Afterward, a text I wrote last May, keeps coming up in what I’m writing. Here it is in full:

It is at the edge of the text, in the afterward, that the text opens itself out and begins its transformation into the signified.  Within itself, the internalization of its system of signification – the quiet of its flatness – frustrates the movement of the text as a signifier and keeps it still.  It is the flatness that keeps the edge in sight, constantly  reminding that the promise of the text is textual, loosening the settling of imaginary conclusions.  The edge closes the text as text, but only at the moment of closure can the text begin to shudder with bodily life as it draws itself clear of the paper.

The afterlife of the text begins not at the end of the text but at its edge.  The distinction between the two is intrinsic to the nature of the flattened text, which never ceases to begin nor end.  Written by distraction in fits and starts, never exceeding the moment of approach and conceding only to the promise that keeps the secrets of the text inside, the flattened text ‘is written from all over at once’ [1].  There is more gap than substance to the flattened text: it is nothing but edge, through which the reader is launched uninitiated into the middle of the writing to negotiate between the ‘extreme familiarity [and] extreme strangeness’ [2] of a language of which she is both a guest and the only native speaker.

The task of the reader is to translate: to to be open to the foreignness of the text, and in opening herself to it, to speak the text fluently.  It is the task of the reader to read life into the flattened text by ‘read[ing] while looking up’ [3] from the page, a practice that mirrors the ‘writing by distraction’ of the text’s first inception.  She must play the text as though it were a musical score [4]: ‘produce the text, open it out, set it going’ [5].  The ‘hundred windows’ [6] of the text afford infinite exchanges between reader and writer, the unification of their practice inscribing in the act of reading a constant play of ‘anonymous, untraceable’ [7] authors, of texts, of languages: ‘quotations without inverted commas’ [8].  At once familiar and unknown, the floating tissue of citations for which the body of the text remains the silent placeholder closes in on itself to answer its own subdued call and, abandoning itself to its loosened edges explodes into the world and stays there soft, nothing lost and nothing gained.

*    *    *

The text comes away from itself and into the world, and it remains for the reader to conclude no more than ‘this is a thing that can happen’ [9].  The insubstantial hold of the reader is neither her indifference to the task of reading nor her abandonment of it as arbitrary or impossible: it ‘does not mean that nothing can be done, but rather that something must be done and that we cannot be certain what to do’ [10].

Notes
[1] Cixous, (1996) p.145, cited in Blythe, I. & Sellers, S. (2004) pp. 85-6
[2] Cixous,(1993) p. 81, cited in Blythe, I. & Sellers, S. (2004) p. 80.  Cixous makes an analogy between the familiarity and strangeness of the dream and the text: ‘In the text, as in dreams, there is no entrance […]  In the text, as in the dream, you’re right there.’)
[3] Barthes, R. (1970) p. 52
[4] Barthes, R. (1971) p. 162
[5] Barthes, R. (1971) p. 163
[6] Cixous, (1996) p.145, cited in Blythe, I. & Sellers, S. (2004) pp. 86
[7] Barthes, R. (1971) p. 160
[8] Barthes, R. (1971) p. 160
[9] During the rain of frogs in Magnolia (motion picture, New Line Productions Inc, 1999), TV quiz kid Stanley Spector looks out of the window and remarks ‘this is a thing that can happen’.
[10] Moran, D (2000) p444, referring to Derrida’s refutal that the undecidability characteristic of deconstruction makes ‘the taking of any definite moral stance either arbitrary or impossible’.
Advertisements