Monday, 17 November 2014

The nostalgia of writing

Here's a question: are texts nostalgic? Not in the sense of being overly reflective, and therefore sentimental, but in the sense of having to come to terms with some loss experienced once the words are on the page, once the text is 'out there.' Can we speak of a text's Golden Age, to which the said text refers to as though to a paradisiacal age of innocence and bliss?

Source: Elite Daily
In an interview published by Timothy Clark and Nicholas Royle in their Technologies of the Sign, Jacques Derrida made reference to "a body of letters laid out on a page and that you no longer carry within yourself." That, to him, was the printed text. And by the printed text I understand the text presented back to the writer as a confirmation of their work.

Well done!

The sight of the text that grew within one's mind (within one's body, to be more precise, because this growth doesn't preclude the participation of one's entire physicality - the way, for instance, Lacan said once that he didn't think with his head but with his feet) generates a double-edged reaction.
On the one hand, there's the pride of the work well done. With the words that appear, one receives a sort of congratulation for having followed closely the procedures, methodology, and all the conventional tracks that make a text possible. It is only by this following, this compliance, this willful subjection, that a text can come to light. There is, inherent in any given text (written or not), a code that prescribes all this procedural deployment. In order to swim, one has to jump in a mass of water because water and body have the properties needed for swimming to take place. (We can laugh our heart out reading the seventeenth-century play The Virtuoso, by Thomas Shadwell, in which the protagonist teaches theoretical swimming, which involves no water, only mental effort and dry land; but the satire points out precisely the inaccuracy of a purely theoretical approach). In the same way, in order to speak, one needs to use one's vocal chords and to articulate the words inherited through the genetic memory of language, because speech can only materialize through vocal chords. In order to write, then, one needs to follow the steps that make the appearance of written words possible.
And so, written texts confirm the validity and functionality of a long series of procedural requirements. The fact that a text has been written confirms that I have properly understood, internalized, and employed the practice of drawing letters and then of forming words from those letters; it confirms that I have properly employed the sequential logic of grammar, spelling, punctuation etc., that I am appropriately situated within a discursive setting, and that I have access to tools proper to the trade. I am, with every text I am producing, a monument to the technicity of writing.


And so, when I see the text (my text!), when I find it laid down on a manuscript page, mounted on a computer screen, printed in a book, I find pleasure in the recognition of that text. But wait; there's something else to be said. What I recognize in such a moment is not quite the mental pre-formation that lived in my head. The form taken by my ideas is not equivalent to the form taken by my words - basic lesson in semiotics. What I recognize is the logic of production that exists/has always existed behind every finalized text.
Since writing is a techné (a craft), it carries inside it, in its foundational code, the memory of how it comes to light and of how it has to be midwifed into that light. In other words, in every text I read I find the DIY of writing; I see, as it were, the luminous way from head to hand, the accepted (the only one possible) physical way in which a text can become a written text. That's why I can only learn to write through imitation. And so, when I get a chance to reproduce the same procedures, I am reassured that I have followed the right path. A sigh of relief accompanies my encounter with my own text. Task completed!

Source: All Things D
There's little room for critical attitudes here. I can throw any number of tantrums, I can complain at will, I can deplore the condition of my dependence on a pre-established set of procedures, which mocks my freedom at its most fundamental level, but I can't change the Way. And so, because I am not likely to change anything, I am left with the satisfaction of the job done properly. With that sense of having finished what had to be finished. It's interesting to note that this sense of satisfaction is brought about via a deep dissatisfaction: the certainty that the Way has precedence over me; that the Way bends my will; that I am subjected to the Way. And so, I regret to be satisfied. I am sorry for not having it my way but only the Way's way.
Every happy gesture of production (every instance when something is created as a result of the faithful application of preordained codes and procedures) carries within it a loss of agency. So when we are most satisfied we are also at our highest dissatisfaction.

Going back

What can be done about this almost neurotic experience of writing? Apparently nothing. Not when we imagine this 'doing something' as a forward movement. There is no correction possible 'after' the text. Whatever drafts we may produce, they are not aimed forward but tragically, self-referentially, backward. A draft is not a promise of a better text but a correction of a text that, in following all the practical steps that brought it to light, has also caused its own doom. With every version we generate we reiterate our fundamental dissatisfaction of having to employ imperfect methods, of having to follow a crooked Way, but mostly of having to accept that this Way, crooked as it is, is the only one there is.

Source: B.J. Keeton
Because a draft is a statement of dissatisfaction, it is also a reference to the happy state in which the text existed before taking its physical form.
Hence, the text arrives at its fruition laden with a nostalgic reiteration of its non-physical origins.