Monday, March 22, 2010

Visibly Relieved



As the preceding post obliquely suggests, lately I've come to feel my perennial crisis of writing—doubts about what to write, how to write, whom to write for—has crossed over into a crisis of reading. That is, do I write to be read? Or do I myself even want to read at all? Yes, of course I read, constantly, habitually, compulsorily—blogs and books, status updates and student essays, thumb endlessly through literary magazines or the shelves at Barnes & Noble looking for something, I know not what, except something to go on with/for/about. But one of the aftershocks of the literary festival has been new thinking about the literary object as conceptual sobject (subject/object): not something to be read but something to be sited/sighted, like a piece of visual art or a performance, unconsumed if not unconsumable (no object, textual or otherwise, resists commodification). And I realize on the one hand that conceptual writing functions for me, as fatigued reader, like Wittgenstein's philosophy, showing the fly out of the fly bottle. And on the other hand that taking that step is antithetical to all my training and habits and desires.

Some of this thinking has been spurred by a paper that Vanessa Place has shared with me—something she presented as respondent to a recent conference on the poet-critic—on the poetics of radical evil or apoetics (not to be confused with the Charles Bernstein book of that title). Coupled with this is the equation of radical evil with radical mimesis ("Radical mimesis is original sin"). Gertrude Stein is the starting point for such a poetics: a rose is a rose is a rose, but it cannot be read, only encountered. I don't want to quote from an unpublished paper, but there's a similar point made in Notes on Conceptualisms, when Place & Fitterman inscribe the continuum of pure conceptualism versus impure conceptualism/the baroque, both of which can be construed as attacks on reading. In pure conceptualism, "one does not need to 'read' the work as much as think about the idea of the work," and of course a text such as Goldsmith's Traffic is almost literally unreadable. The baroque's "excessive textual properties" do not produce, strictly speaking, an unreadable text, but they do "defeat" reading ("these are strategies of failure")—at least, we can presume, "readerly" reading.

It's hard now for me to pick up any book or magazine and not, having read a fragment of it, put the book back down, having thoroughly encountered it as an object, with my need to "read" it muted or extinguished. It's always already rereading. Is this a sort of mental decadence? Or a desire to push through, to let go of, my own old ideas of mastery—the godlike Author I've secretly hoped to become, a desire that has not vanished with my belief in such Author-ity.

Put another way, why write if not for Master(y)? If not for the Big Other? I stand in Lacan's shoes, in Place's shoes, looking out at the audience deadpan. What do you want of me.

More and more I realize that my project—in the novel, but not just in the novel—is to tell a story but also to look at story. The fundamental starting point of Miramare was the thought, What can a novel do that a film can't do better? If the answer is, Nothing, then a novel might at least be the proper means for examining that infrathin difference between a mode of narrative that depends on looking and a mode of narrative that depends on listening. That margin, that infinitely narrow gulf, is to be encountered.

I write for myself and for strangers.

More and more fascinated with the image of writing, the image of reading. The resistance of both modes, a nearly unique resistance, to filmic representation. Even sleep is more interesting to the camera—provides more potential access to the Real. What can we do with the image of a writer, a reader? Nothing that we can('t) do to the poem or story s/he reads/writes.

My title comes from a Liz Waldner poem, as quoted in a review of her latest book over at the Constant Critic:

Lecture

Fire
Is the slave
Of the visible;
The visible
Is shackled by
Our eyes.

When at night
Your eyelids fall—
You must believe me—
The book beside
Your pillow sighs,

Visibly relieved

There's a pathos there: the (s)objects of the world exhale with relief when no longer subject to our scrutiny. But also a crucial reminder that seeing is prior to reading.

What's beyond reading?

Or to put it another way, What does the reader dream about?

I want to look at that.

1 comment:

Josh said...

Addendum: the image of writing. Just now, Barack Obama signing the health care legislation, with a rack of what looks like twenty pens. Signing his name--Barack Obama? Barack H. Obama? Barack Hussein Obama?--in little pieces, using every pen. Souvenir. Hushed breath. A man sits at a desk, writing. Theater of writing. Acknowledged legislator. Everyone clap. Curtain.

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