, undercuts the potential force of sense: of capture, of captivation, of seduction and complicity.
Social Address Mixdown
In this reading:
There is no single protagonist,
no transcendental spectator,
no gaze that isn’t manhandled,
nothing trying to make an idealization pass for the real.
The optical — the paperweight of cinematic illusion and of picturesque imagist poetry — gets reduced to just one of many channels in the final (tactile) mixdown.
The words don’t ‘make images’.
They implicate situations
(which are social, and which are treated as social, in a more critical way).
The credo is self-reflexive.
And it calls for outreach.
This willingness to deal with reference doesn’t have to lead the reader toward an absorption into a separable world of illusion outside of the page, at a carefully calibrated distance.
The text broadcasts a social address that makes a comfy suburbanizing distance impossible.
It calls you out.
It’s more presentational or theatrical, less given to auratic or cinematic absorption.
Look how much smoothness of ‘editing’ is needed to sustain the illusion of a centered subject ‘involved’ in a centerable outside world;
most of that smoothness can be jettisoned along with that illusion.
If you want to immerse yourself into a visually represented world, the severity of collage might be a threat.
Drastic cutting and montage and whacked-out juxtaposition have to be ‘dialed back’.
A little of the ‘elliptical’ is okay — right now, it’s even fashionable — but just make sure there’s not too much, because that would endanger the fixed center of personal expression or unmediated observation and the chance for us as readers to identify with it.
We don’t ‘rule out’ or try to escape from the mechanisms of social construction. (This isn’t the langauge equivalent of pure abstraction.)
Instead, this is what the texts seem to wallow in: to appropriate or sample them, hyperbolically.
They incite pleasure by the scrambling of fantasy and ideological resolution.
They play off a desire for subversion, for fragmentation, for miniaturizing and maximalism, for refusing the compensatory, for shortcircuiting.
Reading helps it ‘lay bare the device’ — at the social, not just the literary level.
The writing helps stage, rather than conceal, the particulars of its format.
It helps the text foreground its social constructedness, as a body of social sense, not just leaving us stuck with a fetishizing of artistic process or the preenings of author control.
Don’t be dictated to.
Don’t be sutured — show us “some kind of rip”
Nothing like digital morphing.
No pretensions to imitate (or reassure) any world we already know.
(Try to avoid making the world seem pre-known or interpellative overall, whatever happens with its particulars.)
Try to avoid the entropy of closed systems that lose energy and wind down without enough external input. (And the field of literature is decorated with all kinds of versions of closed anti-social formalisms susceptible to entropy like this.)
Don’t let meaning coagulate.
Help it humor us.
Work to create an anti-aura, to make language ‘famous’
(remembering Brecht’s comment that alienation is a kind of fame).
The politics point outward, toward an embracing of concern for a public, for common goods (language as an overall body),
not merely for ‘identity politics’, for enlisting recruits in one or another specific struggle.
Our almost automatic complicity
We want a reading that sounds that out
When illusion gets shattered, so does the comforting distance that nurtured our little dream of subjective centeredness and mastery and protected independence.
Words gain force by dispelling the illusion that Language is at my disposal (and that certifies me as a legitimate disposer, as a safe subject).
Texts that give us a semblance of a cozy interior don’t seem so compelling any longer. Or too sentimental.
If readership is the software, then the writing isn’t ‘laying bare the device’ of literature, so much as laying bare ourselves as the device.
We don’t want to think of the vivid action of reading as just an active, conscious — and increasingly po-mo self-conscious — reconcilement with circumstances.
Even a Brechtian style ‘alienation’ of immediacy can be too prone to pride itself on its mastery, on its meta-level ‘transcendence’.
But too often this is an empty pleasureless pride.
Maybe Brechtian distance is too reminiscent sublimation to give us a model for reading these texts.
This is personal abjection —
Abject, the opposite of exalted or imperious —
“offered in a humble and often ingratiating spirit”.
For reading: no self-validation, no self-assertion.
Its ‘face’ is not recuperable as persona or as private property.
Instead, we get a relentless impropriety, a rough trade.
Any fixed rendition of the self is put in danger.
Empowering of the language works as a self-disempowering.
The subject suppressed (as a control tower) to pluralize the meaning.
We aren’t surfaces that can hide depth.
We’re moebius strips without a stabilizable outer shell (and therefore without a protected inside).
Privacy in shreds, the Other in the saddle.
Why do you want to imagine that you are conducting your own train of thought?
Nothing purely interior or individually psychological is allowed to familiarize all this.
Nothing lets us person-ize or character-ize these singularities of event and experience.
The self, the imagined integrity, wrecked.
The ego, that big towering regulator, starts to give way in the face of a deregulation... of who we are and all we might be.
We face up to words which are more like deindividuated subjectivities (or production lines for future subjectivity).
Subjectivity gets felt as a complex bodily surface, with the familiarities of the person subject to an ecstatic clearing and extension.
Or to notice that our own subjective and particular experiences don’t always have to be mediated through our ‘self’, that commodification.
A shifting pragmatism of experiential reactivity: that’s what we feel like.
In a more egalitarian textuality, these aren’t impulses I can take control over, or recuperate as personal souvenirs.
We’re messing with you.
In the Realm of the Senses
Dismantling doesn’t just occur by insouciant disavowal.
Our reading’s efforts to be freestanding and resistant gets overwhelmed.
The reader is caught up in sensory reactivation —
once the words are deregulated, once their representational uniform is put back in the closet.
Radical texts can provoke a bodily excitement, inciting a surplus of sense,
with security crowded out by sensation.
Remember, traces of power are invested in our sensory experience; they’re not just routed through our identities.
We don’t just remain the viewing screen of representations.
Those filtering devices have been dispossessed.
And the deterritorializing of language enhances its Force, its sensational affectiveness.
A projectile cluster (or stickerball) of words offers up a staged memory trace of how earlier word-clusters (and their repetition) turned the body into a lively, reactive surface of inscription.
We let ourselves become a staging ground for intense visceral (and postreflective) affect, for metamorphoses of sensation, for an ‘in your face’ Special Effects that become possible once we abandon our attachment to the author’s ‘first hand’ point of view, that perspectival fakery.
We get something more like a ‘special effects’ writing, well outside any of the usual realist or personally expressive protocols.
Technicians of the Social?
Don’t keep the social at a distance
Distance becomes interior constructivism —
a self-reflexive social forming.
The equivalencies and relays and thresholds don’t conceal the realities; they substantiate it.
Reading makes a jigsaw puzzle out of the snapshot.
To start with, unembarrassed by the artifice of language,
but we let it operate on us granularly.
We might even find moments of non-interactive cinema-style description or anecdote popping up in this writing, but only within a more complex, and overall opaque surface.
We’re not seeking purity. We don’t need a tabula rasa.
We live within an immanent overdetermination — and learn to love it.
If you ask what immediate response gets created by this hypermediacy, it’s not minimalism. It’s not New Age; it’s not Old Age. It’s sensory overload, omnivoyeurism.
Still, this doesn’t encourage a disinterested aesthetic contemplation (of desocialized objects, tastefully sketched out and given ‘auratic’ presence).
For that, you’d need to lean on so much of the armature of familiarity.
But this writing, mostly, is too strange.
Strangeness puts things right in your face, right up to our ears.
Strangeness doesn’t endistance.
(Remember, it’s what reactionaries always want to quarantine.)
It pulls us in, puts its headphones on us, and requires more wide-angle work, more action.
We’re not stripping away illusions or normalizing machinery by talking about them, by ‘disagreeing with them’ or ironizing them, but by showcasing how they work at a micro-level. And they work by keeping us at a distance.
Norms are distancing devices.
Here, once the norms start to collapse, our proximity to textual particulars gets intense.
The spectacle isn’t something the words protect us from, or keep us safe from.
The words contain it, or burst apart trying to.
The Spectacle requires some distance for us to be absorbed in it.
These language texts, on the other hand, tend to intensify the reading action or praxis to the point where that distance disappears.
The huge horizons of escape (from representation) pull us farther into the circuit of Language.
It heightens our captivation.
The thrill is post-personalizing
The armor of the private self gets soaked by complicity, ripped through by seduction, not by letting us keep a ‘knowing’ (or privileged nay-saying) distance.
And seduction is more than a mental mystification we need to ‘see through’.
We don’t look through seduction; we’re caught up in it.
We’re delegated, vicarious —
in one definition, ”occurring in an unexpected or abnormal part of the body instead of the usual one.”
The interior is not a safe haven.
A fluid architecture of information makes the contagion of the text more likely. We find ourselves the accomplices of the text’s sense, not self-conscious lieutenants of it.
Because the mission of the text is to reenact some of the production process that stands behind (or withstands) personal (and that means social) identity.
Subjectivity is the waste product, not the source.
Subjectivity becomes a wildly multiplying (metonymic virus-like) series of effects. [The opposite might be a metaphoric borrowing of a secure vantage, or cannibalism.]
We’re not offered up some cathartic release from all the bonds of the subject.
Instead we get an intensifying of all its particulars — once the wrapper is off.
Subjectivity gets stimulated — at the micro, building-block level — as it gets destabilized at the overall, macro level.
And identification comes in the form of a homeopathic medicine.
We leave with bodily excitation, but without the ‘proof of purchase’ (the valid signature, etc.) needed to return it.
After all, sometimes it seems as though the text’s conceptual unity and wholeness is sustained by there being an outside to the text, maybe one that could be captured by the gaze. But if there’s no outside that’s separable (if the surface contains it all, or implicates a zillion paths through it), then there’s likely to be no closure.
An infinite extendability or outreach, beyond any VR (‘virtual reality’) fixation.
The text encourages a spatializing performance. Reading plays along — to denaturalize or discombobulate perception.
Foster a softened mental space or architecture.
Space can be less fixed than in either: first, representational writing or second, writing that relies on clearcut formalizations or systems to create a solid objective space.
[Similar issues might arise in the aesthetics (and theorizing about) contemporary Installation Art]
Space — and the space of meaning and sense — isn’t just a projection, or even a clearly marked subdivision.
It becomes the staging ground for particular choices of trajectory, always on the move.
We face a dizzy proliferation of vectors, lines of flight, thresholds, fluid dynamics, the examples of Chaos Theory, instead of an architecture fixed enough to accommodate illusions of transparency (or translucency):
‘can we see well enough to drive?’.
Reading becomes vectoral rather than vehicular.
Emergency rather than immersion.
A social connectionism is there for the taking, not just to be taken for granted as something reflected or represented.
Now, identity may lean on the carefully ‘composed’ image as a prop. But a barrage or multiplication of images (or of the raw material for images) will knock those props out from under it.
So will the page as a flattened control panel.
Action becomes spatialized, uncentered.
We become less determinate, less neatly bordered, less fixed and fixated.
As these unfixed, navigable spaces make for a ‘liquid information architecture,’ or a liquid paper architecture.
Immersion & Navigation
Instead of opposing Absorption (of a cinematic type) to a distancing Artifice or Theatrical Showiness, we might contrast Immersion with a different kind of User Control, or Praxis; with Expedience or the Exploratory.
Manovich emphasizes how much the new media art offers us spaces of navigation.
So we can think of this binary being played out between different types of navigation.
On the one hand, there’s navigation as a souped up, hotted up menu choice within a pre-fixed space, something likely to have an absorptive effect (here, think of Brecht on what he called ‘culinary theater’).
And, on the other hand, there is a more activist navigation through the superimpositions and concentric circles of resonance of Sense (that are offered up as a collage, not a ‘realistic’ continuity; more like the animated cut-outs of early computer games sitting on separable 2-D planes, not pulled together into the illusionary mechanics of the background).
Meaning isn’t elsewhere and fictional; it isn’t covering up some ‘Lack’.
It takes place right here, as our reading starts to resemble the operating of a control panel.
We’re using information more like we would in the adjustment windows in a GUI (Graphic User Interface). Similar to the way that a cyber presentation
can remind us of cutting-edge graphic design — much less indebted to subordination as its guiding light, less hierarchically arranged than something we’re encouraged to look through.
The ‘screen’ of reading is more opaque, not a window we call up to transport us to an imaginary world.
This is no 3-D fly-through.
The equivalents of hyperlinks and menus (from the control panel side of the computer experience) makes the immersive experience of conventional literature less likely.
Reading these texts has little truck with the ‘depth’ claims of cinema-style illusion. Those claims just don’t hold up in the face of the complexity of the tasks that these texts solicit.
Illusion gets vaporized by the specific interactive activisms called for —
by constantly choosing among competing accounts, alternate possibilities.
Reading gets closer to the moment-to-moment focus and future anticipations of gameplay.
More like constantly opening up multiple resizable windows.
It doesn’t allow for the supposed fixations and security of any unified gaze.
Here, predetermined sequence or fixed diachronics gives way to the side-by-side, to the between, to a synchronic everything at once, to a simultaneity of possibility, a deprivileging of time (or at least of represented time). Montage takes place within the frame.
You’re on your own — all over the place —
and your own isn’t your own.
We get a spatialized navigable space —
but mental space, no longer based on linear argument but on words talking past each other in simultaneous ‘accounts’ of elaborated events or experiences.
Rather than a narrative, we get a collage of multiplicitous positioning.
We learn to take up permanent residence within competing (and mutually contaminating) multiple explanations.
You can’t keep out the NOISE.
Right away, it sounds off in a non-immersive density of juxtapositions and relations, of micro-referencing and intimation.
This is multiple explanation as a viscerally immediate anti-absorptive readability.
We’re not using the physical choreography of language to decorate (or cover up) its referential, mediating role.
We’re not digging out latent meanings or dainty subordinations.
These are not dematerialized images we’re dealing with.
Excesses from the apparatus of illusion now get freed up and fastened on individual words.
The literalisms of language take charge (without just having to mediate ‘the real’) or take precedence over its mediating role. They swamp that role or heighten it at a micro level.
Objectification demolished, subjectification demolished.
But the spatializing of the words by the readers’ active practice gives them a paradoxically greater power.
It makes for rough and ready dislocations, or relocations.
‘It’s not disjunctive, it’s leaping!’
Affective response doesn’t get to ‘drop anchor’ in its familiar subjective harbors.
The arbitrariness of language isn’t domesticated by being filtered through the usual packaging.
It’s not as if the only kind of pleasure we can imagine is the stabilizing haven of a subject in a plausible familiar world.
The implausible gives pleasure.
The unfamiliar gives pleasure.
Lack of homogeneity gives pleasure.
Disillusionment gives pleasure.
Popping out of the stitches of suture gives pleasure.
Carved out of their usual representational contexts, the language goes to work all the more extravagantly on our nerves.
Sometimes it feels like it’s all about body reaction, corporeal sensation —
the way that reading affects, even reshapes, the body and its enjoyments.
A textuality that works (immanently) on the nervous system.
Playing out on the surfaces of the words’ flesh and our flesh.
Usually, the body’s constraint is its self-denial.
If so-called language writing is reader-centered, it’s also more body-centered than we usually allow.
(And not because the usual normative packaging of & constraints upon the body are taken for granted or not noticed, but because they are blown away.)
This is desublimating.
Writing plays off the body as a zone of multiple affect.
As a polyvalent (or multiplying) recording device.
The texts touch us here without representing some elsewhere.
We don’t just go to these texts for critical detachment, or for negative evaluations of a social body kept at arm’s length.
(We’re not just calling out requests for our favorite so-called ‘socialist one-liners’)
A more shocking intimacy shortcircuits the calming pillow of self-reflection, the unruffled distance needed for subjective control.
The distance rigged up for aesthetic (or auratic) contemplation comes crashing down in an infectious, sometimes traumatic visceral contact.
Contact is corrosive. You can’t keep it at a distance.
This is more of a free-floating fascinatability.
We look for fascinating texts, not something to keep a distance from.
Texts get intimate with us, involuntarily.
Which makes this writing closer to a linguistic pornography than we usually like to think.
For identification to be hyperbolic, it miniaturizes.
We swallow it in tiny doses.
Once we get beyond the settling, unruffling visual simulations (so prominent in traditional poetry and fiction), the flesh is subject to greater disturbances of meaning, directly materialized and inscribed on us as readers.
As the texts create a near-behaviorism of impact and affect.
Inscription on the body: shouldn’t we admit that this is how radical texts work?
The flesh gives up its location — like flight recorder boxes.
We participate in these texts mimetically, contagiously.
With ‘mimesis’, from ‘mime’, implying “portraying a character by bodily movement” — in this case, a social character.
With a direct investment of flesh and bodily surface, we become the recording tape loop.
[Compared to the horizontal relations — of sign to sign (‘value’) or signifier/signified (‘signifying’) — this is a vertical relation, of sign to world, of the tangle of reference and mimesis.]
This brings us close to mimicry, an insidiousness —
[insidious, from ambush and to sit:
a. awaiting a chance to entrap
b. harmful but enticing
c. having a gradual and cumulative effect
d. developing so gradually as to be well-established before becoming apparent
The mimesis is bodily.
Text works an immanence.
Readership is the symptom.
Flesh isn’t left coordinated or packaged and organized the way it once was.
In reading, this becomes an unprotected, homeopathic flesh, prone to physical metamorphosis.
A bodily mimesis may even suggest a certain passivity.
Our habits are roughed up tactilely (not ‘tactically’)
We celebrate the barely discernible seizure and passing of our habits.
The flesh is ignited —almost like a masochism of affective stimulation.
The object — or Other — takes precedence over the subject.
And it extends to the boundary limits of language.
A voyeurism or magnetized hearing that’s combustive, abject.
Time & Time Again
To give us time experienced in material literalness, rather than the unrecoverable time of representation.
(The utopian allegory is that of eternal life — or of recuperable time, nothing forgotten.)
So here, the page (like the computer user’s screen) functions as a site for direct sensation and future hope, rather than (like the cinema screen) as a safebox for memory.
Real time in reading triumphs over the fixed spaced which is usually used as a prop or support for some imaginary represented Time captured in a bite-sized image.
It helps make time (as a reader confronts this new writing) the time of both present ‘active engagement’ as well as the multiplex time of concentric circles of ...
plausibility, authority, explanation, sense.
Reading makes a contest on every temporal plane:
a) over the Past: over a topology of meaning, fought out in the trenches of individual words;
b) over the Present: the degree to which the active user is outfitted or energized (instead of being caught in Absorption);
c) and over the Future: the degree to which we can free ourselves from unreflective social norms, the degree of our openness to Difference.
The ‘present tense’ of writing rigs itself up to a layer of social usage that contains a less personal past and promises a future.
The future — a grasp of its social limits —means reading a reading.
Take Action: Writing as Extra Rehearsal
We’re back to the choice of what to emphasize in the language experience: between information or action, on the one hand, and immersion or representation, on the other.
Words carry a dual role, just like the image-complexes on our computer screens.
They can serve as miniature representations (of fictional depth),
and also as interfaces and control panels that govern actions on the surface —
(actions, in reading, that can even involve a parallel to cyber ‘teleaction.’ offering control over the ‘remote’ layers of meaning or social sense).
Reading combines: from Column A, a materialized present tense activism moving through a real-time space (of hearings and sightings and choices [of response and relation];
along with, from Column B, a social version of movement in psychological space.
[Here, the words become the social characters, and that’s how you’re composing: you build the text out of a broader social translation for what goes on within and between persons, for the ‘psychological tension between characters’ (which, in conventional literature gets reductive and hydraulic pretty fast).]
Reading needs to honor the opening up of possibilities of relation, since reading now combines the equivalents of editing, animation, title generation, navigation, compositing — a micro-judging omni-attentiveness, all in one, all at once.
To encourage a connectionism given all the more force because the words undermine the proscenium distance of separation.
The combo is ‘Meta’ PLUS ‘Curiosity’.
A meta attitude isn’t enough. There’s no closure. Gotta keep things open. You can’t act like you know it all.
Meaning or social sense is 3-D animated, but by the reader, not ‘ahead of time’.
We never get ahead of time, or outside of it.
It’s remote control — over meaning. But right here.
And that’s remote control over the possibilities of recoding.
Any individual unit, anything resembling an image, comes with its code implied, revealed — as if everything (already, always) involves a translation, a switching back and forth (but of active bodily energies).
In reading, this is a hyperbolic extension of the way that single words or letters or phonetic building blocks carry a charge that is social (and too often, if unrecognized, normalizing).
It calls up the notion of concentric circles or layers of resonance:
Meaning at the level of Signification we investigate, detonate, push into disequilibrium;
Meaning at the level of Value is something we help generate;
Meaning at the level of Discourse and Social Sense we help challenge.
Writing becomes a cultural management — hybridizing, disappropriating.
We’re exploring a social gameworld, a multi-dimensional stadium of meaning — not being marched through it.
This is bravura multitasking.
We get sensational involvement and Brechtian distance — both at once, and not in contradiction with each other.
We are repercussionists
But what about the things that Poetry traditionally prides itself on?
We could still talk about combining the Lyric with the Language focus, with Lyric regarded as a personalized vocal music.
But then we’d have to ask what restrictions are being placed on musicality.
And how phobic we are about noise.
And how penetrated and fragile is any humpty-dumpty voice.
We’re not just waiting to peer at the ‘presence’ of the writer, with literariness as the well-upholstered backdrop.
In the interface, we stage or sound the emotional ambivalence of our freely chosen and freely juxtaposed possibilities of meaning.
Facts make music.
And the rhythm of navigation makes up part of the acoustics of reading.
To create a field of lively reading-opportunity, you carefully gauge the resonance or ‘charge’ of individual words (and sounds).
And this judgement is entirely social.
Meaning is never fixatable privately.
Meaning is a public address technology.
If address involves the public side, the surrounding and eliciting of the public, this emphasis intersects with an emphasis on Sound, on Noise — rather than on the visual ‘transporting’ ambitions of writing.
[If the visual is more private — the ‘private sector’? — that would fit with the immersive dreams of the trends in computer hypermedia. It also brings to mind the idea, from psychoanalytic theory, that making yourself seen recuperates back to the subject, whereas making yourself overheard solicits ‘the Other’. So, the visual emphasis — whether in the iconics of concrete poetry or the naturalizing graph of voice in the New American Poetry — comes back to the subject and reasserts a romanticism; as if you could achieve a surveillant penetration of artifice to get to an ‘essence’.
Compared to this, the emphasis on sound seems — in general — more rhetorical, performative, and public.]
All this gives so-called Language Writing a more explanatory thrust.
Explanation is embedded in the writing itself.
Works are responses, and the praxis of the reader reconstructs this responsiveness.
And reconfigures the relation to an outside context.
Here we’re not looking for mastery, but passionate or even dizzying embrace — of an implicated social body.
The pleasures it makes possible can’t be separated from the meanings it tenders, solicits, and invests in us.
Readership becomes a savings and loan association.
Texts invest in us.
We are the newest versions of the software available for download.
We are the networked art.
The whole is phony.
We are reconstellating it. We are the reconstellation.
Power leaves no escape hatch.
Complicity (“to fold together”) is a given.
Socially, we are ecstatic accomplices, with words literalizing the vicarious.
Which is us — as personal readers.
Reading reimplicates us in the regulation and enforcement process which is immanent to our sense of selfhood.
We don’t have to read from the inside out, identifying with a writing that’s also supposed to work from the inside out.
Instead, reading tracks the outside in.
We counter-interpellate from the outside in, from the text being set loose to work on the affects which it stages, traceable to a social horizon.
And both are semi-permeable, letting us create a polyphony out of a situation: a polyphony of enunciation that pancakes the usually separate layers of a customary hierarchy of meaning.
Customary meaning tears apart in the face of social abjection.
It’s granularized — or miniaturized — sometimes thrillingly, sometimes with a shock or a laugh.
If the work is drastic enough, it produces an abjection, relayed from ground zero of the social, and it takes hold of us bodily, dizzily.
It makes for a social abjection we cannot master, cannot just ‘think through’. There’s no ‘talking cure’ for this abjection.
It’s seductive — personally, but also socially.
Language literalizes an agitated social body and ‘brings it on home’, inside the instrument panel of reading.
And we can ask:
how might this extend outward globally, toward the translatable use we make of these texts and other writings it forms a coalition with.
Not to turn inward, or limitedly toward the semantics of some purely national or subcultural paradigm or secure identity.
But to encourage a swerve toward a transnational interactive space of translation and of that which is always already a translation: language.
This is another kind of totalizing... in reading.
The prescription and the infinitive are the same: