October 17th, 2011 / 9:00 am
Craft Notes & Events

&NOW Tomorrowland Forever & The Mad Science of Narrative

This past weekend (Thursday – Saturday) was the &NOW Festival of New Writing 2011 (Tomorrowland Forever) at UC San Diego. I planned on writing a more cohesive write-up of the conference, but the condensed intensity of the conference (in the most positive way possible) has exhausted by brain and I may need a bit of a recovery period to really process all the stimulating conversation and events. So much thanks and to Anna Joy Springer and Amina Cain for putting on such an awesome event.

On one of the panels I was a part of, “The Mad Science of Narrative: Temporal Horizons and Neurological Transcendence,” we 4 panelists (loosely operating as the collective Strophe) continued to explore some themes we’ve been talking about for some time now, surrounding issues of narrative & narrativization. Some really amazing & productive conversation ensued, and we hope to keep this conversation going, so in hopes of that, am posting up our mini-papers here (which we presented first and then opened up for general discussion).  My own paper is largely recycled from some other things I’ve also been working on, as these ideas have largely been shaping my critical & creative practice as of late. Anyways, looking forward to hearing more thoughts.


First Panelist: JANICE LEE

In a collaborative text, we once wrote:

Possible narratives are defined by an increased participation in the narrativization of a piece, as the innovative text will seek to atomize the subject, granting the reader to some new notion of their own embedded subjectivity.

We distinguish here between narrative and narrativization. Narrative as organization, coherence; and narrativization as an inevitable cognitive consequence of textual interaction, or the cognitive process itself resulting in an interaction with/within narrative.

We further explain:

The atomization is for the purpose of refraction — like projecting a cone of light through a dense cloud of dust, only to learn how that light bounces around and reveals the dimensions of all the disparate bits of “nothing” that seem to make a whole; the reader has an increased awareness of the intentionality of the work, seeing narrative as possibility.

It is such a reconceptualization of narrative that I am interested in, a consideration of narrative and narrativization, like Badiou, as in terms of epistemology rather than ontology, in terms of phenomenology rather than narratology.

In a recent essay I wrote about the forthcoming anthology of women’s conceptual writing from Les Figues Press, I speak of the ghost of conceptual writing, a ghost that cues the gestural fusion of idea with language, the ghost that speaks as a denotative and connotative apparition hiding in a text that is buried alive.

In the afterword to the anthology, Vanessa Place writes:

… all conceptualism is allegorical, that is to say, its textual surface (or content) may or may not contain a kind of significance, but this surface significance (or content) is deployed against or within an extra-textual narrative (or contextual content) that is the work’s larger (and infinitely mutable) meaning.

The possibility of narrative is the potential to offer a literary enactment of the kind of consciousness that drives the dream of individual subjectivity. In other words, the reader must construct his or her own phenomenological self-model during the process of reading. It is indeed a question of phenomenology, of knowledge, of one’s place in the world, the creation of a narrative that does not ignore the inherent and necessary quality of narrativization for human understanding but rather pushes a narrative aesthetic that allows and inspires readers “to view their ideological embeddedness with fresh eyes.”

Because the recent loss of my mother colors the way I perceive the world —the way I interact with time and space and language —what experimental writing practice becomes for me is the manifestation of ghosts. I see ghosts everywhere, especially in the margins of altered texts. The ghosts scurry across the tracks of my mind, leaving footprints on the margins of well-traveled memories, but never creeping out into the open. There is a neurological transcendence (as poet Will Alexander would say) at work when we interact with poetry—the ideas that voice themselves when the letters shed off their physical traits. This is not a new-age description of consciousness, but rather a Badiou-ian eventfulness.

The intervention which Badiou speaks of is the reader’s very interaction with a text, the participation in a kind of “active reading” that opens up a phenomenological possibility, rather than closing in on a singular narrative. A story is most often a story about “something,” a something that rarely includes the plurality of subjectivity and consciousness themselves.

The “event” here refers to that which can not be discerned, the conceptual framework that exists outside of language, the point at which one’s mind is most open-minded, “a rupture in ontology, a being-in-itself—through which the subject finds her realization and reconciliation with ‘truth.” Or, the “blind spot” of Derrida’s grammatology, the shadow of narrative history, a textualized séance, and a “phantasmogenetic center”—that “point in space so modified by the presence of a spirit that it becomes perceptible to persons materially present near it.” The ghost lives in and is alive in writing, and the text is the site of its conjuration and activation.

The way I understand experimental narrative is similar perhaps to Carl Jung’s theory of synchronicity—there are moments in space and time where and when the physical world becomes a text to be read and interpreted, where and when the event is structured not by casual networks of matter but by symbolic references producing meaning. Jeffrey Kripal relates these processes of writing and reading to paranormal processes, coining the phrase “authors of the impossible.” And it is this reaching for impossibility that for me unites the “beyond” haunting metaphysics and an experimental writing practice.

In a text, there is so much that is unspeakable, but also the words of so many voices echo in the “just beyond.” In the search for a concrete “I,” we slip, waver, stare at the moon, and make assumptions. A limited view locates ghosts in the past. But it is more precise to say that their roots lie in the future, in a reading not yet realized but being realized presently.

Another way for me to envision narrative possibilities is to borrow from Csicsery-Ronay Jr.’s writing on science fiction. “As the sentences build up, we build up a world in specific dialogue, in specific tension with out present concept of the real.” Through the labored interaction of reading language, one can interact with their own ideological embeddedness on a profound level. Ernst Bloch uses the term Novum to describe “a moment of newness in lived history that refreshes human collective consciousness, awakening it from the trancelike sense of history as fated and empty, into awareness that it can be changed… the unexpectedly new, which pushes humanity out of its present toward the not yet realized,”… towards a “blankness of horizon of consciousness… formed not by the past but by the future… a not yet conscious ontological pull of the future, of a tidal influence exerted upon by that which lies out of sight below the horizon, an unconscious of what is yet to come.” Parallel to Badiou’s “event,” the novum derives its significance from its effect on human consciousness. “Each instance of the Novum is a hypostatized moment of apocalyptic cognition; and each such moment of cognition is a recognition.”

The ghosts impress upon us projections of our own embedded ideologies and the potential of impossibility. Experimental narrative cannot run from the spectrality of metaphysics. Rather, the materiality and literality of experimental writing become the foundation for the revenants that haunt the text. There are ghosts in writing everywhere, offering hope or glimpses of apocalyptic cognition.

It is the cognitive estrangement that arises out of encounters with ghosts that brings about cognitive change, the paranormal as instigative, narrativization as understanding, understanding as the creation of meaning, the beginning of subjectivity.


Second Panelist: LAURA VENA

“The fantastic is always a break in the acknowledged order, an irruption of the inadmissible within the changeless everyday legality.”

We often mistake patterning for proof that what we perceive as the real is fixed, permanent, predictable, and continuous. We buy into the fallacy of continuity and become inflexible and entangled, our consciousness enters a sleeping passivity that validates instead of challenges the familiar and orthodox terrain. At times, we may have an ephemeral sense that our eyelids occasionally interrupt the vision that our “consciousness has decided is permanent and continuous, but almost immediately the blinking again becomes unconscious, the book or the apple is fixed in obstinate appearance”  (Julio Cortázar). This false harmony, which makes stale the processes of both writing and reading, can be combated by a kind of self-interrogation and a simultaneous leap into unfamiliar territory.

In collaborative writing with some of the panelists, we suggest “innovative writing should be continually open-minded, not only willing, but seeking to inhabit the aporia, or spaces of inarticulation.”

To clarify, the aporia is that which can’t be named, or not easily so. It is a philosophical puzzle or a seemingly insoluble impasse in an inquiry. It is the untraversable, indiscernible, contingent, paradoxical, incoherent, nontranscendent, or temporary. To bring about the aporia is to construct an unsettling/ed world, to write out of an interstitial zone.

Italo Calvino’s “The Origin of Birds,” begins with a short encyclopedic excerpt concerning Archaeopteryx, the progenitor of birds. Against the backdrop of its minimalistic, scientific tone, one is struck by something fantastical—the real-life birth of flight. Through these few introductory lines, one can refer to the paleontological controversy debating the true origin of flight, which points simultaneously to both the limits of science and to its roots in the fantastic. The cursorial (from the ground up) theory proposes that at some point an ancient reptile extended beyond its own anatomy to make a slow ascent from the muck, scales impossibly elongating into feathers, eyes fixed above at perhaps some longed-for prey or escape, and leapt up into the blue, instantly forgetting what it was like to be earth-bound. The arboreal (from the trees down) theory posits the possibility of tree-dwelling reptiles that slipped, fell, jumped, or otherwise stumbled into the wind, not sensing if or when the aerial plummeting would result in flight. Climbing and clawing into the sky, or plummeting into its void, the first birds disturbed the still air and transformed the sky with shadow.

To inhabit the aporia, the writer must leap headfirst and blindly into the unknown, into that which is utterly beyond her frame of reference. One way to accomplish this is by venturing into the fantastic. The fantastic represents a breach in the recognized order of things, interrogating the nature of the real. The fantastic is that kind of perception that opens onto the widest spaces, spaces where unity had been assumed.

Works in which the fantastic takes off from the real devise an unexpected disruption with an invasion by the extraordinary. Fantasy is not about inventing another non-human world: it is not transcendental. It has to do with inverting elements of this world, re-combining its constitutive features in new relations to produce something strange, unfamiliar and apparently new, absolutely other and different. It is the unexpected—a break in continuity, a surprise of sequence, condition, or context. “Structured upon contradiction and ambivalence, the fantastic traces in that which cannot be said, that which evades articulation or that which is represented as ‘untrue’ and ‘unreal’. (Jackson)

For Bakhtin, the fantastic exhibits a hostility to static, discrete units; it juxtaposes incompatible elements and resists fixity. “Spatial, temporal, and philosophical ordering systems all dissolve; unified notions of character are broken; language and syntax become incoherent. Through its ‘misrule’, it permits ‘ultimate questions’ about social order, or metaphysical riddles as to life’s purpose” (Jackson). It works against a closed, unified, or omniscient vision of reality and violates social propriety.

“We weren’t expecting any more surprises,” Calvino’s narrator asserts, before he and his society are thrown headlong into a state of flux by the appearance of beasts neither known nor dreamed of. In his first-person account of evolution, rooted both in the Jurassic moment and somehow also simultaneously illuminated by a contemporary retrospect, shows how wrong their assumptions are. We, as contemporary readers, can surmise that any such assumptions are always suspect. The only thing sure is change / flux. “Reality” is an arbitrary, shifting construct. The impossibilities of the fantastic propose latent ‘other’ meanings or realities behind the possible or the known. “Breaking single, reductive ‘truths’, the fantastic traces a space within a society’s cognitive frame. It introduces multiple, contradictory ‘truths’: it becomes polysemic.”  “By presenting that which cannot be, but is, fantasy exposes a culture’s definition of that which can be: it traces the limits of its epistemological and ontological frame”(Rosemary Jackson).

Sartre writes about the different functions of fantasy in religious or secular societies. While religious faith prevailed, fantasy fulfilled an escapist function.“It manifested our human power to transcend the human. In a secular culture, fantasy does not invent supernatural regions, but presents a natural world inverted into something strange, something ‘other’, turning from transcendental explorations to transcriptions of a human condition” (Jackson).  Fantasy here assumes its proper function: to transform this world. “We recognize the footprint on the shore as our own.”

Calvino’s narrator may have never drawn his gaze upward to behold an unknown animal perched in the tree had it not been for a disruption that preceded his vision of it—the first song ever heard. The uninhabited blue is transformed by melody, and the narrator must contemplate this new phenomenon, which calls into question the once closed system of his universe.

Through the fantastic, the writer transgresses codified normality to create “openings onto estrangement, instances of a dislocation in which the ordinary ceases to be tranquilizing.” The text becomes a provocation in which the reader can access latent or alternate realities.

Calvino’s narrator who follows the bird to a “new continent, coming forward in the void,” is confronted by a reality beyond his imagining, beyond language, even—a world in which all geographic and bestial possibilities vibrate around him. He calls for the reader to envision a comic strip of the scene to make up for that which is inutterable. “There’s no use my telling you in detail the cunning I used to succeed in returning to the Continent of the Birds,” states Calvino’s narrator on a return trip. “In the strips it would be told with one of those tricks that work well only in drawings…Thus I arrive at the Land of the Birds. If you don’t like this story you can think up another one: the important thing is to have me arrive there.”

Within the realm of the aporia, the reader must confront the extraordinary to reconcile it with established truths. In these moments of hesitation and awakened subjectivity, as we write “the reader gains some notion about her position as a subject in the world, recognizing her own ideological embeddedness, opening up for the possibility of narrative.” On the Continent of the Birds, Calvino’s narrator meets and then marries an exquisite but fearsome hybrid creature, half-woman, half-bird, and admits “I can’t tell you anything about this either: the only thing that’s remained in my memory is a feathery flutter of iridescent images.”

(We write) “narratives confront us with our own models of experience… as if, in a narrative, you could actually gaze into the space between two mirrors and not have your own head block your view of infinity, narrativization reveals the essential excess of all human experience;” this engagement with one’s own subjectivity happens through the navigating towards the aporia or event during the process of narrativization.”

“if a creature,” says Calvino’s narrator, “impossible by definition such as a bird was instead possible…then the barrier between monsters and non-monsters was exploded and everything was possible again.” The real, asserts Bakhtin,  is a notion under constant interrogation. “The province to be traversed here is infinite” (Kafka).


Third Panelist: JOSEPH MILAZZO

For the purposes of this discussion, I am much more interested in what I will call the “meta-narrative” of self-proclaimed avant-garde aesthetics, rather than the stylistic features of or programs advanced by the same. In fact, it is my contention that almost all self-proclaimed avant-garde aesthetics can be distilled to the notion that changes in imaginary relations can alter changes in actual or material relations. (Though I fully acknowledge I am leaning heavily on Surrealism here.) Please understand that this admittedly reductive “diagnosis” is not meant as an excoriation of the avant-garde. Avant-garde movements are vital, if for no other reason than that they remind us—whether they intend to or not—of the intrinsically social nature of art, and language-based arts, such a literature, most especially. That said, I do believe that the avant-garde, as a stance, may be criticized for its failure to do well with or by notions of plurality. Rather, as they always have, avant-gardes tend to replace one complex of puritanical canons with another. Each avant-garde’s celebration of liberatory impulses in effect negates possible (or previously unimagined) expressions within the boundaries of certain artistic practices. The “conventional” becomes verboten or, at best, a vehicle for satire. Indeed, the balance of the moral universe is always at stake in avant-garde art and expression, and so there must always be heroes and villains, winners and losers, “us” and “them.”

Yet is this—like all binary oppositions—a dumbed-down dialectic? Maybe so. And, as dialectical, we thus cannot fail to ignore the fact that history-with-a-capital-H is the nimbus that suffuses the ground around any given figure of the New, the Unique or the Radical.

In other words, while individual examples of self-identified avant-garde or experimental narrative may have hollowed themselves of any recognizable narrative features (character, and therefore psychology; logical unities of time and space; and, above all, plot), with respect to those experimental narratives as objects, as manifest, mobilized participants in the definition of an art / Art itself, a narrative is always being advanced. In this instance, it is a meta-narrative, and it functions not unlike what Lacan has identified as a metalanguage, i.e.,  that because of the avant-garde’s historical orientation, there can be no avant-garde that exists outside of narrative, even if said avant-garde promulgates an anti-narrative aesthetic. But, if Lacan is correct and “there can be no meta-language,” something of the obverse is also true: there is always a meta-narrative.

Most readers would agree that the nouveau roman of mid-20th Century France qualifies as an avant-garde “movement.” There are legitimate counter-arguments to be aired on this subject, but, as perceptions are just as powerful as verifiable fact in these matters, let us for now accept that Robbe-Grillet, Simon, Butor, Sarraute etc. constituted a movement, and that their work at least looks and feels like it is an extension of the great Modernist tradition of revolutionary or rupture-oriented aesthetics. My reading experience, however, has been that the nouveau roman writers were writing within a different meta-narrative altogether. Far from being an individually heroic effort on the part of each author to wrench the novel into some future (by which we usually mean that the expression under consideration “comprehends” the present more fully than any other expression), the great majority of nouveaux roman dedicate tremendous energy to re-imagining the past. This is not to say that, within the nouveau roman, we will find recreations of the past or elapsed worlds in exhaustive Proustian prose, or preserved historicity in what Frederick R. Karl has identified as the American pastoral mode. Instead, what we typically encounter in the nouveau roman is the suggestion of possible alternate pasts, different points of origination that otherwise lie outside the scope of consideration (or knowledge), and almost always creaky but compellingly askew models of the manner in which things (reality) could have become possible.

As such, the narratives that transpire within any given nouveau roman tell themselves, and through their own necessary disassembly or active unmaking. Does the project of Derridean deconstruction commence with the nouveau roman writers and their so-called anti-novels? Perhaps. But these authors are not so much opposed to novelistic (read: narrative) conventions as they are concerned with a demystifying the power wielded by such conventions. The nouveau roman writers are united, it turns out, in their understanding of two important aspects of the novel. First, that The Novel—the idea of a big book, full of narrative inventions, that still somehow “makes a difference” or has the capacity to inspire a new experience, whether temporal or emotional, ethical or epistemological—is a mythological being. And second, that novels can and must be subjected to a materialist critique. (The nouveau roman writers were among the first literary practitioners or, more accurately, practitioner-critics, who felt it was important to ask questions about the economics of reading and writing.) The nouveau roman writers were only aiming to make novels literary again, and through a meticulous, often obsessive, even archaeological survey of the form of the novel itself.

What is the meta-narrative of the nouveau roman, then? Is it that, if we can imagine an alternate past, there is the chance, however infinitesimal, that this re-visioned past might grant us some freedom to conceive of and even take steps towards making improvements to our present condition(s)? That is my contention, but with heavy caveats. Where this meta-narrative falters is with the question, framed here less in terms of rational (and thus possibly mad) science and more in terms of homeopathy: Can we cure time of the sickness—history—that afflicts it? Or is human consciousness, itself the colonial product of a narrativization, even capable of healing that infection?


Fourth Panelist: JON WAGNER

In his books Cinema 1, The Movement-Image (1986) and Cinema 2, The Time-Image (1989), Deleuze distinguishes between two types of cinema from roughly two historical periods. The Movement-Image dominated classical cinema in its conviction of a cause and effect world, where action—whether the physical comedy of Buster Keaton or the collision montage of Eisenstein—is governed by a linear or dialectical forward movement that provokes a predictable response, assumption, or synthesis on the part of the spectator. However, this Movement-Image, it is important to remember, is propelled into action–into even the most “traditional” of classical narrative tropes–by a radical “affection” for heterotopic space, space that is or can be nowhere, potentially lost to homogeneity and systems of interconnection, capable of, or liable to, an indefinite number of new linkages that the Movement-Image seeks to limit or to control.

The Time-Image has its origins in the modernist crisis of Reality that post-war movements like Italian Neo-Realism and its directors such as Rossellini, De Sica, and Visconti encountered and which expands in the challenges to classical or generic narrative that the French New Wave/New Hollywood/Art Cinema and Auteurism mounted in the last half of the 20th century. Again, this is not to argue against the profoundly modernist insight that even Classical Hollywood/Studio dominated cinema had into the alienated psychology of its spectators and into their willingness to suspend disbelief about the totalizing narratives of this “Golden Age.” However, in the Time-Image, sounds (son-signs) and images (op-signs) do not always give clear signals of spatial/temporal connection or logical sequencing. Instead, they represent an open-ended temporality and virtuality. The Time-Image, unlike the Movement-Image does not attempt a directly referential representation of the world. It is a subjective, often uncanny experience of the encompassing atmosphere or “climate” of time itself, independent of logical reference or connection with actual objects, events, or phenomena.

Deleuze says that Neo-Realism, in the wake of historical disaster, first perceived a crisis of confidence in the linearity and causality of the classical Movement-Image, of time and space as referential or dialectical or continuous or unified. Classical Realism, and for that matter the great movements of classical Formalism in cinema, mounted attempts within this modernist crisis at recuperation, reunification, or revolution, at purification and/or accusation. But in the high modernist shift to the Time-Image in Auteurism and the Art film, spatial and linear/logical relationships of continuity and referentiality and confident discernability began to break down, and this cinema emerges as not redemptive, purifying, nor didactically revolutionary, but as a mode of perception and contemplation in itself, an existential, expansively cinematic experience of shifting, shiftless, open-ended movement. Not an empire of signs that assumes that reality can only be experienced by an underlying system of mediation or codes, this is a cinema-semiology, a cinema of poetry, that is drifting, discontinuous, without justifying metaphysical or social or personal imperatives, a cinema, and its implied self, critical of its own aims.  Everything and nothing at the same time, it is unmoored from legitimizing boundaries or territories, not to mention from the orthodoxies of transgression. The psychological reality of characters in these Time-Image films becomes reality itself, where characters suffer from amnesia, hallucinations, schizophrenia, anxiety—or just indifference, because their actions no longer seem inherently to belong to them. They become watchers of their own watching within a cinema alienated from its own driven point of view. Movement, of course, continues to occur, but it has become random, or obscure, inexplicable, decentered—no longer moving from perception to action, but movement with no clearly discernable motive or destination. This deregulation of movement becomes global, but not globalizing, cosmopolitan in the delocalization of the Time-Image.

In the Movement-Image we of course also get a sense of time, but time for the Movement-Image is indirect and dependent on action, time that is a function of action. But when movement is deregulated, delocalized, Time appears directly, appears independently, as a dimension of its own. Time does not halt movement or narrative intention, but promotes aberrant movement, unanchored movement, a subjective, psychological experience of movement rather than a referential one. Nothing may actually happen. The present, as in Michelangelo Antonioni’s films, is often depicted with extreme visual clarity, is fused with the past and the future, but not merely as flash-backs or flash-forwards, or as recollections or anticipations. Rather, the Time-Image, unanchored from mere memory or prediction, shows itself most strongly and directly in its powerlessness, in the inability to clearly remember or anticipate, to place events in a continuum that would prevent a generalized sense of déjà vu. No longer primarily spatial, the Time-Image becomes virtual, but no less real, since this virtuality is immanent to and co-dependent on the world’s own narrative, on its expressive effort. What happens happens in and behind and around the image in a massively immanent reality—always and simultaneously or palpably never, where cinema has become, as Deleuze says, “a cerebral membrane,” a thinking characterized by the fact that it has yet to be thought.

Outline of the Movement-Image into the Time-Image:

  1. The image is no longer globalizing nor synthetic, but dispersive. No longer logically or referentially representative—neither causal, linear, nor dialectical; rather, it is profoundly casual.
  1. There is no complete confidence in identification with motive and plot, in engagement with characters and situations, no expectation of closure or “message.”
  1. The line or fiber of the universe seems to have been broken. Space/time becomes open-ended; images and sounds do not give clear signals of connection or sequence. Everything is already always happening—an event of “genuine realism,” where the “new,” as Benjamin has observed of Kafka, shares its history with the prehistoric.
  1. Linear, chronological sensory/motor action is re-placed by the stroll, the dérive, and the continual return of the same thing in endless re-creation, iteration of actions, conversations, and thoughts. The subject’s search to be present to itself assumes an uncanny “third” or middle view between perception and arrival in a temporal climate of simultaneity and virtuality, of the already and yet to be seen.
  1.  The metaphors of “story” are abandoned for the metonymic contingencies of “plot,” the articulations and intentions of plot brought under the self-critical gaze of allegory, the “pain” of which, as Paul De Man has observed, persists after  symbols have lost their dogma.
  1. The aftermath of this shift to the Time-Image is an awareness to a hyper-degree of narrative clichés and “actualities”—clichés exposed as merely images where their invisibility had previously been in their massively popularized and celebrated visibility.
  1. A level of Thirdness arises between subject/object, inside/outside dualities. An independent or alienated gazing begins to dismiss not only the identification of characters and spectators, but the very authors, the auteurs, who may have initiated this cinematic independence and whose canonized authority becomes itself clichéd.
  1. The Time-Image is not an avant-garde, a modernity or post-modernity that seeks simply to transcend or break away from classical restraints and ideologies. It is more a return to what was always already present and pressing in the classical Movement-Image, but suppressed or forgotten. The Time-Image is a redirection of attention that paradoxically honors the efforts of the classical Movement-Image by re-orienting its narratives around a point of indiscernibility. Like the Movement-Image, the Time-Image is capable of the most rigorous, indeed the most obsessive observation and description. But what becomes lucid, as in the delirium for precision typical of the nouveau-roman, is an ambiguity, an indiscernibility, that takes on a kind of autonomous existence of its own, giving us situations, events, where the intolerable goes hand in hand with the ordinary, the extreme with the banal, the hyper-visible and excessive with the clichéd, and of hope with that weak thought, in Gianni Vattimo’s sense, that can no longer terminally think the world.


PS: Andrea Quaid, Tisa Bryant, Sueyeun Juliette Lee, Jen Hofer, Pedro Ponce & many others… Thanks much for your thoughtful questions and comments!



  1. Mad Science at &NOW | Strophe
  2. Christopher Higgs

      Thanks for posting these thought provoking presentation papers — they’re fantastic!  I so wish I could’ve been there at the conference.  Here are a few thoughts I had while reading:

      Janice, you mention Badiou…did you happen to have a chance to catch his essay on drawing at Lacanian Ink? He uses Wallace Stevens’s poem “Description Without Place” to define art…it’s pretty interesting: http://lacan.com/symptom12/?p=65

      Laura, “to bring about the aporia…to inhabit the aporia..” YES!  I love this way of thinking about the role of experimental writing.  I’ve lately been thinking about the value of confusion and its relationship to experimental writing.  I am also intrigued by the way you bring Bakhtin into the conversation.  I was wondering where I might find the source of those Rosemary Jackson quotes?

      Joe, I’m thinking about your assertion that the nouveau roman qualifies as an avant-garde movement.  It seems to me that one slippery slope of the term “avant-garde” is found in its ability to be used as both a noun and an adjective.  What comes to mind is this line toward the end of Cendrars’s Moravagine where the narrator makes a distinction between “an art object and an object made artistically.”  In other words, there is the historical avant-garde and then there are works of literature that display avant-garde characteristics.  This becomes particularity important and interesting, I think, if we accept your claim that “The nouveau roman writers were only aiming to make novels literary again” because it implies that the nouveau roman was actually working counter to the motives of the historical avant-garde, who professed a desire for escaping or eliminating the concept of the literary: anti-art (Dada) the destruction of libraries (Futurism) and so on.  What you, I think correctly, demonstrate is the way in which the avant-garde impulse is one of confusion, of being unable to cohere, of containing forces that seem inherently contradictory and which both exhibit and occlude the particular meta-narrative you’ve identified.

      Jon, fantastic breakdown of Deleuze’s cinema books.  I especially appreciate reading this because I have recently been trying to think of different ways to talk about cinema’s role in modernism.  Have you read Jeffery Skoller’s book Shadows, Specters, Shards: Making History in Avant-Garde Film?  If not, I think you might find it worthwhile.  In it he uses Deleuze to talk about avant-garde films in interesting ways.

  3. Janice Lee

      Thanks Christopher, didnt catch that particular essay, going to read it right NOW. :)

  4. deadgod

      construct [a] self-model during […] reading

      The self (selves?) is reconstituted while – and as a continuation, a persistence, of – “reading”, but this ‘new’ self (or layer or accretion or iteration of self) is a conversation, a ‘turning together’, between the reader and the text.  These two ‘objects’ are both intractable and catalyzed–transforming, and transformed by, each other’s subject-ing and subject-ion.

      Language is thoroughly dialectical, or discloses the dialecticality that is.

  5. Joe Milazzo

      Chris — thanks for the careful reading. And, here, some perhaps careless amplification… I think there is a definite “return to the text” in the nouveau roman that is a much a violent recoil from the horrors of Enlightenment and Romantic metaphysics (to take but one e.g., the whole notion of historical progress, or teleology) as it is a desire to experiment with textual properties. In other words, “to make novels literary again” cuts multiple ways: it is to confine oneself to the geometry and formulae of narrative and narrativization — from Butor’s A CHANGE OF HEART (told in the second person) to Sollers’ EVENT (in which the act of writing is also an almost literal derangement and dearticulation of the author’s body) — rather than matters of “style”, which the term “literary” connotes, and connoted to the Moderns, I think, in the form of artifice at its most sentimental, meretricious, manipulative. But “to make novels literary again” is also to open the text to being read / understood as a medium for and manifestation of human relations (with self, with world or “cosmos”, with others). I think this is perhaps the key distinction, and one I needed to make above. Avant-gardes are, by and large, political. Nouveaux roman are, in the main, social. We tend to conflate these two terms in our everyday discourse, but the areas in which they do not overlap are of tremendous importance. Avant-gardes are THE WASTELAND (never mind what became of Eliot later). The nouveau roman? Robbe-Grillet’s TOPOLOGY OF A PHANTOM CITY. Both works address the problems of civilization as a concept, an imaginary relation, and attempt to make sense of the profound and systemic violence that is at the root of all civilizations. But where THE WASTELAND attempts a “shoring up”, TOPOLOGY OF A PHANTOM CITY plummets into helpless, recursive renarratizations of the mythic events from which civilization may have and, really, might as well have emerged. In THE WASTELAND, the reader, struggling valiantly to overcome his or her own incomprehension, emerges from that conflict as the agent of coherence. “I witnessed, I can bear witness; paraphrase may be heresy, but I have news to report from this experience (which is also a failure).” (Gilgamesh, anyone?) In TOPOLOGY, the reader sacrifices, resurrects, sacrifices, ad infinitum / nauseam him or herself on the altar of the always-already-there, or, to take it back to Badiou,  what-is-yet-to-have-happened-and-may-still-never-come-to-be-yet-has-always-been (or: the that-which-is-not-becoming-true-or-emerging-into-truth-but-has-always-been-true; apologies to Heidegger and his translators).

  6. Lilzed

      I like the idea of the aporia. Not sure I entirely understand it, but it seems a welcome concept to add to more traditional story moments, like the “epiphany” (James Joyce) or the climax. The way it’s mentioned here, makes it seem like the kind of thing you may not notice while you’re reading and even if you look at it directly, yet which directs the total effect of the piece.

      Seems different but related to Roland Barthes’ idea of the “punctum” in photography? as described here:

      “The punctum (a Latin word derived from the Greek word for
      trauma) on the other hand inspires an intensely private meaning, one
      that is suddenly, unexpectedly recognized and consequently remembered
      (it “shoots out of [the photograph] like an arrow and pierces me”); it
      ‘escapes’ language (like Lacan’s real); it is not easily communicable
      through/with language. The punctum is ‘historical’ as an experience of the irrefutable indexicality of the photograph (its contingency upon a referent). The punctum is a detail or “partial object” that attracts and holds the viewer’s (the Spectator’s) gaze; it pricks or wounds the observer.” [http://csmt.uchicago.edu/annotations/barthescamera.htm]

  7. Anonymous
  8. Anonymous

      Hi Chris,

      Jackson’s amazing book is “Fastasy: The Literature of Subversion.” It’s an incredibly useful text I refer to often. Here it is: http://books.google.com/books/about/Fantasy.html?id=k2aboboVP5MC

      Thanks for the read and reply!