Monday, 24 November 2014

Drafts and dissatisfactions

Following last week’s post, I need to say this: if on the one hand we can speak of the pride of the work-well-done, we could also speak, on the other hand, of a nostalgia that comes with the state-before-work.

Source: Life Hacker
When we see our text in printed form, we often experience the regret of not having put it into the right words. Going over a draft and making changes to it is not, as we would be tempted to say, an effect of some cult of perfection. At the end of the day, there are texts of one draft and paintings of one layer. The need to repaint is not always felt with an urge. The sense of that ‘perfect version’ is often secured from the first dab of paint.
No, I don't think it's the dream of a perfect outcome that drives us to a redeployment of our creative resources. It is rather the acknowledgment of the complexity of possibilities that stood at the foundation of the finished text.

Returning, again and again

With a text, we have only accomplished one of the many possibilities that existed before the same text was even dreamed of. We have completed one of the possible journeys. We have given voice to one set of embodiments.
In essence, every single draft is just as good as any other. But what matters is the moment when, often unconsciously, one stumbles upon the truth that the universe of possibilities is greater, ever more complex than a single text. That moment matters because in it one rediscovers the fact of the-state-before-the-beginning. And, along with it, the pleasure of what Mircea Eliade called ‘the eternal return’: the blissful reiteration of a golden age of perfections, now lost but still capable of being re-enacted.
One's displeasure with the current state of a given text (its draft) marks this necessity of the return to where the text has not yet come into being. What is being challenged on this occasion is the origin: the sense that all that matters is what has followed after the beginning. This happens as if there were no other ways of gauging the depths of a text than by reference to its initiation. But there is more to be found in the constituency of a text, in its morphology. Its very history too needs to be regarded, with all benevolence, from a perspective that relativizes its inception.

Source: Sadie's Sketchbook


From the perspective of a sign theory, the apparition of a text is equivalent to the rise of a sign. What we read when we read a text is truly a sign. But signs, as we know, are arbitrary. They depend on the whim of the agent signifier and on the possibilities enabled by the system of signification in which it appears. Take these things out and you're left with a pre-sign: a sign not yet created but found in a state of pregnant potentialities. Note the plural. There is no such thing as one possibility when we speak of a text; the reader-response theories of the twentieth century have taught us this much. But the fact that an infinite number of readings can create an infinite number of texts is only a reflection of the same game of potentialities existent in the text/sign in the first place.
It often happens to me that I read a story, a novel, an essay, and I find within the text places where I would have done it otherwise. This is where I find the draftness of texts, their capacity to be different from their actual form. And here I may say I am better situated, because I can see the phenomenon not in my own text (where I may be said to be biased by a personal urge to do better) but in the text of another. In a text of someone else's making I do not perceive a deficit of the agent (the author in flesh and blood) but a deficit of the process of textual formation, which depends on arbitrary signs and external rules.
I return upon a given text because of this fundamental deficit of signification. The signs I am using are not likely to describe the Real, which resists the power of signs and which continues to live outside of the said signification. Forever and ever.
The fact that we have a science of signs doesn't change in the least the terms of the problem. Like all sciences, semiotics is not prescriptive but descriptive. It does not tell us how signification is to be done, but describes existent acts of signification, i.e. it tells us about how signification has taken place. Biology too cannot possibly tell about the making of Life, but dwells happily among lives, among specimens of the phenomenon Life. In other words, it describes them; it never gives recipes.

A triad of dissatisfactions

I would call this perpetual return upon the point before the origin of a text 'the drive towards drafting.' It comes, as I said earlier, as a regret: the sorrow, if you like, of not finding the right words. This regret highlights the imperfection of the written text and, at the same time, issues out a warrant against all future forms of writing. I write knowing that the most probable outcome is a dissatisfaction that will have to be fixed, a dissatisfaction that will have to be 'worked out.'

Source: V&A
Displeased, distraught, disenchanted. These are the three stages of dissatisfaction that come with the production of a text. First, one experiences a loss of pleasure: the text is incomplete, it requires further input, further work, further effort; if it promises anything, that can only be the expenditure of one's energies. Second, one lives to be distraught by the text. There is a panic in every text: the realization that one has to deal with the problem, that there's no way one can leave it the way it is, that one must proceed with further drafting in order to shape the perfectly imperfectible text. And then, at the last stage of this triad of dissatisfactions, one grows disenchanted with the text. This last stage is attained when the author decides that the current version is the final version. Commonly thought to be the glorious moment of a text's completion, the final version is final only by way of an abrupt decision. The writer decides, at a whim, that he/she can't go any longer. They may be tired, they may be sick. There is a nauseating impression one gets from toiling repeatedly the same field only to get out of it the same crop of frustration. And so a finish line has to be sought. Published texts are precisely that: instantiations of the finish line – a line that's always arbitrarily drawn, since at the end of the day, there's no established number of drafts a text must go through before the author makes the decision. Any draft is, potentially, the last draft. Any ending is, let’s be honest, the perfect one. But the doubt – the awareness that this could have ended differently…