I’m reading a book at the moment by Rancière called The Politics of Aesthetics. I’ve been having to write whole paragraphs out again somewhere else before I could start shaking the ideas clear of the words. It’s a library book, and the words I’m trying to read from the page are in stubborn allegiance to an unknown previous reader, and they won’t come unstuck from the paper.

The pages are more than annotated. They’re marked up. It looks like they’ve been prepared for assembly like the flat plan of a paper model. There are no pencil marks in the margins, only among the printed words. And the marks themselves are never words, just shapes, brackets, lines, operating like braces and pulleys. They look like they’re trying to help the sentences along, pushing the words out into palpable, physical relationships with one another.

ranciere

The functional words – the ifs and ands and bys and froms – are looped with tight circles, and words that mark out relations between clauses are underlined hard, to show the shape of their structural parallels. Important words are ringed generously, difficult words are underlined with zigzags, curved lines connect the bits either side of an aside.

It looks like a continuous while-you-read attempt to schematise the semantics of the sentences: as though if you could just hold the grammar still and get that much straight, the meanings of the sentences would just slot into place and nothing could get too far out of hand. I know the feeling, and the way it never works: the way you can never pin bits of a text down, and the minute you concentrate on trying to do it you’re already lost, it’s already broken, and trying to make the sentence come back together again is like trying to fall back asleep into the same dream you just woke up out of. You have to read just off the surface of the paper, just barely oblivious to the words.

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