Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Introduction to Transformation: Literature (Pt 1)

"I don't want the world to see me, because I don't think that they'd understand.
When everything is made to be broken, I just want you to know who I am"

The Goo Goo Dolls, Iris

To be continued...

In this post I continue my investigation of thought and thinkers that may contribute to a Queer Materialism. As in the previous post, these items will be revisited and elaborated upon more extensively in subsequent work. Here I aim to servery literary thinkers that can offer useful insights into the discussion of the Holey Paradox of Transforming Things. For ease of reading / writing in dealing with an extensive number of thinkers, this post has been split into "Verso" and "Recto" sides. 

“The book touched me.”
" 'Show me where?’ inquired the attorney, turning aggression into empathy.”

According to the same simplistic dualism of subject and object, this is metaphorical in a derogatory and not tangible, paradoxical sense. The image of a hand reaching out and rubbing against your arm may be summoned up, or any number of similar scenes. But skin to skin is just one set of things that can touch. Mouths and air and ear-drums touch. Hands and type-writers and paper and light and eyes touch. Perhaps one day brains and electro-transmitters and brains may touch. In any case, even if we are speaking of "touching" the mind, we are talking about the brain/body which is a very complex sensory organ; a community of actors/sensors so complex things live in there: memories, stories, dreams, heroes, lovers, hormones, neurons, words, us.

"Is this real, or has this been happening inside my head?"
"Of course it is happening inside your head...should that mean that it is not real?"
JK Rowling, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

At this juncture I would add to the Holey Paradox of Transforming Things that... the holes in language which admit the impotence of our powers to  become-language, become-read, is a saving realization which in some ways is based on the impotence of being to be colonized by any single motion. There is simply too much going on for our experiences, our rational structures, our words to capture, even within the play of language as a material thing itself. The word (logos) is not a totality but a thing becoming it-self as it becomes an-other. In that way, the hole is more like the window into which we glimpse the Other-world at play within / across the familiar. There is a tradition of viewing things being "taken" away into this world, often never to return, leading onward to an unattainable desire and lack. Alongside this reading we find that things go into the holes of our structured world, often return (if we can recognize them) but transformed. In fact, it is transformation that is a source of this "differance," this "dis-appearing" & this un-readability. 

I. Transforming Word-robes: 
Why Changing Makes the Differance

Jacques Derrida and Sir Orfeo: Key Concepts

  • Differance: and Metonymy
  • Transformation:  and Metaphor

If structuralism sought to build a discernible frame-work for language, post-structuralism/deconstruction developed from the realization that this structure was built not only on a shifting beach but with pillars of sand. Every-thing is language according to Jacques Derrida and language itself is a (w)hole. Specifically "all there is is differance," the absence of things, which are ever-"deferred" by the constant re-placement of signs/things for one another, a game of signification that gestures to every-thing else so that any positive existence of things is either ineffable or non-existent. There is no-thing at the beginning, the present, or the end, on the play of differance that enacts the thing, the question, the questioner and time it-self. 

We see this game of re-placement going on in Sir Orfeo, as in the Seafarer and a number of other Medieval poems, in which things are listed as present, only to then admit that they have been replaced by an-other thing. In Orfeo's case he exchanged his kingdom for the forest and then the reverse upon his return. This in fact appears as one of the lessons the queen learns about the other-world into which she is called. If she resists being dis-appeared, re-placed, differed, then she will experience great suffering but because she submits to the seeming inevitability of the game, she is able to ride through the re-placements unharmed. Likewise, Sir Orfeo's pursuit of her performs the desire for an end of differance in which the thing in itself can be held and kept (an act which would ultimately end the life / transformation of the thing desired).

The contest with Derrida comes if we do not accept that (1) things that appear in the place of other things cannot co-exist but rather that multiplicities co-inside one another instead of re-placing, i.e. they trans--across/between/with--forms and (2) that given this positive existence of things that they may be differed elsewhere but trans--change/become--forms. By affirming this positive presence / coexistence / coincidence, then "differance" is not ONLY metonymic but ALSO metaphoric. That is to say that queer materialism affirms that with the performative play of metonymic re-placement of haecceities, there is in addition the quality that "this thing is this AND this" and adds that "this becomes that," via metaphor and trans-formation.

While the Queen appears carried away in the metonymy of re-placement, Sir Orfeo trans-forms performatively/materially when he moves from kingdom to forest and back again. Witnesses note how he has become-like his environment, to the point that he is no longer recognizable as him-self. It appears to others that a re-placement has occurred when in fact we see as much of a trans-formation. Likewise there is much in his experience that is not put into words, either during his ten-year stay in the forest (outside the realm of human writing) and the ineffable glance exchanged between him and his Queen when they meet again. We must also acknowledge our impotence, or rather, the impotence of language to colonize and trans-scribe all things; that it is this impotence of language that may be its saving grace as it allows for things to continue to queerly slip, change, hold fast, swerve, play and live; and ultimately, to speak—from this position as hole.

II. Holes in the Fabric of Narrative: 
And the Narrator

Arthur Frank and Margery Kempe: Key Concepts
  • Inarticulate Bodies
  • Chaos/Quest Narratives: Immediacy and Mediation

While Derrida begins with language abstractly and then meditates on materiality, only to discern from his dialectic tendencies a kind of post-structuralist nihilism on holes (still distinct from Lacan's/Zizek's), Arthur Frank approaches speech from the perspective of "the holes" in material experience. Frank argues that \ “the body [as object] is not mute, but it is inarticulate; it does not use speech but it begets it...the challenge is to hear. Hearing is difficult not only because listeners have trouble facing what is being said as a possibility or a reality in their own lives. Hearing is also difficult because… they are also told on the edge of speech. Ultimately…it is told in the silences that speech cannot penetrate or illuminate.”

From this theory, Frank develops the concept of "Chaos Narratives" which he uses to investigate illness but could equally apply to the disorientation of queerness and other bodily experiences. Frank writes that “Events are told as the storyteller experiences life: without sequence and discernible [straight / metonymic] causality... they lack any of coherence sequence is an initial reasons why chaos stories are hard to hear; the teller is not understood as telling a ‘proper’ story...more significantly the teller is not understood as living a ‘proper’ life.”

For those who have read the Booke of Margery Kempe, this very well appears to be an apt description of not only her narrative but her life; certainly she records that was told so by many of her contemporaries. Whether we accept the hypothesis I offered earlier that Kempe suffered from Manic Depression or Schizophrenia, or that she had some other (possible mystic) condition, her writing certainly reflects a mind that cannot articulate or perform herself according to convention. At times she seems to follow norms, other times she takes them to extremes or chooses ones deemed inappropriate for her, while many times she performs multiple things that appear to enact many contradictory things at once and many that cannot be put into words; in part an explanation for her repetition of events. It is often said that trauma simultaneously disturbs the organization of memory thus drawing the person to repeat the act of their traumatization in various ways, so too Kempe repeatedly enacts and records her own queer disorientation.

As queerness cannot define an identity, queer things can never exist fully in language and this refusal to be read that preserves the queer "life" of things, that which trans-forms it. It is this chaos / disorientation which is an act of becoming intimate that language as differance would act to separate. It is practically impossible for someone to speech from the position of Chaos for as Frank writes “consciousness has given up its struggle for sovereignty over its own experience. When such a struggle can be told, then there is some distance from the chaos; some part of the teller has emerged…a true chaos story cannot be told. The voice that might express the deepest chaos is subsumed in interruptions, interrupting itself as it seeks to tell.” This too holds for Kempe who not only falls into repeated inarticulate/ineffable fits but throughout the narrative requires the hand of a clergyman to write her story for her (in part because despite certain capabilities, and perhaps because of others, she never learned to read and write).

Frank then proposes “the Quest narrative” in which the person “meets illness head on; they accept the illness and they use it.” This model of living provides her with not only a sense of meaning but a reason for continuing to live, or even to die; she has reason to desire being herself; what Frank calls the “boon” of illness and narrative. “This boon” he writes “is the body’s ability to understand itself reflectively as a communicative body: to be associated with itself, open to contingency, didactic towards other, and desiring for itself in relation to others.” That is to say, the writer/performer admits, like the reader that they do not control/know/make the story themselves but are with them in the ecology of performing and becoming. Ultimately this may be a triumph of Kempe's life, that is was recorded and that despite her frustrations and violent opposition, she continually performed her-self publicly, even if and when she could not be understood. Kempe exemplifies that the queer story is in part the admission that one cannot be fully expressed.

III. Disorienting Dance-Shoes : 
When You Go from Here to Queer

Sara Ahmed and Thomas Coryate: Key Concepts:
  • Queer Objects of Orientations
  • Becoming-Lost/Disoriented

As in the Chaos narrative, it is often difficult for Queer/Transforming Things to tell their story because it-they are constantly changing/on the move. While modern technology makes this feat easier, it is still very difficult for those on the go to stop and record the events of their lives. None the less, for the Queer Traveler, such as Thomas Coryate, the performance of their lives nonetheless is what sustains it. His travels/narrative letters are as much a result of as the generator of his becoming-queer/disorientation. 

Trekking somewhat inexplicably from Jerusalem to India, Coryate attests that his long journey afoot was motivated out of a desire (1) to see the Great Mugal, (2) to Ride and Elephant and (3) to see/touch the Grave of the King of Corners. Despite these particulars however, Coryate is addicted to detours (if in fact his whole trip could not be characterized as such) and his (objects of) orientations swerve as much as he does. 

Sara Ahmed, in Queer Phenomenology, argues that queer and queering bodies  may manifest out of “an orientation toward what slips" and that some bodies become “directed by losing our sense of this direction.” Effectively  a certain rhythm of non-residence, of motion, can feel like a home, so that “being lost can in its turns become a familiar feeling.” The way in which this becomes maintained as the status of "non-residence", by undermining this familiarity and, as Ahmed writes, to “overcome the disorientation of the queer moment but instead inhabit the intensity of its moment." Among Coryate's letters, it is evident that he rejoices in taking things as they come, being unsure about his present, his future, who he is and when he might return. He records with pleasure the multiplicity of professions/titles he can add to his name and that when faced with officials from his home in England, that he appeared both a sort of disgrace from home and foreigner abroad to them; and who he likewise is able to maneuver around through his flexibility with language and his health among diverse diets.

Coryate celebrates throughout his writing that he was born in "Oddecome" and that as a result he was an "Odde" man. Thus as Ahmed writes “Disorientation might begin with the strangeness of familiar objects.” Feeling that he is as much at home abroad, in his performing the queer / wandering / transforming qualities of his home, he demonstrates how one can identify as self and as other simultaneously. His letters speak to multiple audience, as he does through his theatrics public addresses, his clothing and his very presence abroad as he bumps (literally) into diverse things.

Certainly his book he rejoices in as part of himself and is elated to find that just as he traveled bodily to India, so too did a copy of his writing. He requests a drawing be made of him on the elephant which he rides, in a way demonstrating how he becomes-familiar with the animal as he performs their mutual strangeness. In this way “bodies acquire the very shape of such direction” and changes also what we/he defines as the perimeters of that body. In that way, desire, disorientation and non-residence lead to dancing onward between boundaries, insides and outsides, as well as bodies can create something like a queer identity. Likewise, it is through this constant exchange the queer body serves a kind of moving home. “Becoming part of a space where one has expanded one’s body saturating the space with bodily matter” Ahmed adds, defining “home as overflowing and flowing over.”

The performativity of matter, the incorporation of transformation, the dance of queerness all serve to tell a material story of identity which is as "sticky," as Ahmed writes, as it is in the motion of disorientation. Thus while readable in some dimensions, the queer body-as-story is ever living up to Deleuze and Guattari's imperative: "Run lines, never plot a point! Speed turns a point into a line!"

IV. Clashing : the Paradox of Orthodox Attire

William Blake and GK Chesterton: Key Concepts
  • The Marriage of Heaven and Hell : The Tearful Revolution of Paradoxes
  • The Ethics of Elfland : The Playful Adventure of Paradoxes

Arising out of the dynamics of queer and trans "identities" is a strong anxiety of performing even these identities, these forms, because the acknowledged impossibility of fully becoming-language. In a sense, to assert a self is to deny an-other-self. Thus to approach language / literature / performance with a sense of sincerity is to hold the position that what will be an enacted will be a fiction. It has been said of literature that in this way it is the most sincere, insofar as it recognizes in its metaphor, it screams "YES" and whispers "no." This performing-self then becomes a game which one cannot help but play but which we cannot possibly take too seriously. As readers of performance, we must also acknowledge the contradictions and the unreadable queerness that brings the texts into existence as well as the light touch of mind to allow it to trans-form again and vanish beyond the haecceity we had loved.

"Without Contraries is no progression" writes William Blake in the Marriage of Heaven and Hell, articulating this queer anxiety. "Attraction and Repulsion, Reason and Energy, Love and Hate, are necessary to Human existence." As in our theological discussion in the last entry, Blake recognizes that "Eternity is in love with the productions of time" Blake continues in his Proverbs of Hell. "Thus one portion of being, is the Prolific, the other, the Devouring: to the devourer it seems as if the producer was in his chains, but it is not so; he only takes portions of existence and fancies that the whole. But the Prolific would cease to be Prolific unless the Devourer as a sea recieved the excess of his delights." All things in one and one thing in all for Blake is then sustained through existence based on this anxious queerness.

In that sense we cannot escape this tension and neither should we concern ourselves too much with it as it works through us without a need for our constant active participation. In fact, this playful adventure of identity within the constant confines of momentary singularity of form / language / material existence as such is the position of GK Chesterton in Orthodoxy, or perhaps more accurately titled by one of the books chapters "the Romance of Orthodoxy."

Chesterton, in Orthodoxy, for the most part is not concerned with debating specific "laws" or forms as such but rather the required game and even ironic joke of "Law." In comparison to "natural law" which is a series of doctrines which takes a brief description of what appears normative for what then must  be  prescriptively adhered to, the "Law" of nature is the very fact of  things  existence as such. A thing can trans-form it, but cannot undo it. Forms can be queered, but not annihilated. That in one way and one instance a thing must exist in one haecceity and not another is the required status for that thing to exist at all, but need not be regarded as the "En Sum" of its existence.

While a stalwart rationalist, Chesterton argues that it is the joy of wonder, of not knowing the totality of things, or rather knowing that at some point / way the "Law"  cannot be justified by even its own sense of "Law" that it exists out of a unlawful proposal, or a playful self-reference (as there is no law without it). Out of this "Ethic of Elfland" by which we admit the rational need for the irrational order, and the surprise that what exists as such exists at all as such, we will find all our rational deductions and  poetic revolutions ironically affirmed. We play in Elfland out of the rule that somethings must be, for the moment tentatively allowed to become set, if only for the time of game before they are transformed: "To be allowed, like Endymion, to make love to the moon and then to complain that Jupiter kept his own moons in a harem seemed to me (bred on fairy tales like Endymion’s) a vulgar anti-climax."

[Warnings on Transforming as Change: from 'the Suicide of Thought']

"It is true that a man (a silly man) might make change itself his object or ideal. But as an ideal, change itself becomes unchangeable. If the change-worshipper wishes to estimate his own progress, he must be sternly loyal to the ideal of change; he must not begin to flirt gaily with the ideal of monotony. Progress itself cannot progress. It is worth remark, in passing, that when Tennyson, in a wild and rather weak manner, welcomed the idea of infinite alteration in society, he instinctively took a metaphor which suggests an imprisoned tedium. He wrote -

“Let the great world spin for ever down the ringing grooves of change.”

He thought of change itself as an unchangeable groove; and so it is. Change is about the narrowest and hardest groove that a man can get into. The main point here, however, is that this idea of a fundamental alteration in the standard is one of the things that make thought about the past or future simply impossible.

Every act of will is an act of self limitation. To desire action is to desire limitation. In that sense every act is an act of self-sacrifice. When you choose anything, you reject everything else. That objection, which men of this school used to make to the act of marriage, is really an objection to every act. Every act is an irrevocable selection exclusion.


No comments:

Post a Comment