Monday, 23 February 2015

Writing to address the reader

I want to talk a little about the relationship between writing and rhetoric, because the two are tied in a bundle often taught together in schools and which, therefore, makes them impossible to separate.

The rhetorical aspect of writing consists, of course, of its intention to persuade. To persuade, i.e. to change the state of someone's mind. Where someone should be understood as a generic addressee: an individual, a mass, a culture, the whole world of writing and reading.

The address

There is, in persuasion, an unpronounced resistance to utterance. The addressee doesn't want or doesn't expect to be addressed. The address takes place in a call-for-attention that is in itself uncalled-for.

Source: Rock Surfers
So writing comes about as a duty to formulate a truth in such a way as to render this resistance inoperational. If you know how to write down a demand, it will grab your reader even if he/she was utterly uninterested in what you wanted to say in the first place. This would be, in rough terms, the primary principle of rhetoric.
There is this anecdote in Amélie Nothomb's Life Form, where the protagonist tells the story of how she learnt the art of addressing audiences.
“Already at the age of six I was forced by my parents to write one letter a week to my maternal grandfather, a stranger who lived in Belgium. My brother and my older sisters were subjugated to the same regime. Each of us had to fill an entire letter-sized page addressed to this gentleman. He answered with one page per child. ‘Tell him what happened at school,’ my mother would suggest. ‘He won’t be interested,’ I retorted. ‘That depends on how you tell it,’ she explained.”
The grandfather is, obviously, a character in the background, someone who's not here and now – a distant audience of the kind all forms of writing must take into account when they play the game of persuasion. But what is of utmost importance in Nothomb's allegory is the problem of the address itself. Note that the grandfather has never asked for those letters. Even if he had (the novel doesn't show this to have been the case), the situation wouldn't change, because what is certain is that the demand to address him (the demand formulated for the author of letters) comes from elsewhere. It is the mother who operates as the one who calls for writing. This demand is an external demand, something called-for by the present rhetorical situation, in which the grandfather represents the invisible, mute, unknown reader.
And so, in the first place, the writer is moved by puzzlement. The writer doesn't know what stands before her. The writer is taken by surprise by this demand for an address that is uncalled-for.
Behind this puzzlement is the reality of the fact that the writing act comes about not only without knowing its invisible-but-present audience, but that it also comes about as an addressed unpreceded by a call. Most of the books of the world have been written as the world had no need for them. In order for a need to become apparent, one has to be aware of that which is desired; one has to know it. I desire that which I do not have, but which I can see present in the world: unattainable by me, and therefore desirable, but desirable because already-seen. So a text that doesn't exist in the first place cannot be wanted. Lists of books-to-read work precisely because those books exist and the would-be reader knows of their existence.

The desire of persuasion

With persuasive writing, the desire is that of convincing an audience that appears to the writer as a nebulous presence: something we are sure exists out there, but which we cannot immediately associate with our own writing act.

Source: Pick1
In other words, the fact that there is an audience doesn't mean that this audience is my audience. To make this audience mine I need, first and foremost, to come forward with a request to have its attention. Ladies and gentlemen is that kind of formulation. Neither the ladies nor the gentlemen are known to me, the utterer. They are just common nouns – known to exist but not bound to listen to my utterance or to read my argument. Writing comes to address precisely this lack of connection between me and my audience. It is through writing that the connection is written: formulated the way all uncertainties are formulated, by means of a call into a rhetorical void. Everything that follows will be fairly easy to perform once the audience is here, with me, walking along, nodding, turning their eyes towards the elevation whence I pronounce my address.


Because the reader is unknown and must be brought to the table, he/she needs to be offered something. The address of writing is, in essence, an offering to the reader. I need to give something away in order to gain my audience. I need to tickle the indifferent spirit of my audience in order to make it aware of my presence. That's why the beginnings of all written texts need to be renunciations of the author's essential hermeticism, his/her unavoidable reference to a self that is not translatable, not understandable without mediation. To put it otherwise, by writing I make concessions to my reader by facilitating their understanding of me (and my text); i.e. I cannot remain sufficient to myself. My writing marks a rupture in my self.
In this respect, all texts are rhetorical, even those that don't purport to be exercises in persuasion. A shopping list is the visible form of the desire present in me but invisible to the exterior. A shopping list is an interesting exercise is writing, because it takes its very author as its audience. Of course, the purpose of the writing act (because purpose stands on an equal footing with the address) is to store information that is threatened by the plague of forgetting. But at the same time it is (and the shopping list shows it without a shade of doubt) a way of pointing out to the self that the items written on the list are truly desired.
Once I see potatoes on my shopping list I can swear I need potatoes.

Saying it well

Things may be more complicated when it comes to literary productions, or the highly-elaborated productions in the department of rhetoric and persuasion. But in essence they are similar to the situation described by the shopping list. The author puts forth a call for recognition that the reader needs to read accordingly. If the reader fails to read, the text has two options: it will either be horribly misread and therefore killed, or it will be read differently, and therefore brought to life. But in both instances, the separation from the writer is immediately apparent. After the address, anything is likely to happen.

Source: MC's Whispers
This is why eloquence is so important. Eloquence, or well-saying, is the means by which utterances are formulated so as to make sure they hit their target. The target, i.e. the audience. Eloquence is the long-exercised aim in a game of archery in which the arrows are always shot in the dark.
Knowing-your-audience, the desideratum of all rhetorical situations, is therefore nothing but a red herring. There's no such thing as knowing your audience. Simply because your audience isn't there for you to see, and neither is it there unchanged, set in stone, like a fruit waiting to be picked. Audience is not even something to be named in the singular. Audience is multiplicity: it evolves constantly, sometimes exactly while it is being addressed. Not only that, but the text itself can be approached by audiences never considered by the writing subject. What's more, some of these audiences do not approach my text in its totality but only for the parts that serve their present interest or curiosity.

Faced with these perfectly volatile conditions, writers are forced to return upon the address as the only real chance of making a move. Their ability to call for attention is the only weapon to be used in this battle of the spirits. Their act is not a statement of power but an invitation. They do not conquer, but offer to sacrifice. And this offer to sacrifice happens, oddly enough, when nobody is requesting it. Isn't writing quite something, then!

Monday, 16 February 2015

The absence concerning reading

I spoke last week of reading as presence: the urgency and utmost necessity of a text to be there in the first place, meeting and greeting the reader, after having occupied the territory well before the birth of said reader as reader. But nothing is simple when it comes to reading or writing. Their complexity means that something said can (oh, frustration of all frustrations!) be said otherwise, or counter-said, by the same person - sometimes in the same sentence, by means of the same words.

Source: Monash University
What I want to say for real is, in itself, simple. Reading - that thing that requires the precedence of a text in order to start functioning - is also dependent on a special kind of absence.

A slight detour

To explain this statement, puzzling in itself, and perhaps intimidating (at the end of the day, what on earth can a reder do when the text he/she is meant to read is said to be not?), I need to take a few steps back. Time-wise.
In late-seventeenth century, George Berkeley showed that vision is not what we believe it to be. He made it his task to prove that vision was, really, an adaptation of our sense of touch. And to that effect he pointed out that we see only that which occupies our field of vision, and that it is from this axiom that we derive the whole gamut of illusions associated with seeing (and hence, since we're visual beings, with thinking).
That which stands before my eyes limits the very possibilities of my sight. In theory, given the complexity of the world and the limitless possibility of my eyes to see everything that is seeable, the object taking over my field of vision bars the world away from me. Hence the paradoxes of the sense of sight: for instance, the fact that my thumb, if lifted in front of my eyes, can obliterate the steeple of a church which, taken in absolute terms, is tens of thousands of times larger. The point Berkeley was trying to make was that our appreciation of distance was wrongly thought to depend on our estimation of size, whereby we deem an object that appears small to us as being far away, and, vice-versa, a large object we figure out to be closer to the eye that sees it. To Berkeley, it was all in the way vision worked, by means of minima visibilia, i.e. the most minute particles perceptible by sight. These particles, he said, are the same, no matter what we have in front of us. So that our visual experience is, really, the mere play of combinations between these minimals.
What I need to retain from this, though, is simply the idea that what I see hides away from me the rest of the world.

Frames and visions

Of course, Berkeley was not the only philosopher ever interested in this problem of obliteration. Traces of his musings can be found in the theories with regards to frames in objects of art.
Let's take painting and photography as the reference points here, but it won't be hard, I hope, to see all arts as one in this respect. What happens within the frame is one possible description of whatever happens in the world. But the world is far too complex to go by this limited perspective; there's more in it than meets the eye of the viewer. All it takes to see this is to take that proverbial step backward and look outside of the equally proverbial box. The box in this case being, obviously, the frame. Once you do that, you start seeing - seeing the world and its complexity. You see the wall that surrounds the frame, the building that contains the wall that surrounds the frame, the urban space that contains the gallery that contains the wall that surrounds the frame. You end up seeing the whole universe that contains... etc. etc. etc.

The impossibility of seeing through

It's exactly like Berkeley's theory of vision: the object of art, which we have understood to be a truth, is only one truth. It is only one slice of the big cake. But there's much more to be eaten where that slice came from. The fact that we don't munch up the whole cake is due to the fascination we have developped about this particular slice. A fascination that feels like a terror: as if we were afraid that the taste might change, we keep nibbling at this slice, at the same time prolonguing our confidence in the slice we know (we call this pleasure, don't you know) and worsening our fear of the rest (the unknown). Knowing the Snow White trick, we are afraid that one side of the apple might be poisonous in spite of the other side being perfectly good to ingest.
And all this because of the way our field of vision is taken up and taken over by that which is right in front of us. An expression of the limitation of our senses, no doubt, since we are creatures incapable of seeing through. Whover has created us has deprived us of the easiest way of dealing with the world: since the straight line is the closest route from point A to point B, wouldn't it have been more efficient to have the capacity to see through the things that occupy our field of vision? Wouldn't it have been easier to be equipped with X-ray vision and avoid the problem of having to move the thumb away in order to see the steeple?

Are transparent texts possible?

Fingers and texts - they work in similar ways when it comes to seeing what's behind. The same theory of the frame must be brought to bear in order to understand this overlapping capacity of texts. So when it comes to reading (let's not forget where we started!), the same will apply, hopefully.
The text I am perusing is there, in front of me. It has to be there; otherwise there would be no me reading. But the same text also acts like a screen, hiding from me all the possible texts out there, in the vast and open spaces of textuality.
And with this - one may draw attention, again, to the tyrannical nature of the obvious. The birth of a text is the death of a multitude of other texts. The birth of one text: this is what it takes for the rest of the possible texts to disappear. And what's really deceiving is that the obvious (the object right in front of my eyes) hides its fragility behind the argument of one. Like the steeple compared to the finger, the multitude of alternatives is infinitely greater than the given text. But we are blinded by the finger. Again and again.
The finger, this perfect hiding place, this detail of anatomy behind which we can lodge an entire world. With it, we keep ourselves busy. Fingering the
world - is what we do with a text, with every text that promises too much; with every text that promises to be the World.
But what a field of understanding opens up when we do see the trick, the multitude hidden behind the one! When we figure out that the game consists of not seeing only the obvious!

Discovering other texts

Once this absence/invisibility concerning reading is taken into account, one might also hope to solve, among other important things, the problem of the writer's arrogance. The special status of unicity (i.e. the originality of every creator) is nothing compared to the vastness of alterity (everything that's different, everything that's an alternative, all the authors in the world and all their flying texts). But in order for that to happen, in order for us to be able to see beyond the given, we would need a major overhauling. We would need to be endowed with X-ray vision. And that, as we all know, isn't possible beyond the scope of technology (where, by the way, it is only an illusion, only a species of wishful thinking that would make even Superman roll over with laughter).

Source: Astrobiology
So what's the solution? What's the way out of this aporia? My bet: Critical Reading, i.e. reading that takes the proverbial step backward as its most productive tool. In order to see the background we need to relativise the foreground. We need to make room for more stuff to come into our field of vision. And so, as they say, a step back is the only way ahead.
This is how we are to understand the absence concerning reading: as something that needs to be discovered, unframed. In other words, the absence concerning reading is a presence that hasn't been found yet; a presence that begs to be found and one that promises to render itself findable. But to enable this finding the reader needs to go through an essential metamorphose: he/she must become a writer. Because, remember?, only a writer can bring about something that didn't exist in the first place. The reader-as-discoverer is a reader that creates. And unless we accept that Reading is a creative act, we have but one option in terms of naming: call it authorship. If you dare.

Monday, 9 February 2015

'Coz reading and writing are not the same

Reading and writing are different – in case there was any suspicion they might be otherwise. One proof is the fact that different institutions have been erected to serve their corresponding purposes. There are libraries for readers and academies for writers. Readers need stockpiles of books, of finished texts, of texts that have been read and accepted. Writers don’t get so physical about things, although they rest on the same stockpiles of books. Academies are built on abstract ideas; they are institutions of the imagination. Whatever is physical in an academy is there only to support reading. Because yes, in order to be a writer you need to be a reader too.

Source: The Puzzle
It’s one thing to think like a writer, and attempt, at all costs, to break the ice, to make room for the unprecedented, to send to hell all formalities and good manners – and an altogether different thing to think like a reader. The reader, you see, is born out of conventions. A reader needs to see on the page what he/she already knows. Once a book is picked up, a string of words is expected; or, if the book is an album of photography, the reader expects those pages to contain the photos promised on the cover.
This is one level. Then there’s another level. It’s the one where readers expect the expected at the level of formulation.
‘A text must be readable’ is what I can say to generalize this idea. A text must have this thing about itself that makes readers feel comfortable inside it, that brings readers back to the page, back to the pleasures that characterizes the act of reading.
It’s because of this that Beckett (aware as he may have been of his transgressions) ended up being read almost exclusively by academics. And why Judith Butler was given the crown of bad prose.

Bowing to the mighty reader

You don’t just play games with the reader’s mind, because the reader is, ultimately, the one who sanctions the text you’ve produced. The reader is the checkpoint; the armed police, the censorship bureau.
This, of course, is not to say that Beckett is not enjoyable, that Butler doesn’t cause so many minds to think, that one cannot read their work without feeling whatever one feels when one is satisfied. But truth is this: most readers (if we don’t take the part of those exclusivist purists who believe that you can only be called a reader if you are capable of reading Beckett and Butler with the breakfast coffee and be amused by them), most readers, I say, are annoyed when the text fails the test of compliance with conventions. Ease of reading being, yes, but one of those conventions.
Source: Huffingtonpost
Why is that? Well, maybe because reading is a collective activity in a way that writing is not. Reading is taught in unison. When you learn how to read you start by sounding out the words. You make those words audible and understandable to the ears and minds of others. When the word is sounded out, the sounds are released into a space that is public in nature, a space that is shared by all the words of all the other utterers who happen to perform their own readings (their own putting-into-public-space).
The space of reading is virtually open to all readers and all reading practices, and so it cannot be but communal. We belong to reading communities, as someone like Stanley Fish would suggest – communities of intelligences, which have already agreed upon the terms in which your own reading is about to be performed.
We learn how to read as if there were always someone out there who might demand that we read the text to them without a lisp, without an excessive rolling of r’s, without wicked pronunciations. Reading the text to them, not for them. This is where the major difference appears to stand. Because writing is, indeed, writing for someone; as though the other were incapable of writing. The often-expressed excuse, the one we know too well, the I-don’t-have-the-talent-for-writing argument so many are willing the voice at the drop of a hat, proves that, at least at the level of personal beliefs (and it doesn’t matter whether these beliefs are sustainable or not), writing is not for all to enjoy. Not the writing that requires skill and elegance, that is; i.e. the artistic writing, if you pardon my cliché.

A literacy of surprise

The schools that teach you how to read and write don’t teach you to write creatively. That’s because creativity is goddamn hard to teach – I’d say impossible in many situations. Those schools only teach you how to read and write the common texts: the texts by means of which the language of power is disseminated, through which institutions assert their presence, through which the reader/writer admits of his/her disempowerment. Here, in such cases, writing too is a form of reading – in the sense that it must happen in a common space, under the sanction of a common law, with the strength of a common ability.
Being able to read the ticket you got for miss-parking your car is equivalent to being able to fill the payment slip. That’s why the two of them come together: the fine on one side, the payment slip on the other. The language of power and disempowerment make it clear as daylight that the two things are meant to be understood as one. You take what is given and give what is demanded. You read and write at the same time, since what you’re doing is called acknowledgement.
When you read you acknowledge the presence of the text. You enter a territory where the text has already been, waiting for you. It’s not the same with writing. When you write you bring the text with you. You populate the blank page with words that where not there in the first place.
So writing goes hand in hand with surprises, with events. The appearance of a sign on a page is equal to an explosion on a field covered by snow.
Wow! You didn’t know that sign, down there, was possible. You didn’t know the page was capable of containing, in its whiteness, in its blamelessness, a sign – any sign at all.

Source: The Gnomon Workshop
A writing literacy would require, as far as I can imagine it, familiarization with the idea of surprise. A writer must know how to build suspense, how to hold on to the silence of the page and use it to advance his cunning plan of catching the reader unaware. In order to learn to write one needs to learn how to cook up a storm, but also how to keep it in check till the right moment. Writing is, indeed, about finding the right moment. I don’t mean ‘the moment of inspiration’ (at least that cliché I can skip!) but the moment when what is written reaches a climax; when the text has an impact. Like an asteroid hitting a planet and transforming it forever. There’s no denying that a word on a blank page transforms the page. Leave a dot on that page, a full stop, nothing more – it is enough; the page is no longer what it used to be.
What the page becomes, once the sign has been placed there, depends on the sign itself. A musical score is different from a short story, and a blueprint is different from a drawing. Although the page was the same in the beginning (a territory of unblemished whiteness), its potentiality is limitless.

After the fact

There’s no surprise where reading comes from, since reading comes post festum. Things have already happened, the desserts have already been eaten by the time reading arrives at the table.
Reading relies on a fundamental anteriority: the anteriority of the text. While in the case of writing the text is invisible until it is inscribed on the page, in the case of reading the text must be there in the moment of inception. Even if we bring into discussion the various ways of reading, the various theories that one can use as support for one’s perusal, we need to admit that reading relies on the precedence of the text. Those theories are anterior to one’s employment of them. The game of reading is, therefore, a game of consciousness, of rational choices, of decision-making based on sight.
With writing, the possibility of liberation, of breaking free from the shackles of texts, and especially of pre-texts, is the key factor. At the end of the day, one can chose not to write; and when one does choose that, one leaves the page white – one doesn’t alter anything. In the case of reading, however, things aren’t that clear-cut. Yes, one may chose not to read a text, but one cannot chose to un-see the text; one cannot pretend there’s nothing there, when the text presents itself to the senses with the certainty of sensorial evidence.
Source: Life in La Ville Rose
The fact that there is a text is unavoidable when you are a reader. Even when the page is white, you can still read it; you can read its whiteness, its thickness, its texture – you can read its pageness. You can read the protest on a page unoccupied by text. But move your perspective a little and try to think with the mind of a writer. The white page is now nothing. A potential, no doubt, but still nothing yet. An unfulfilled potential, to be more precise.

Monday, 2 February 2015

Territories of writing

I was trying the other day to park my car in a rather busy urban area, where the chance of finding a spot is usually equal to its weight in gold. I saw plenty of empty spaces in an area that looked like a balding spot on top of an otherwise hairy skull. Of course, I followed my instinct and drove straight to the place. But the perspective of parking my car was crudely severed by a sign planted at the edge of what I had taken to be a free parking lot. Unauthorized parking strictly prohibited. Tow away area. Being a literate person with a clear understanding of how division of public spaces works, I took off. What else was there for me to do? To stay would have meant to accept the punishment.

Source: Consumer
What truly stopped me in my parking adventure was a piece of writing. Two incomplete sentences, two phrases. A message direct enough to require no compliance with the rules of sentence structure. A text or, in other words, a virtuality.

The power of signs

I was stopped in my progress by something untouchable, unseeable, unperceivable. I was stopped in my progress by a fiction. But a fiction extremely powerful and extremely efficient. So efficient, it caused my immediate submission. This text, which did nothing else apart from making me imagine an entirely virtual situation where a tow-away truck would come from nowhere to tow away my well-behaved car, this text drew, for me, the borderline between the acceptable and the unacceptable. I was, when faced with this text, awakened to my subjection to written signs. Yes, of course, I could not pretend there wasn't a reality behind those phrases that put a halt to my parking. I was aware that the meaning of those words could materialise from this sign, like Alien from the stomach of its victim, and that, with this event, - unwanted, no doubt – I could find out that what the text was saying was what the text could do (Austin's theory of the performativity of language, and all that). I was also aware that, once that happened, it would be too late. I will have already transgressed the caution and will have seen the consequences.
But still, I could not dismiss the power of the text to convey all this to me. I could not dismiss the fact that the text was present there as a last line of defence before my irremediable transgression, my civic crime. I could not, in other words, dismiss the text's territorial authority.

How territories are drawn

Would it be difficult to realize how territorial writing is? Michel Butor once spoke about how similar writing and exploration are, and brought about the metaphors of the man who travels territories in search for familiar spots, or clues. When no such clues are present, Butor says, i.e. when the territory is new, these clues must be created. Someone who's been wandering about criss-crossing a desert area in search for water and had no foreknowledge passed on to him from previous generations (let's say he's a stranger who got lost or a settler who has no idea where things are placed in the new field), that person, after having discovered a spring or a pond or whatever it is that water stays in, will make a note of that place. That place will be inscribed in his/her memory as a mental formula: an equation that promises to yield the same result every time it is put in practice. A map which will be greatly aided if he manages to construct some physical representation of it, some actual notation (a real map).
What is happening at these moments, when a discovery is followed, necessarily, by recollection, is called signposting.
Now I'm going to give an example I've already used once (not on this blog, though), and which I think can explain this idea a thousand times better than I can. It's an example from exploratory computer games of the Age of Empire kind.

Here, the player sets out on a quest. He/she starts from a very small territory, considered to be their own headquarters, and move sideways to find (and found) newer, richer, more promising territories. One of the game's purposes is to reveal a map that is hidden under a black blanket that renders everything invisible. The uncharted territory becomes one's own when the player places a signpost in this darkness of unknowing, this gloom of ignorance. It's like flags planted on top of difficult, yet-unreached, summits: the Edmund Hillary kind of story.


Finding (and therefore founding) territory is, in other words, very much like putting written signs on a piece of paper, is what Butor says. Sign-writing is, indeed, sign-posting. With every letter and every word and every sentence, the writer constructs familiarity for later on; he/she makes sure there will be something to remember, something to find again in the newly-founded territory. Been there, done that – it's what the written text conveys. But this, in itself, is not a territorial claim. In order for it to become the utterance of a territory, one needs to make reference to law. One needs to make reference to law because ownership over territory is a legal matter. In the case of texts, the signposting value of writing is manifested in the oh so familiar problem of copyright.
In order to be able to sanction one's use of a text already created, one needs the backup of specific laws: the laws that prohibit appropriation without acknowledgment of source. But what's interesting to see here is that in contexts where copyright is not specified the recycling of pre-existing texts does not constitute a problem at all. To be more precise, in such cases one can't speak of signposting in relation to writing. There is nothing to be protected, nothing to raise electrified barbed-wired fences around.
Obviously, the presence of an alternative relativizes the absolutism of a rule. And so, with the kind of writing engaged in problems of territoriality, one sees the weakness of the foundation. One sees that everything is arbitrary, everything is deconstructable. Parking one's car in a sanctioned place is prohibited only by the presence of the text. Without the text, there is no caution, so no sanction, no fear. Without the text, there is no territory. Nothing to be defended, nothing to be kept clear, nothing to be subjected to. The text, the sign - this is where everything lies. This is where my fear of transgression had the better of me. This is where I lost my agency to a fictional account.

Beware of the lions

To return to Michel Butor's thought, let us see that the unfounded territory is always guarded by some kind of threat, which is in fact a .restriction. On medieval maps, uncharted territories were bordered by the cautionary message Hic sunt leones! Henceforth lions – henceforth only dangers. Nothing can protect the adventurer who dares to cross the border of the known world. Now this can be interpreted (easy task!) as a mere warning: all done in good will, to the sole benefit of the reader who might not know what to expect from the Beyond. But there is another aspect to the message. The lions in the message (abstractions, no doubt, since no lion will ever be encountered on the drawn map) cut progression short in order to return attention towards the interior. This is not so much a be-careful-when-you-enter-the-Unknown kind of message, as it is one that glorifies the interior. Here, on the inside, where you are right now, things are cosy and fulfilling. There is nothing to be afraid of. The lions are out there. As long as you're here they can roar all they want, nothing will jeopardize your well-being.

Source: Rob Oakes
What is curious in relation to this is the presence of the text. The barrier between safety and danger, between the known and the unfamiliar, is marked by the sentence Hic sunt leones. There is nothing else to stop the adventurer from skidding into the uncharted. A string of signs is all it takes. The word has been vested with so much authority that it alone can play the policing role of keeping the curious within the confines of the regulated knowledge: its proper territory.
Of course, this power is entirely virtual (like all forms of power, no doubt). The proof of this is that transgressions are (have always been) possible. The sentence written on the map is a narrative, and precisely because of this, it can be re-interpreted, re-formulated. Dante's warning (Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch’intrate) is, on the face of it, an inverted warning: it does not cause panic about what might lie without, but draws attention to what lies within. The point here is still a territorial one. What one finds here is yet another text, another cautionary formula meant to exercise textual power over the unpardonably curious. But what is said is essentially identical. The interdiction, formulated as a seemingly innocent, benevolent warning, places the text on the border between a form of reality and a form of fiction: the border between the reality of power and the fiction of transgression. Here, texts show their true power. Here, a text can change everything: compliance into transgression, subjection into dissent, legality into crime, the right of staying into the duty of never-leaving.