Unreal Nature

June 24, 2017

Describing the Resistance

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:53 am

… As all this is going on, what was to be expressed is expressed …

This is from the chapter on ‘Writing’ in Gestures by Vilém Flusser (2014):

…Writing is more than a habitual gesture. It is nearly an inborn capacity. There are centers in our brains that monitor writing, just as there are centers that monitor breathing. Only the one for writing is not contained in our genetic program, as nest building is contained in the genetic program of birds. With writing, then, we are concerned with a gesture.

[line break added] The proof: there are illiterate people who are not monsters, as is the case with birds unable to build nests. In fact, they constitute the majority of humanity. It is difficult to grasp the difference between genetic and cultural programming, for the way human beings inhabit culture is similar to the way animals inhabit nature. Still, it must be done: gestures must be distinguished from movements conditioned by nature, for the issue is freedom.

… There is a widespread erroneous belief that the machine “constrains” the freedom of the gesture; [but] one is freer typing than writing with a fountain pen, not only because one writes more quickly and with less effort but because the machine more readily permits an overstepping of the gesture’s rules, in fact, exactly because it makes the rules obvious. Concrete poetry, the effort to make writing two-dimensional, is possible only with the machine. Freedom is not only disregarding the rules (which can be done with the pen as well) but about changing them (which is possible with the machine).

[ … ]

… It would be better to ask about the layers that must be penetrated to be able to press the keys of the machine. Such a question offers a criterion for dividing literary criticism into two kinds, a stupid kind that would ask, “What does he want to say?” and a clever kind that would ask “In the face of what obstacles has he said what he said?” These obstacles are many, and among them are some that precede writing. They have to do with rhythmic and formal rules that weigh against the virtuality to be expressed and assert their own forms.

[line break added] But only after having penetrated these layers, only when the virtuality has met the resistance of the words, does one decide to write. Until then, the virtuality to be expressed might press out in another gesture, such as that of musical composition or painting. When we are talking about writing, we must start by describing the resistance of words.

There are words in my memory. Not only are they instruments for absorbing the virtuality to be expressed, giving it a typeable form, so to speak. Words are also unities that vibrate and have a life of their own. They have their rhythms, harmonies, melodies. In their roots, they conceal the timeless wisdom of all history, to which I am heir. They project a whole framework of connotations. And so, from the words in my memory, I can’t just freely choose the ones that “fit” the virtuality to be expressed. First I must listen to them.

… The power of words is so great that each word evokes a whole chain of other words without my knowing it. A whole mob of words can rise up against me and against the keys of the machine.

… The beauty of the act of writing consists in realizing the words. Being a writer does not necessarily mean being a speaker. A bard is not a poet. Words resist writing and speech in different ways.

My work begins only after my decision to articulate whispered words in the form of letters in the typewriter. I must first order the words so that the blurred initial thought finds expression. Various orders present themselves. A logical order — and I persuade myself that what I want to express is defending itself against being ordered logically. What is to be expressed must be adjusted.

[line break added] Then on to the grammatical order: and I persuade myself that the two orders do not agree. I begin to play with both orders and to proceed in such a way that what is to be expressed just barely slips between the contradictions of logic and grammar. Then comes orthographic order — and I discover the wonder of alphabetic code: the function of commas, question marks, the possibility of making paragraphs, of skipping lines, and the inviting possibility of so-called orthographic errors.

[line break added] (Question: Is a deliberate infraction of rules an error?) Yes, I make all these discoveries with my fingers on the keys of the machine and with the automated movement of the page in the machine. As all this is going on, what was to be expressed is expressed: it is realized. And so, in the course of writing, I am surprised to discover what it was I wanted to write.

It is not right to say that writing fixes thinking. Writing is a way of thinking. There is no thinking that has not been articulated through a gesture. Thinking before articulation is only a virtuality, which is to say, nothing. It is realized through the gesture.

My previous post from Flusser’s book is here.

-Julie

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