Monday, 26 January 2015

Writing and power

Writing is one of the most efficient forms of taming. Not because of its being a perfect vehicle for the dissemination of power discourses, but because it features important characteristics of power itself.

Handling the abstract

Systems of power interfere between world and subject, so as to direct the gaze of the latter away from the former and concentrate attention on the discourse of power itself.

Source: Elite Daily
Writing marks precisely this kind of interposition. Prior to the written sign (in what Walter Ong called "oral cultures"), the link between the subject and their world was an unmediated one. In order to speak, the speaking subject referred straight to things. He/she inhabited the utterance, as well as the world. Once the written sign comes about and once it starts acting as a representation of the world, this direct link is lost. Henceforth, the subject no longer refers to the world but to the sign. The world is lost behind a veritable barrage of signs, which now exercise their tyrannical influence over the subject by limiting their choices to that which can be written. The unwritable is ugly, undesirable, underdeveloped.
The myths of representation date back to the installation of these abstract signs. And it is perhaps not without significance that the earliest forms of writing were instruments of power, available only to the king and the temple.
The very foundation of our concept of history depends on writing and its attributes. The straight line, the undeterred progression from point A to point B, the development of a logical argument, the organization of events along a common trajectory, the sense of evolution – all of this is a product of writing. Indeed, Darwin would not have existed without the alphabet. To reach the stage where we can think of ourselves as products of evolution we need, first and foremost, to have had an idea about how things can progress, how they can order themselves linearly, how they are subject to causality. These are possible only after writing; writing, which cuts through the chaos of the world and separates things from signs, concrete objects from abstract representations.

The straight line and the promise of survival

It is when the linearity of writing is put under question that we come to realize how important it really is. In Mallarmé's throw of dice, in Apollinaire’s calligrammes, in all the efforts of Concrete Poetry, the experiment, the taking of the rule unseriously, is felt like a discomfort. Having to devise a new geometry for the poetic space (for the very space of writing itself) appears as a transgression. It is with this transgression and the feeling of discomfort that comes with it that power asserts itself as unavoidable.

Source: Sewaholic
Power is advertised as an ideal place of eternal bliss. Power promises the comfort of the commonplace, the corner where the mind ceases to be restless, irregular, and chaotic. There is pleasure in transgressing the predicates of power, no doubt, but this pleasure is one of the masochistic type: it takes pain as a premise.
Every discourse contains in itself the ability to turn into tyranny. And this tyranny, this ultimate assertion of power as unavoidable, is achieved through techniques of control, but also through claims to eternity. Constraint and generosity: the two major mechanisms through which power is maintained in place.
What's interesting is that, at some point, writing's major promise of infinite preservation ceases to be a promise and becomes a naturalization, a right. It becomes what-things-really-are: a fact, an argument, a certainty.
Writing promises to be lasting, and ultimately – ever-lasting. Writing preserves what otherwise would be lost in a sea of speeches. Writing is, in other words, the real solution to the problem of the Tower of Babel. It posits itself as evidence of what-things-really-are.
Life without writing is unavoidable. This kind of ultimate declaration can be found in the foundational statements of all systems of power and their accompanying ideologies.
Road traffic without road signs is impossible.
Life without a system of economic exchange is impossible.
Wealth without capital is impossible.
A city without streets is impossible.
Identity without Big Brother is impossible.
Afterlife without righteousness on earth is impossible.
All these are statements of power. They are employed in order to reassure the subjects that the system works, that it is efficient, that it is the only option there is. And so writing behaves like power, since it asserts its fundamental capacity to record, to make history, to form consciousness.
And since we're talking about consciousness, it's worth nothing that in an ideal power situation the subject gives away their agency. In writing, the subject loses his/her ability to memorize because he/she gives their ability away to writing, thus asserting writing as a system of absolute storage: the room where nothing ever is lost.

The safe haven

Systems of power create products that reflect back onto the system itself in order to idealize it by means of abstract formulas. See the rules for good writing: the pedagogy of it, the schools and libraries and theaters erected in order to glorify it, the idealization of the things of writing and of the writer's figure, the hierarchization of species of writing so as to highlight the ideal to the detriment of the marginal.
When writers themselves talk about writing, this idealization is at its best articulation. Sylvia Plath:
"And by the way, everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy of creativity is self-doubt."
Here, on the one hand, writing is put forth in terms of audacity. On the other hand, though, it is judged in terms of its very means of materialization. So it looks like we're talking about two different notions of writing: the technology and the means of expression; the craft and the tools. The overlap is not at all irrelevant, since by employing the tools one justifies the authority of the craft. And why is self-doubt "the worst enemy of creativity?" Because (ridiculously simple!) by not-writing one ceases to be the subject of writing. This self-doubt is the doubt of a self that has been constructed in relation to writing as a system of power. If the writing subject doubts himself, he consequently doubts writing's ability to manifest itself in the subject; i.e., his faith in the ideology of writing is shattered. This is why, as perceivable in Plath's admonition, writing, like all power, comes about with a demand to be employed.

Source: Charlotte Rains Dixon
Access to power is often described as an act of courage. Power absorbs (in order to prevent) the rebellious energies of its factions. And so, dealing with power means dealing with that which is too much for the individual to bear. One needs to have "the outgoing guts to do it" in order to access the apparatuses of power. One needs to be a hero in order to write. With this statement, it is not the subject that is being glorified, but the discourse itself, and the ideology that is an articulation of it. Writing is not only a technology, it is also a safe haven. It is the place where one is promised freedom, provided one has correctly employed the tools.
"You must stay drunk of writing so reality cannot destroy you" (Ray Bradbury).
And so we come to embrace that which writing can give us. We partake in the "joy of writing," in the "pleasure of the text," in the "incredible lightness of being [with words]". There is a lot to enjoy in writing, just like there’s a lot to enjoy in every system of power, in every ideology.

The side that's always bright

What is fairly easy to notice is power's reflective justification. Its apparatus of self-promotion runs on references to a past that has always been directed towards the glorious present. This is the myth of the Golden Age, the narrative that keeps power alive. In the case of writing, it goes like this: without writing we wouldn't have had books, cathedrals, roads, cars, computers, marriages, burials, jobs, conscriptions, supermarkets, cemeteries, cafes, philosophy, ethics, literature, history, cards, the game of Monopoly, cinema, theater, air conditioning, tractors, profit, capital, politics, inspiration, news, distribution of wealth, social welfare, Sunday markets, fast food chains, the beautiful art of calligraphy, Chinese and Japanese pictographs, payrolls, accountancy, urbanism, laws, order.
While this is true (and it doesn't take a double-decker of intelligence to see the truth of the statement), it is also true that without writing we could have had the alternatives. The long list given above (far from complete, of course) is a list of effects of writing. It doesn't prove anything – especially it doesn't demonstrate the unavoidability of writing. It merely catalogs late developments of a system of power. This is a very efficient method of self-assertion, which works perfectly with ideologies, because it glorifies power nostalgically and sets it in stone.

Source: LHS Writing Center
Power doesn't operate in terms of the conditional tense. It is what it is, not what it could have been. There are no if's, no but's, no let's-assume's. What you see is what you get – the ultimate justification of power, its most resounding victory. All could-have-been's are obliterated. They never existed, therefore they could never have existed. Which is false, because any current form of power was, back in its day, itself an alternative, one choice among many, one path to be taken at a crossroads.
Of course, with power things cannot be presented as haphazard. What's more, power falsifies all evolution, to the extent that its current state is presented as the only evolution possible, the only end of the only road ever given. That, once again, is the way power asserts itself, how it rejects all competition.
Power aims towards monopoly, and it is not hard to see, from the above, how that might be the case when it comes to writing. Verba volant, scripta manent. In this, speech is made impotent compared to the alphabet. Hence the confidence in written things: newspapers, books, official notices. "It's true because they wrote about it in the paper" is an argument that still holds, now, in the third millennium. It is the argument of the power of writing; the argument of writing as power.

Monday, 19 January 2015

Of writing and rogues

I want to think about writing as a picaresque adventure (and this shouldn't necessarily be accurate, nor indeed in accordance with any of the serious theories of genres). That, of course, requires some clarification as to what the picaresque is in the first place.

Long out of use, the genre of the picaresque is the illustrious predecessor of the novel. One of very many. Taken as per its form, it resembles very much its offspring, in the sense of being an extended narrative with a variable number of characters, most of which are secondary and episodic, and a central figure, the picaro, who, an errant fellow, is observed in his daily wanderings in pursuit of an essential goal: his raison d'être. There's plot and a certain degree of development, as well as an obvious characterological determinism, all of which make the picaresque genre a good candidate to the title of proto-novel. Now of course, there will be an enormous amount of theory to explain how the two are to be differentiated. Mikhail Bakhtin is perhaps the best (and certainly most often used) resource insofar as this distinction is concerned. I am not interested in that theory here, but I want to pick on one particular aspect, one that might give blood and sinew to my interest in writing.


That element is the journey. It is customarily said that the picaro evolves along a straight line, his adventures being mere advancements from point A to point B to point C etc. This is, indeed, the case, although it is not exactly obvious as to how this projection must unfold in a linear fashion. In truth, the evolution of the picaresque hero is organized in accordance with the strictest rules of hazard. Hazard, which, if definitions don't fail me, means pure accident, pure unexpectedness, pure failure of the straight line. In the picaresque genre there is no immediate causality apart from the major one of the primary adventure, which may be thought of in terms of a beginning and an end (both weakly resolved), and also in terms of the common thread that traverses all individual episodes and makes them readable together. But apart from this, the tremendous amounts of events that make up the narrative of the picaresque don't fall in the category of the predetermined. The picaresque is not like Greek mythology, for instance, where characters (gods and humans alike) have to face the pain of predestination and die (death is an inevitable feature of the genre) only in order to justify the moralistic I-told-you approach to life.

Source: Tina Negus
The picaro, therefore, is not a tragic figure. He couldn't really be, since he's a low-status character, a rogue. His tribulations are considerable, he is likely to encounter pain and terror along the way but he never falls from the status he was invested with in the very beginning (there's really nowhere lower to fall from rogueness). Most importantly, he only dies (if ever) of old, very old age.
So, back to the journey.
The events that make up the narrative of the picaresque are, as I said, not linear. One can see that aspect in the hero's perpetual return to a point of origin: every next episode is another link, independent in itself, but part of the larger chain that makes up the cycle. With every adventure, the chain grows, but the justification of the entire undertaking is not forgotten. Every step of the way some adventure awaits, some unexpected challenge pops up, some villain clutters the horizon, some fight needs to be picked, some tricks need to be played. And all this in order to develop a sense of continuity, which is otherwise inexistent.
Spatially speaking, the picaro is an unsettled character. He has no settlement because he is destined to carry on this long story that keeps growing. If there is unity and linearity, they must be sought in the chronological ordering of events; more precisely, in the narrative time. Given A as a starting point and B as a point of arrival, there is nothing to deter the accomplishment of the feat set out in the beginning. The picaro almost always succeeds. A stable place doesn’t exist, since all that matters is the movement from A to B to C etc. Time, however, matters, because of this idea of the again that governs the dynamic of the picaresque. The episodes characteristic to the genre are mere digressions: they turn the clock back, as in Groundhog Day, only the scene is filled with new adventures every time. Digressions without a backbone, these are, but still digressions. That method of narrative procrastination so dear to eighteenth-century novelists (Smollett, Fielding, Sterne) has its roots in these picaresque wanderings of a rascal who fools the world again and again.

… and writing

So now I want to look at writing from a perspective similar to what I've outlined so far. Writing has this episodic aspect to it. In writing, one starts off on a journey which has its raison d'être in its accomplishment. There's no writing task that doesn't reach an end. And every such ending marks the episodic character of the craft itself.
What's more, the attributes of the picaro can be transferred to the writer: the character of this story of writing, its protagonist. Since writing is a journey, the writer is a traveller. In the case of professional writing, authors move from one text to another remaining, essentially, the same. Of course, there's progress, and we're usually taught to distinguish between different phases in a writer's oeuvre; but in essence we have the same person performing the same actions by means of the same personal abilities (sometimes called 'talent,' other times called 'genius,' or, at the lower scale of the hierarchy, the lack thereof).

Source: Tina Negus
When it comes to nonprofessional writers, i.e. those of us who fill in applications, complete request letters, devise shopping lists, copy Lotto numbers at the end of the week, this episodic nature of writing is even easier to comprehend. When the same person partakes in all of the above, they do so without their social (et al) qualities changing a bit. They are the same, no matter how many things they write down. At the same time, they also complete tasks, and, along with them, journey on, taking step after step, experiencing the richness of the world and its demands as tricks of compliance. One might say that they fool the system by giving it exactly what the system demands. So that when one fills in an application form one presents oneself solely as an application-filler. In order for the writer to be perceived in their complexity, they need to be seen as simultaneity. And that simultaneity can be accomplished if that writer is regarded from the perspective of the craft they have employed: Writing. The bridge between operations (or episodes) is created by this thin membrane of the craft – writing is their common ground, their narrative logic, the transparent film that keeps everything together.
So writing does operate like a picaresque novel. It brings together all disparate tasks, all tricks, and all adventures, so as to enable the emergence of the writing subject. This subject uses the means provided by the craft to further their own interests. At the end of the process, there's no real progression. One doesn't become better simply because one has successfully finished a task. One hasn't acquired higher moral status simply because one has filled in the right form, at the right time, in the right manner. By writing down what writing itself has requested (its being brought into existence), the writer has shown his bravery: the valour of having mastered the demands of writing. It's not literacy I'm talking about here, but a sense of accomplishment that comes with the subject's immersing in one task in order to become free of all the other tasks ever aimed at him/her.
The picaro, if regarded from this perspective, is also someone who uses the features of the narrative art to gain pre-eminence over the world. While the world stops to contemplate the task, the picaro is free to do all the other things that make him a rascal. While a fair-goer stoops to look through the pinhole of a peepshow, the thief (the same as the owner of the show) is free to pick his pockets.

Monday, 12 January 2015

Writing and (a special kind of) memory

Writing is, on many levels, work with memories. How we remember dictates how we write. The more deficient our memory, the more frustrating our texts.

Writing involves remembering ideological, cultural stratagems proven to have worked in ideological, cultural pasts. It involves, as well, remembering strategies that didn't work according to the rules of the powers that be: dislocations, rebellions, sidesteps that enabled, at some point or other, a walk on the wild side, a new attempt, an innovation, a whiff of freshness, a step ahead. But these are large instances I'm talking about. They have social, communal resonances. They grow across groups and communities. They are not understood in terms of solitude or isolation.
What I'm interested in bringing up here, where I want to discuss the issue of memory in relation to writing, is something very personal, something impossible to dislocate from individuals. This kind of understanding of memory involves, most significantly, remembering the interior architecture of a writer's mind.

The angry writer

Like all technologies, which exist in order to be employed and are discarded as soon as they have fulfilled their purpose, writing is a means to an end. With writing, one uses a very specific technology in order to give visual shape to a mental preformation. As it's apparent from this very sentence, writing comes after something: after a thought, after an idea, after an outline, after a project, after a hope. It is its coming-after that makes writing both interesting and unreliable, since in this way writing appears as a second-tier operation, which not only relies on something else, prior to and possibly better than itself, but also on the representability of that 'something else.'
What is, indeed, absolutely necessary in order for any text whatsoever to be given form is the anterior existence of a conceptual preformation. Even to a Surrealist, who might argue that automatic writing is possible, thought formations (intentionality, agency, conscious use of writing technologies) are inevitable. So that every materialization (in writing or otherwise) is a materialization of an abstraction. We must agree at least on this. But by agreeing we also enter the territory where writing is at its most irritating. We enter the space where the task of writing angers the writer, where it causes mental blockages, where it generates psychoses.

A writer's frustration is often caused by this crucial difficulty they have in facing the shape, the sound, the colour of a thought. It often happens that I cannot, for the soul of me, turn the perfection I found in my mind into a sentence of equal perfection.
I am not bragging here when I say "perfection." All creative thoughts, mine or anybody else's, present themselves as perfections, insofar as they appear to us as yet-unmaterialized, i.e. yet-unspoiled by the intervention of tools, operations, conventions. A thought that exists in its state of thoughtness is perfect because it is. And also (less philosophically) because it makes us happy. A creative thought that matters always brings joy: on the one hand because of this pristine state in which it exists, and on the other hand because of the prospect it makes apparent: the possibility of something to appear from (apparently) nothing.
So when I find myself incapable of reproducing that thought, I am simply plagued by the pain of losing that former perfection.
Let's take the example of a description in a literary text. There's the place, there's me, the observer, there's the observation, there's the possibility opened inside my mind of describing that place. All elements are in place, and yet something is missing. And that something is the reason I'm failing in my attempt to write down the said description.

The missing thing

What I find out when I think about this situation is that it is not the world that's returning to me as a descriptive impossibility. Neither is there some lexical shortage that's causing this impotence in me. What I become aware of when I'm in this impasse is the presumably simple connection between my mind and the creative act I'm performing. What becomes apparent, I think, is that this connection has been severed. So that the world of thoughts and the world of words remain isolated from each other. But I want to see this severance as a problem of memory. What I lose when thoughts and words become separated is this memory of the perfection that once existed in my mind. And then I need to start employing stratagems. I start devising metaphors, word combinations, all in the hope of reproducing, through the most trivial of ways, the state of bliss that stood at the foundation of the entire exercise.
I would liken this situation to that situation familiar to all mortals: the thing that happens when we dream and then forget the very dream that had caused a stir in our mind. When we are compelled to recount such a dream to an outsider, we need to employ associations, we need to approximate, to invent, to build the entire dream anew, to create.

Did I do this?

As with dreams, we forget, in writing, the frenzy that lived in our mind, the state of exceptionality that caused a short-circuit in our mental apparatus. The complexity of the dream, its appeal, is equal to the enthusiasm I feel engulfed in when I find myself capable of a beautiful thought. Everything starts from this awe that comes back to me with every creative brainwork: 'Have I, indeed, been capable of such a feat of thinking?' This question, I have to admit it, is the expression of a reflective suspicion. With this wonderment, I implicitly concede that I have seldom imagined myself capable of thinking such thoughts, of conceiving such beauties, of conjuring up such efficiencies. And because this expression of stupefaction is so prominent, it overwhelms the very substance of the thought that I was about to express. In the dream state, it is the awakening that obliterates the dream: the surprise I experience at finding out that the dream has been mere phantasy, a Cartesian demon, perhaps, who has succeeded in deceiving me. This surprise, this terror I wake up to, is laid over the bridge between dreams and so-called reality. It is laid over it and, therefore, obliterates it. Hence the surprise, hence the loss of memory.

The way from thought to word is forgotten in a similar way. And all because of that state of stupefaction. 'Have I, really, been able of such perfection?'

The if of expression

It is only by discovering myself as capable of thinking (of producing/creating/building by means of mental processes) that I also find in me the need to discover expression. This is a realisation that caused Cioran to think that writing was a terrible mistake. This, as well as a deep mistrust in signification, which is (must be) on the agenda of all philosophers and artists. With the intervention of signs, the chaotic game of memories is shattered. Signs make memory unnecessary. A word, a painting, a cathedral, appear precisely in order to elude recollection. You don't need to remember the features of a text, the plot of a novel, an extraordinary line in a dramatic piece, the magnificence of a cathedral, since that text, that novel, that dramatic piece, that cathedral will be there for you tomorrow, next year, next decade. Every text is virtually immortal, virtually impossible to erase. Even if (or mostly when) nobody has read it.
A light bulb forgotten in a drawer doesn't lose its ability to shine, even if it has never been removed from its confinement. A word I'm writing on a page is a sign I am consciously employing in my attempt to re-create the consistency of a thought or, more precisely, in my attempt at making apparent writing's inherent potential to represent my thoughts.
To be noted: a potential is not a guarantee! That's why I'm so frustrated when things don't turn out the way I wanted: because I know it's possible, and because, at the same time, I know I'm not there yet.

All translations are by definition imperfect

'Getting there' is my problem. Getting-there which is, in fact, a question of remembering the way back – a question of returning. The return – the impasse of every translation, of every rendition.
It's not some insufficiency on the part of languages that makes me think of translation as impossible. I am rather inclined to think that the same model of the short-circuited memory is the one that can bring light to this impasse of rendition as well. I am incapable of perfect translations because I cannot remember which one of the multiple versions is the right one. Not to forget that this problem is also due to another defective memory, to which I don't have access at all: the memory of the original source, the first author. And so, from approximation to approximation, forward we move, authors and translators alike, all authors as translators, all translators as forgetful artists.
With these approximations, the problem of the transfer proves, once again, to be a problem of delivery. How to hand over the product without ruining the merchandise? How to transfer the thought without turning it into something else? How to use words to say what was there in the beginning, in the mind? I wish I had good answers to these questions. They would make me a perfect writer. But since I don't have them I am doomed to be what I've always been: a biped imperfection, an endless list of attempts.

Monday, 5 January 2015

Writings, works, (more) interruptions, victories

The phenomenon of interruptions appears most clearly to professional writers. Obviously. Not because their trade is more disposed to to such interruptions, but because it is the central purpose of the trade to halt in order to generate a text. Not only that, but also because it’s to a writer that this rest-after-creation appears pregnant, significant, full of potentiality.

Gustave Caillebotte, Portrait of a Man Writing in His Study. Writing produces separable books. Source:  Wiki Art
A writer is active in perceiving work (which is not at all absent from, say, a housewife’s scribbling of her next shopping list – a form of script which implies its own work, its own effort) in terms of such pregnant, significant interruptions. In a recent interview, Lydia Davis, the short-story writer, made this as clear as a patch of July sky. She says:
“I always interrupt work with work, either in a small way or big way.”
What she seems to point out here is some continuity. But what I would like to draw attention to is the exact opposite: the interruption. (Or maybe I should highlight the difference between work and task: work is permanent, tasks are provisional. Or maybe I shouldn’t.)

To work is to establish an end

The idea of work, then, is itself understood as something interruptable. When one invests one’s effort into a given activity, i.e. a given collation of energies, one faces the truth of work: that it has an end, that it must have an end. The cyclic nature of work (visible in work shifts, in the rolling of seasons, in the management of annual plans etc.) is everything that matters. Work is possible because it can be interrupted. Continuous work – nobody has to think hard to understand this – is exhaustion. Labor camps are the most infamous examples of this idea, extremely efficient (unfortunately) in the extermination of the human being and, at the same time, in the termination of the very idea of work.
Another thing required from work to be work is purpose. Purpose too is a development towards an end. One works because one has an aim in mind. In any activity there is a promise of a target to be reached. That happens even when the manifestations of the activity are not immediately visible. Play, which is so different from work in many respects, also shares this crucial aspect with work: it unfolds with an end in mind. A game of backgammon, which is not restricted by time (as soccer or rugby, for instance, are), is restricted, nonetheless, by means of a conceptual end: the point where someone has reached the end, the point where there are no more pieces left on the board. This is a spatial limitation, but a limitation nonetheless.
This idea of a purpose is where work finds itself restrained. In order for a game of backgammon to take place, the previous game must have been finished at some point in time (and hence the restraint of chronology becomes apparent as well). And the purpose of every subsequent game will be to reach the same point of impasse, when the idea of play requires a rebooting.
With every new game, the rules are reactivated. Every new game restarts the engine of play. And with the new beginning it becomes apparent that play, too, is a form of work, insofar as it presupposes an unfolding of rules, of temporal and spatial restraints, of cycles of rises and drops, of efforts and plans, of purposes and endings.

Scripts and exertions

Writing behaves in similar ways. With the production of every single text, language (which is writing’s plaything) gives the appearance of something having reached a dead end – something having reached the stage of its own death, its own exhaustion. At the end of a novel, of a short story, of an essay, the reader is visited by this idea that he/she has reached the final bounds of language. It is this awareness that makes the same readers sigh with relief, taking into account the fact that the text has expired, while they, the readers, keep living on, readying themselves for the next adventure, for the next perusal. It becomes apparent, with this statement, that the ending of one text is far from being a proper death, a proper non plus ultra. In reality, the end of a text gives readers reassurance. This reassurance can come in the form of a counting: I have just finished reading another text; there is one more of them in the collection of texts I have perused.
Readers do think and act in terms of collections, of series, of accumulations. Since the world of texts is so vast – and since we will, sooner or later, reach the inevitable conclusion that we are incapable of coming in contact with all the texts ever written –, every reading is a victory. With every reading, the reader manages to reduce the distance between themselves and the outer limits of the world of texts. This is, of course, an illusion – and we, readers, know it very well. But the happiness of the moment is the same, no matter what. The pleasure of the text is, among other things, the pleasure of the reading subject having advanced further into their imaginary journey: a Quixotic journey in essence, a journey whereby the subject internalizes existing texts and, through this internalization, conquers further territory within the empire of textuality.

Writing for the reader

The writer (the producer of texts) is forced, as Roland Barthes suggested, to anticipate the moves and thoughts of the Other. Ando so, writing is responding to this peculiar pleasure discussed here, which consists of a reader rejoicing at the quantitative aspect of reading, at the issue of reading as accumulation.
But what’s more interesting in this equation is that, along with the texts one has read, one has also accumulated interruptions. The cessation of a text, the gap between its ending and the beginning of the next text, is transferred to the reader along with the satisfaction of his/her having reached that end. It makes perfect sense to talk about serial reading in terms of pauses, since it is the pause that enables the counting. The gap between object 1 and object 2 is the articulation that makes it possible for 1 and 2 to exist in the first place – to exist as separate entities, as objects of counting. In order for the pleasure of reading to be acknowledged, the reader must be able to tell apart one reading from another. And that is only possible as a result of interruptions. This is how important they are to the process of reading, as well as to that of writing.

Vermeer, Girl Interrupted at Her Music. The pleasure of the text requires interruptions designed to acknowledge audiences. Source: Wikipedia
Dwelling happily in the realm of work, writing finds in interruptions its purpose and its promise. The author must reach the end of his/her text not only because he/she is a being endowed with limits and limitations (one who cannot go on forever), but also because it is in this ending that the pleasure of the reader is found. And since every writer must produce a text that anticipates all concrete pleasures of their virtual readers, every writer must give their readers what they’re most desperately in search for: the end, the resolution, the closure.

Finished things

We are made happy by the arithmetic of serial reading. In the Lydia Davis interview mentioned above, there is this long calculation of matches and fittings, which should make us aware of the possibilities of finished texts. What seems to be characteristic to her stories (what several of her readers have highlighted to the point of irritation) is the difficulty of putting these texts together in coherent series. What is, therefore, most obviously apparent in Davis’s collections is the finished nature of her texts. They are, because they are finished. They are countable because they are understandable as separate entities. And that, to various readers, comes with the realisation of an impasse: the hard time they have in putting things together. That’s why it’s important, I believe, to read the author’s own confession, which reveals the arithmetic of classification:
“[The collection] wasn’t exactly scattered. The most the previous collections had had was 50-some stories, and the new collection has about 115. So I thought, how do I deal with putting all these stories in some kind of order? And it actually started with the letters of complaint, because there are five. I thought, OK, I’ll make five sections and I’ll put one letter of complaint in each section. And I’ll divide the Flaubert stories over five and the dream stories over five. With the dream stories there are 28 of them and I didn’t want them too evenly scattered because then you’d always be coming upon another dream story, so I wanted to clump them, so there are five clumps. So within the five sections, for my own sanity, I had to divide each section into two parts. That doesn’t show up in the table of contents because I didn’t keep that division – it was for me. I put one Flaubert story in each of those two parts. So it was a rather elaborate initial mathematical organization and then I had to fiddle with it. And the same with another category, which is the very, very shortest ones – they’re only a line or two long. I didn’t want to put them together — I wanted them to punctuate the other stories. So all this took a little bit of work.”

I read the above as a long explanation of the way in which a writer sets herself up to meet her reader’s pleasure. You will notice, I hope, that the whole discussion would have been useless, had she not produced a mass of finished things, of things marked by the interruptions that render them countable. Which is the point I’ve been trying to make.

William Blake, Newton. The exertion of the writer (like that of the mathematician) is caused by the need to create finite objects. Source: Wikipedia