Monday, 29 June 2015

Flaubert and a metaphor for reading

There is a sense of exploration in every gesture of reading. That’s because the author is there too, refusing to leave it all to the reader’s caprice, purposefully confusing things so as to provoke the instinct of discovery. But the readers aren’t all that brave, all that willing to expose themselves to the unknown. Note the customary reaction to new forms of writing, new genres, new authorial quips. They’re to be taken as the true measure of a reader’s resistance to novelty. Newness is accepted only if it has enough doses of familiarity in it. If it doesn’t, then most readers will wait for the dregs to settle and for taste to do its work of persuasion; only then will they embrace the once-novel, now anything but new but at least palatable, tasty.

Source: Look and Learn
If I were to stick with the metaphor of exploration, I’d say the reader goes about reading with a machete in one hand, cutting through a jungle forever unknown to them, but in the other hand carrying a map, which helps them to go about in search of something that's already been there – not in the text but in the reader’s mind.

The great anticipation

Gadamer said once that we read seeking a meaning we've already sent forth, and which we're playing with like a cat with its mouse, postponing the fatal thrust. In our case: taking delight in prolongation, in procrastinating the obvious (the meaning we know it's there). We tease the text because we want to maximize the pleasure it is capable of producing. We want to make sure that the trip has been worth taking, that we haven’t travelled all the way to the end of a text for nothing.
But there's a trick to this inductive/deductive method that concerns reading. In the process, our assumptions nibble at our reserves of patience, weakening them as pages upon pages get turned. There are moments when the pressure of getting there, the anticipation of the moment of bliss, has consequences over our physiological selves. Our heartbeats accelerate, our pupils widen, our hands shake. No, I am not fantasizing. Most readers would be hard at ease to deny these bodily transformations; the somatics of reading demand that we progress through pages with our bodies wired to high-voltage apparatuses that translate words into anticipation and anticipation into pleasure. I’ll say only one word and I’ll refrain from going into details about it: orgasm.
Reading is, generally speaking, a way of satisfying an anticipation. The moment when we meet face to face with the meaning is all that matters. Suspense is caused precisely by this expectation, by this curiosity to see what’s on the verso. The curiosity to see if the next page is bringing us any closer to what we know is there, in the book, in the text.

The great satisfaction

A lot of writers aim towards satisfying this anticipation. Most of them do it unknowingly. Many see where they need to go in order to achieve the right effect. Few actually get there. Flaubert achieved it in Madame Bovary. The famous cab scene. There, the reader is trapped in their own anticipation. They take the bite (the promise of witnessing an erotic scene) and follow the cab, in fact following Flaubert. The characters (Léon and Emma) don't really matter. They are invisible and will stay invisible throughout. Only every now and then a hand appears (arousal!), pieces of paper fall out it (loss of self-control!), the cab goes on and on (yes, the act is what we're imagining: detailed, conspicuous, delicious, illicit). The urban landscape pops in too (not as a prop but as a container). What really is to be enjoyed there is the author's art. Flaubert teasing us. Flaubert wagging the carrot under our flared nostrils. All we do is partake in the game, anticipating his understanding of our anticipation, buying it from Monsieur Gustav Flaubert, the merchant specialized in products for readers' compulsions.
I like the sound of all those streets that mark the progression of the love-bearing cab. They create rhythm but more importantly, they create connections between sites, i.e. between texts:
“The cab was seen as Saint-Pol, at Lescure, at Mont Gargan, at La Rouge-Mare and Place du Gaillardbois; in the Rue Maladrerie, Rue Dinanderie, before Saint-Romain, Saint-Vivien, Saint-Maclou, Saint-Nicaise – in front of the Customs, at the ‘Vieille Tour,’ the ‘Trois Pipes,’ and the Monumental Cemetery.”
The vehicle (a moving object) links these places otherwise lost in the sole logic of urban development. It puts these sites in a new context: an amorous context, a context of textures and striations.
And the reader goes on, their eyes following the lines of the perambulatory text in the same way in which the inhabitants of Rouen follow the passing of the cab up and down the streets. Their eyes are amazed. They are engaged, curious, suspicious, scandalized, nosy, offended, apprehensive, desiring, flabbergasted, tolerant, contemplative, expectant, eager, impatient, excited, puzzled, concerned, intrusive, interested, analytical, investigative, rational, lucid, realistic, shrewd, prudent, wise. In other words, they are everything that a reader can be. They know what’s going on – of course they know, those citizens of Rouen, even though Flaubert tries to suggest otherwise. He does it for the sake of irony, of course, one of the many things he’s so good at:
“And on the harbor, in the midst of the drays and casks, and in the streets, at the corners, the good folk opened large wonderstricken eyes at this sight, so extraordinary in the provinces, a cab with drawn blinds, and which kept on coming into view, shut more closely than a tomb, and tossing about like a vessel.”

“The good folk,” the swift-eyed good folk of all provinces, stop their daily routines like a bunch of readers lined up to encounter the text that’s just arrived in town, freshly out of the writer’s hand, strolling the avenues of a book. I take this scene as a glorious metaphor for readership.

Source: Lecturas Sumergidas

Monday, 22 June 2015

The pleasure we take in surveillance

We have grown to love the veneer of surveillance. Who would have thought! Technology has finally caught up with the discontent of scrutiny, with the Big-Brother scare, so now we're doing it in our own terms: over and over again, watching and liking it so much; partaking in an orgy of clandestine looks.

We install surveillance cameras on our properties. We record, we pile up raw data, we generate footage. And we love it. It gives us power, we say. It gives us piece of mind. It gives us the oomph to deal with our other daily routines. But wait. That's exactly how state-sponsored surveillance motivates its curiosity. Power. Reassurance. Vigor. This, though, is not a state-sponsored craze. It's not a paranoid state of mind. We aren't doing it because we're afraid. We're doing it because we like it.

Source: Makezine

Reply to sender

What a wonderful tool something like HubSpot Sidekick is, for instance! How smoothly it satisfies our scopophilia! With it, nobody can throw us the usual excuse, “I'm sorry, I haven't seen your email,“ and expect us to believe. The same concept used in Wikipedia or Google Docs, which allows collaborative work and the use of a text's history to search through versions, is employed here to track emails. Sidekick manages metadata and shows exactly how many times a given email has been opened, at what times, by whom. That gave me, the other day, enough information to know when a student of mine circumvented the truth by giving me the usual lie: “I haven't seen your email until right now. Can I have an extension?” Sidekick showed me, click by click, access by access, how many times she had, in fact, seen my email: twice from a personal computer, and twice from a mobile device, at exactly the times when she said she was unaware of my message.
I wonder if this is likely to become an interjection du jour.
Imagine, also, the urgency of replying. Once you've opened that email you cannot postpone your answer unless you are prepared to admit that you were lazy, or scared, or unsure as to how to formulate. I believe new waves of sincerity are currently coming our way, and we stand no chance in trying to avoid them. Or else we'll have to invent new techniques of deception. We need to devise new fictions around ourselves, motivated purely by the need to escape the pressure of being constantly under a magnifying glass.

The look of the many

Let's say it again: the perpetrators of this constant surveillance are us. No longer the state. Not the state as an active performer of this game of peeking, peering and eavesdropping. As Thomas Mathiesen (1997) has pointed out, we're no longer in the era of the Panopticon. We are now under the more widely accepted version of the Synopticon: the looking done by everybody.
With the good old Panopticon the game was relatively simple. There was always someone at the centre (a figure of authority), who did the visual checking, undisturbed, safe and majestic in his authority. The referee in a game of soccer, the priest in the church, the teacher at the lectern, the prison guard in the “inspection house.” If anything, Bentham wanted a scheme where the authority over everything funneled down a central siphon. It worked for a while (a pretty long while), as long as power followed the model of the singular chief. But all this is soooo twentieth-century now. Soooo dependent on computers run from centralized server rooms, where data was collected to the point of saturation.

Source: Misha Rabinovich
The Synopticon is no longer about the singular bully. The Synopticon is multiple and complex. The poor little bastard who used to watch over everything is an object of scorn. What can he see, really? How much can he be aware of? How far can his vision penetrate? He's become a local joke. What do we need a teacher for when YouTube can teach us the heaven and earth? What do we need a teacher for when we can learn so much from Beyoncé and Dr. Phil?

Power to the perverts!

The look has been reverted from the one to the many. The one is no longer the viewer but the viewed, and that's because he/she is a sight worth seeing.
We now love the flow of data, its refusal to stay put, its mocking of the server room. We now scorn stasis. Synopticon is a thing of the cloud: never stable, airy, globular, fluid, global, adaptable, liquid.
Our synopticist pleasures, once limited to the reach of a telethon or the eavesdropping pleasures embodied in a radio show, are now everywhere: from crowd sourcing to wiki-writing, from blogs to Twitter, from Facebook to reality tv. Show me something airing these days, show me something that's gone viral: it will certainly have one form of synoptic aspect to it. The Bachelor, the Kardashians, American Idol, Britain's Got Talent. They're all about individuals being placed under a magnifying glass, to be seen, to be gazed at, to be visually gulped down. They're all about us taking good pleasure in watching. But us not as individuals – us as collectives. The multitudes of voyeuristic monsters.
Perverts from all countries unite!
The union of visual depravity is here!
Power to the debauchee!
I can think up a million slogans of this type. They would all describe perfectly well the state of affairs in the kingdom of collective voyeurism.
With this synoptic vision we are at the same time participants in the surveillance game and targets of the same. We partake in the pleasure of watching others knowing full well that we too are being watched, and not by state apparatuses, but by individuals like us. We live under the threat of showing up on Facebook or YouTube against our will, simply because we just happened to be where the camera was. But the camera is everywhere. It is not one camera but infinities of cameras. So many of them, we no longer have time to prepare for the show, to put makeup on, to comb our hair à la mode. So many, it becomes impossible to oppose them on the premise of individuality. Even if I have the possibility to sue the person who recorded me, I am completely impotent insofar as the mechanisms of spreading and sharing are concerned. Once the content has been mirrored, it is virtually unstoppable.

Source: Blouin
What a Sartrean situation we are in! Peeping at a keyhole and being startled by the creaking of the floor behind us: watching others while, at the same time, knowing that we are ourselves being watched. What complicated mechanisms of subjectivation, of self-formation, what technologies of the self we are employing, what rituals of disclosure and concealment!
But then the hope. Don't forget the hope! Writing on a blog (like this one or like any other) is writing in the hope of being noticed. We write ourselves into this synopticist madness, this flirting with glory, this brush with eternity. What concealment? To hell with concealment! Let the multitudes come. Let them see us! Let them stare!

Monday, 15 June 2015

Enclaves for self-defense

In Mario Vargas Llosa's latest novel, The Discreet Hero (2013), a character has the revelation that the things of the world are spatial in their essence. But spatial in a special way. Disgusted by filth, the mass media and the cheap spectacles of publicity, he has surrounded himself with objects of perennial worth: art books, novels, music. He’s built for himself some pretty solid walls.

Don Rigoberto finds in this hoarder’s instinct a necessary reassurance and a rather bourgeois piece of mind.
"That was when he’d had the idea of saving spaces, the idea that civilization was not, had never been a movement, a general state of things, an environment that would embrace all of society, but rather was composed of tiny citadels raised throughout time and space, which resisted the ongoing assault of the instinctive, violent, obtuse, ugly, destructive, bestial force that dominated the world [...]"
What’s interesting here is not the idealisation of civilization as such but rather its enclavisation, its capacity to lock itself up in a closet of self-sufficiency. In other words, what we’ve got here is civilization’s ability to become a space, a territory. Or to be more precise: a series of spaces, a series of territories.

Corral, i.e. enclaves. Source: Terrierman

Keeping viruses out

Vargas Llosa posits the works of human civilization as fortresses built to gain good defense against threats. Security before everything else! In Abraham Maslow’s famous pyramid of human needs, security is right there, at the bottom, after physiological needs, two of the most wide-spread wants: ones that are at the same time the most desired and also the most lacking.
One is tempted to say that all is good when all is safe. But there’s another sense of the threat that makes a lot of sense in the wider scheme of things. This one indicates that the idea of threat is appealing because it offers the best justification for creation. And I mean the creation of everything: from an antidote to a virus to a dam to impede future shortage of electricity; electricity, itself created to impede our lack of light and heat. The creation of everything: from poetry, which keeps returning us to a state where we dread being but where we love to see others performing well, to photography, which keeps us from falling into some fictional dark ages devoid of images and perhaps of imagination. This urge to produce has been equivalent to our need to make things safe for ourselves.
What will happen if we ask this simple question: why is literature necessary? The great majority will say: because without it we would be uglier, worse, more wicked, less moral. You see how the affirmation of the art of writing, among all this, starts from a negation: least we become this; least we become that. Least we return to that state. Least we grow horns and hooves. Least we end up mocking Creation.
The enclaves we construct to safeguard (this word, which has never gotten into proper use because it’s been hijacked by ideologies from its very beginnings) the world – these enclaves are, in fact, vaccines meant to put our fears to rest.

Prisoners of literature

It is perhaps due to these enclaves that keep us safe (enclosures, corrals, confinements, detentions, gaols) that literature, for instance, rests on such an abundance of entrapments.
Trapped in a gesture (Sisyphus and perpetual motion, Atlas and perpetual stasis, Ulysses and perpetual transition); trapped in storytelling (Boccaccio’s Decameron, Chaucer’s Tales, The One Thousand and One Nights), trapped, of course, in a place (all the utopias where humanity fares better but is never allowed to live to tell the tale); trapped in admirations (Kobo Abe’s Woman in the Dunes¸ Yasunari Kawabata’s The House of the Sleeping Beauties, Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Memories of My Melancholy Whores); trapped in desires for something better, something more (Madame Bovary, Anna Karenina) trapped in exercises of imagination (Le Petit Prince, Alice in Wonderland, Sherlock Holmes, Hercule Poirot).

Atlas. Source: Wikipedia
To clarify. By this entrapment I don’t mean impossibility to move forth and back; not like what’s happened to an insect caught forever in the perfection of a teardrop of amber. At the end of the day, Ulysses reaches Ithaca; Boccaccio’s storytellers return to their places of origin. The enclaves are not permanent in the strict sense of the word; and it is not permanence that matters, anyway. The entrapment, however, is a precondition of everything. The will to escape, the acknowledgment of the force that keeps things at a standstill, the desire to exchange the current space, with all its certitudes and “lacks of shadows” (Wallace Stevens), for a space that hasn’t been conceived of yet, not even as a wild dream – this is what stands at the foundation of progression, of movement, of the universal sway. In order to set out on their journeys, the heroes of fairy tales must experience enclosure as a point of pressure, as an original point that can no longer contain them, that expels them like a decayed tooth. The kind of decayed tooth that Ovid, for instance, turned into; Ovid, who made Rome incapable of putting up with him and sent him off to the shores of that distant Pontus Euxinus where he was entrapped for as long as it took for the city to considered him cured. The expulsion and the entrapment that ensued were the preconditions of his Tristia and his Epistulae ex Ponto.

Perfections and the intertext

Because the threats are great, the defense also needs to be close to perfection. Hence the need for round novels, the need for systemic philosophy, the need for poems that read in one breath. Hence the requirement for authors with oeuvre, who can be recognized ten pages into their latest book. Hence the factor of elimination, applicable when the next volume is unlike the benchmark. Hence, indeed, the need for benchmarks at all, for standards that stay unchanged for as close as possible to forever.

Escher's neverending buildings, a form of intertextuality. Source: Crystalinks
The enclaves require isolationist politics; they need to be so perfect in themselves that they cannot possibly communicate beyond their borders. This is why it takes serious effort to understand intertextuality, and why, for instance, the rise of electronic literature is regarded (still) with so much scorn. Because in intertextuality the limits are negated in the name of a text that grows outside its own limits, outside its own enclave, and which, more importantly, grows in ways impossible to predict. With the intertext there seems to be no more entrapment. The growth comes, then, from somewhere else, from an internal tension, from a need to expand: a need that is organic, a need that every text has, since texts don’t grow in isolation, by themselves and for themselves. Digital writing reaches out to similar new limits (or rather to the lack thereof). For one thing, hypertext is a concrete materialization of the principle of intertextuality. A link expands the text, makes it part of Borges’ universal library – it becomes that library itself. And because of this, the digital universe, a multidimensional conglomerate of texts and codes and circuits, feels so much more at home in the notion of the Sublime. The space of the digital, like the space of the intertextual, is an enormous space, a space of non-limits, grandiose, overwhelming, disempowering. Therefore, frightening. 

Monday, 8 June 2015

The space(ness) of writing

Writing-as-space is a lucky metaphor; but one that makes apparent the combinatoric nature of inscriptions. It brings about the notion of site, but site as self-contradiction (not as conscious construction but as the result of luck).

To quote Foucault again, to create a network with him, in the sense that he must have had in mind when he talked about the nature of modern space:
“The space in which we live, which draws us out of ourselves, in which the erosion of our lives, our time and our history occurs, the space that claws and gnaws at us, is also, a heterogeneous space. In other words, we do not live in a kind of void, inside of which we could place individuals and things. We do not live inside a void that could be colored with diverse shades of light, we live inside a set of relations that delineates sites which are irreducible to one another and absolutely not superimposable on one another.”
My question now is: can I see writing behind this definition of space? Is writing “the space in which we live”?
In all appearance, yes: writing is the space in which we live. If this was not apparent after the invention of the press, it has categorically become apparent after the growth of the digital sphere. The digital sphere, itself a space: a space not because it has geographical coordinates but precisely because it is virtual. The virtual nature of the digital is nothing but a technological restatement of the virtual nature of writing tout court.

Of zeros and ones

In this space that is vastly virtual (and therefore real), writing is primarily a means of creating connections and mixing complexities. Here, in the digital universe, writing appears as a juxtaposition of digits. I am not so much interested in the digits (the famous downgrading of letters in relation to numbers) as I am in the juxtaposition that articulates them. The series of 0’s and 1’s that make up the structure of digital texts is capable of creating meaning out of the very operation of mixing and matching.

These 0’s and 1’s, in their glorious simplicity, are suspect companions. Taken separately, they represent the exact opposite of each other. 0 means closed, while 1 means open. With 1, a circuit becomes active; with 0, it becomes inactive (it is said to be either on or off). When seen at their most fundamental, these 0’s and 1’s are, really, instances of life and death. The putting of them together embodies, in one of the many possible ways, Foucault’s assertion concerning heterotopic structures: the fact that they are such that their elements “are irreducible to one another and absolutely not superimposable on one another.”
It is only through the combinatoric function of the digital discourse that 0 and 1 are brought into a state of coexistence. This is what brings about the scandal of meaning, a scandal that governs any semantic instance. See Ferdinand de Saussure’s signs, which are purely arbitrary creations, unlikely bedfellows, just like digits forced to stay together. See the algebraic signs that stand for addition and subtraction (+ and –). See the logical operators that enable the establishment of truth (true and false, yes and no). All of the above are matters of language, and most importantly, matters of writable language.
The binary code used by computers allocates a sequence of bits to every function or operation possible in the computer’s refined and complicated brain. A bit is in itself defined as an either/or situation. A bit (short for ‘binary digit’) is precisely the articulation of this proximity of 0 and 1. Based on this primary distinction between the two values, a magical juxtaposition ensues, one that makes many things possible. One that makes everything possible. Everything that can be worked out by the digital brain.


Writing is, as shown at least by the case of 0’s and 1’s, a space of arbitrariness, where meaning occurs at the conjunction between basic bits (of information, of logic, of computation, of truth). Things that are put together are corralled into signification by force. It is the force of arbitrariness, or of entropy, that makes it possible for writing to turn up at all.
But writing isn’t just a meeting space. It is a site that contradicts its own siteness. It is, in Foucault’s words, a “counter-site.”
Let’s try to explain.
The logic of space is similar to the logic of signification, at least in the Saussurean sense, which doesn’t allow for simultaneity. A sign is a sign insofar as it can be told apart from another sign. (Let’s leave it at denotation and ignore connotation, for the sake of the argument.) In other words, signification tolerates juxtaposition but doesn’t do well with overlapping: signs can stand side by side but not one above the other. The same applies to a space, in the traditional, Leibnizian sense, of “that which results from places taken together” (a precursor to Foucault’s definition of space as connectivity). In order to have space, the world needs places; the network needs nods; planet Earth needs continents linked together by masses of water (or maybe vice-versa, if we were to look for an aquatic reason to geography). But most importantly, in order to have space the world needs places distinguishable from each other.
The overlapping of masses of earth can only lead to geological scandal: to earthquakes and all the catastrophes that come with it. Note, though, that even when it takes place, the overlap is not permanent; at some point, the two masses will return to their initial position, and the earth will go back to its original lack of ambiguity. The overlapping of written signs can only lead to semantic scandal: homography. If two words are spelled identically and yet mean a different thing, they can only mean what they mean depending on context. Without the context (the putting of texts together), there would be either gobbledygook or perplexity.
Language does its best to avoid this state of bafflement. But writing is not bound by the same constraint. On the contrary, writing is precisely the intoxication of language. Writing is the place where language is mocked, where it is made to mean.

The negation of space, the negation of writing

In this process of creation of meaning writing acts out the function of heterotopias, defined by Foucault as
“[sites] that have the curious property of being in relation with all the other sites, but in such a way as to suspect, neutralize, or invent the set of relations that they happen to designate, mirror, or reflect.”
Heterotopias negate the right of places to be what they have been designated to be. They negate the geological right of two masses of earth to staying beside each other, never over one another. They negate spatiality in the sense of calling into question its relation to distinctiveness, to uniqueness. Hence the example I mentioned last week, of the church, which is not one but many spaces. It is not completely public, nor completely private, but a part-public-part-private conglomerate.

But isn’t that what writing is as well?
Writing is language, in the sense that it would not be possible if it hadn’t always already been inherent in the code of language itself. But at the same time, it is also non-language, in the sense that writing transforms language, so as to render it representable as a series of signs, as a bit string. The 0 and 1 of digital writing is present here again. Life and death, on and off, present and absent, open and closed, writing and language: it’s here again, there again. But it is in writing that this ambiguous distinction/confusion is made possible. It is only writing that relativizes the solidity of language, its apparent non-ambiguity, in order to make itself apparent.

Monday, 1 June 2015

Writing 'as if'

Michel Foucault indicated that “our epoch is one in which space takes for us the form of relations among sites.” The relationality of our world, which encompasses everything from globalization to network theories, offers me a way of thinking about writing as a site. So that’s what I’m concerning myself with this week.

Writing is a distributive business. It is the art of putting together disparate elements. The words of a vocabulary, the rules of a grammatical system, the ideology of a culture, all these things are assembled by means of writing. The assemblage is synchronic, i.e. it works in a right-here-right-now fashion. It amasses elements in an apparatus that transgresses the immediate inconsistencies of its components. At the same time, the assemblage makes apparent order in the seemingly chaotic structure of the world.

Writing is a heterotopic site

For the above reasons, one could say that the assemblage we call writing presents some of the features of what Foucault termed heterotopia. A heterotopic entity is a structure, an arrangement of parts, but one that does not homogenize smooth similarities. On the contrary, heterotopias bring together unlikely bedfellows: aspects of life, of ideology, of discourse, that don’t belong in the same class or don’t answer the same exigencies of classification.
Foucault was very specific. He pointed out concrete instantiations of the heterotopic phenomenon: places that don’t seem to serve any of the sharply divided functions normally associated with the role of a site. What characterizes a heterotopia is the fact that it doesn’t exist exclusively in the public realm,nor exclusively in the private sphere. It features in both, and yet in none of them.
Time for an example. A church. It is a place that’s not completely public, since certain restrictions are imposed onto whom can attend services or pay a tourist’s visit. But the church is not completely private either, because circulation of visitors, worshipers, and other participants in the service is not restricted in principle. Anybody can walk into a church and see what’s taking place there, even if they are not of the specific religion that is being served right there, right then.

Source: Prestige
In order to be accepted as a visitor of a church, one will have to fulfill certain functions, perform certain rituals, execute certain gestures that commit one to the site as such. Taking your hat off or crossing yourself at the threshold determines your affiliation to the place; not to the religion in all its complexity and ideology, but to the specific site in which you are observed at this particular moment.

The way we pretend

But I would like to notice that my affiliation depends on a whim. At the end of the day, I could fake those gestures only in order to seem as though I were a member or an acceptable visitor. Drawing a cross on my chest (an act of writing in its simplest form of inscription) is a task for the completion of which I don’t have to be a Christian. But once I’ve done it, I have fulfilled the conditions of acceptance that will allow me access to this particular site: the church I want to visit today. My religious beliefs notwithstanding, I have entirely satisfied the site’s ideology, as well as its ability to work as an assemblage (i.e. its ability to contain me, the unbeliever, or me, the one whose interest is purely touristic).
This is where I want to place my understanding of the gestures we make when we write. As techné, or craft, writing does require this faking of gestures, this apparent affiliation, this game of resemblances and illusions. As in the case of the church, writing too is prone to invite simulations.
Let’s put it this way: we write as if. We write as if we were intimately accustomed to the craft of writing; as if writing had revealed itself to us in all its complexity; as if it had shown us the full range of its technical and ideological possibilities.
But, in fact, this absolute knowledge is impossible. It is impossible because it depends on temporary coordinates that are not stable. Writing changes along with the material conditions that make it possible. It also changes along with the ideological edifices and mentalities that inform its necessities. So writing is very much a modern site (a la Foucault’s definition), because of this liminality of its condition. As Lieven de Cauter, who has made it his mission to expand on Foucault’s incomplete theory of heterotopias, concedes:
“A stay in a liminal space or a liminoid space is, by consequence, mostly temporary. Some people, however, dwell in heterotopias: priests, gurus and wandering philosophers, actors, artists, bohemians, musicians, athletes, entertainers and even architects and urban designers…”
References to writing are absent here, but that doesn’t stop me from imagining the writer as a dweller in a limbo. At the end of the day, a writer does operate in this gray area where connections are made, where ideologies and materialities are brought together to coexist within the limits of one text, of one oeuvre.

Source: COE online
Like the elements that enter in the composition of Foucault’s heterotopias, these ideologies and materialities that make up writing are only partially drawn into the scheme of the written document. They do not cease to exist in their original place. They only temporarily inhabit this site, this page, this text. And that is a fact that highlights the heteropia-like condition of writing.

Playing with impermanence

A writer’s stay in the limbo is said to be temporary, and that’s for the reasons already mentioned above: it’s not because they can’t hold their ground, but precisely because they can. A writer who is capable of managing the instability of the ground that stands beneath their feet is one that will dwell happily in temporariness.
The temporary aspect of the problem of writing is also given by the fact that writing deals with newness, with perverse forms of originality that constantly erode the ground, constantly contribute, destructively, to the redefinition of that ground. A poet, as Robert Pinsky put it somewhere, is a person whose work must be placed against the grain of poetry. A poet creates things that do not exist, things for which there is no definition yet. Otherwise we wouldn’t call them a poet, a creator, a maker of things.
It’s this absence of things that defines Foucault’s heterotopias: the fact that this presence-together made possible by a poem, or by any text for that matter, is writing’s fundamental function. The text is a hub of sorts. By means of a centripetal force that brings disparities to a common denominator, it creates a new topos, one that is neither here nor there. This topos, which might be referred to as the site of writing, is the point of convergence, the place where poetry materializes.

So a poet can be said to only simulate their own presence; to fake their compliance with the rules and conventions of the business of poetry, insofar as what we define as ‘poetry’ is a set of artifacts and operations already assimilated, already agreed upon (and therefore rendered useless). Writing against these agreed-upon facts, the poet creates meaning in the same way in which an intruding church-goer crosses themselves in spite of their ‘improper’ belief.

(to be continued)