1. ÉCRITURE ET POUVOIR
Writing vs. Power
Nikola Tesla, the greatest hacker of all time, wrote at the beginning of the twentieth century: “Our senses enable us to perceive only a minute portion of the outside world. Our hearing extends to a small distance. Our sight is impeded by intervening bodies and shadows. To know each other we must reach beyond the sphere of our sense perceptions. We must transmit our intelligence, travel, transport the materials and transfer the energies necessary for our existence. Fights between individuals, as well as governments and nations, invariably result from misunderstandings in the broadest interpretation of this term. Misunderstandings are always caused by the inability of appreciating one another’s point of view. This again is due to the ignorance of those concerned, not so much in their own, as in their mutual fields. The peril of a clash is aggravated by a more or less predominant sense of combativeness, posed by every human being. To resist this inherent fighting tendency, the best way is to dispel ignorance of the doings of others by a systematic spread of general knowledge. With this object in view, it is most important to aid exchange of thought and intercourse”.
Man is marked by the inability to perceive not only the outside world, but other people as well and is thus forced to translate this unseen current of internal impulses into perceivable communication, manufacturing words from this unconscious stream of images and senses into words which breach the abyss of his primal incapability. The whole endeavour of writing is to make my hidden interior perceptible to others. To make the unseen mechanism of thought, visible to everyone.
Jacques Rancière points out in his essay The Politics of Literature: “Politics is the construction of a specific sphere of experience in which certain objects are posited as shared and certain subjects regarded as capable of designating these objects and of arguing about them. But such a construction is not a fixed given resting on an anthropological constant. (…) A celebrated Aristotelian formula declares that men are political beings because they have speech, which allows them to share the just and the unjust, whereas animals only have a voice that expresses pleasure or pain. But the whole issue lies in knowing who is qualified to judge what is deliberate speech and what is an expression of displeasure. In a sense, all political activity is a conflict aimed at deciding what is speech or mere growling. (…) Politics begins when those men and women who don’t have the time to do anything apart from their work take the time they don’t have to prove that they are indeed speaking beings, participating in a shared world and not furious or suffering animals. This distribution and redistribution of space and time, place and identity, speech and noise, the visible and the invisible, form what I call the distribution of the perceptible (La partage du sensible). It makes visible what was invisible, it makes audible as speaking beings those who were previously heard only as noisy animals”.
Rancière also says that it is meaningless to talk about engagement regarding poetry, for it uses language to subvert everyday language and is therefore involved in creating/furthering language itself. “On the other hand”, he says, “writers are in the business of producing meanings. They use words as communication tools and thereby find themselves engaged, whether they like it or not, in the tasks of constructing a common world”.
Computers, like language (and the consciousness they transmit), are based on the same principles of copying and sharing that has driven humanity since the beginning of time. This endless translation of information, of electrical impulses as Nietzsche says (in On Truth and Lie in an Extra-Moral Sense), this “metaphorical drive, a fundamental drive which we cannot unthink even for a moment, for we would with it unthink man himself. Only through the forgetting of this primal world of metaphors, only with the hardening of this mass of images, which surges in hot streams from the primal capacities of human imagination, only with an unassailable faith that this sun, this window, this table is some truth in itself, in short: only with the fact that the subject is forgotten, and namely as an artistically creating subject, can man live with some peace and consequence. If he could but for one moment escape the jail of this belief, it would mean the end of his self-awareness”.
Language, like any other transaction of value, is based on trust. That what has been said is actually meant and being said for real. Writing is exchange, it has a contractual value that we have to invest and trust in if our transmission should ever be successful.
Take SIGNATURE for example, a materially fixed specific gesture of a hand dictated by a conscious decision adhering to the codex of language, of possible alphabetic combinations as well as a conscious calculus of probability: a stroke of a pen basically, is a sign and expression of my faith and trust that this speck of ink represents me, that it vouches for the credit of my faith, for my and our common trust; that this sign vouches that I will pay for example or that I utter what I utter in all seriousness and that it can represent me everywhere like a fingerprint for all times or at least for as long as this material carrier or reader exists; or at least until my debt is paid. Or the simple consensus that this speck of ink or that the verbal copy of an electrical impulse (as Nietzsche would say) represents this book, this window, this space.
As Barthes says in Variations on writing: “Writing is therefore exchange; in this dangerous moment, when I on one side let go and on the other attain, writing is a means, which shields me from the blow of death. If writing didn’t exist, I would lose everything: when I have already let go in haven’t yet attained: in an eternal fall”. The principle of every communication, every exchange is the overcoming of this abyss according to Barthes. It is the physical gesture of a transmission inscribed on a fixed material carrier to be downloaded into our bodies.
Power is who gets heard and power lies with those who define the meanings of words. Young writers today face the problem of how to get heard, not just how to write something brutally true. We need to focus on creating publishing platforms, which give us absolutely autonomy to freely publish and translate whatever we desire. We need to create platforms through the collaboration of IT professionals and literary producers and connect the COGNITARIAT with the PROLETTERIAT. We need to connect already existing communities of readers, editors, writers and translators, enabling us thus to acquire all the necessary means of literary production.
The power to create words is the power to create worlds. Real power is in the realisation that no meaning is fixed and that no word is able to define something as complex as a human being.
’Tis but thy name that is my enemy;
Thou art thyself, though not a Montague.
What’s Montague? It is nor hand nor foot,
Nor arm nor face, nor any other part
Belonging to a man. O, be some other name!
What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other word would smell as sweet; (…)
Juliet says in the context of Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet, a pair of star-crossed lovers predetermined with the surnames of their warring families. With the personal context or metadata, which designates the specific circumstances of where and when they were born and to whom, completely, randomly.
Ideology seems to latch onto the narration of the context of persons based on which it invents and simplifies stories – it latches onto a name and appearances, where the root of a person’s background is encrypted as family name, tribe, ancestry, race, religion or nationality. A common tree of the life of others that keeps shaping our destinies apparently beyond our control.
It is a human right not to be labelled or judged on the prejudice of race, sexual orientation, national identity, family history etc., but we all know how humans behave on the ground, they gossip, they reduce people to a single noun or adjective based on certain specific bodily, national or racial characteristics. They lie. They simplify complex organisms beyond their comprehension into a single stereotype of the other, whom they use to posit themselves in a relationship of dominance or opposition, in order to thereby exercise their own superiority or in order to misuse it for false self-empowerment.
That is why it is (in this day and age) of the utmost importance to have the right to show your metadata for all to see if needed, but also to have the right to speak without it if I so choose, anonymously, namelessly, as a person to person, regardless of metadata or the context of my perceived and inherited passport identities.
Going beyond everyday metadata is the prerequisite and the inherent law of art. “Poetry is news that stays news”, as Ezra Pound said. The so perceived owners, the transmitters or authors of content, identified with the name of their metadata actually disown the content of their message in the moment they pronounce it. As soon as I utter something it becomes public, it becomes public domain. Readable, developable, quotable by others, useable or misusable by others. Mechanisms are in place to prevent this of course (such as authorship laws), especially if I am forced to declare the fruit of my labour as my property or worse if I am forced to sell it in order to survive.
Here the reality of human exchange clashes with the logic of capital without any obvious possibility of resolution. It is of course a human courtesy (at least in the field of literature and science) to identify or credit the author being quoted, the transmitter of the content because context (on the other hand) matters as much as content. The author creates a body of work, which makes it possible and necessary to see the process of his development. Who speaks and wherefrom one speaks is, or inevitably becomes, an inherent part of the message transmitted (if the context or metadata is hidden or not). I merely wished to point out the dangers of human tendencies to overemphasize either content or context, or: the human tendency to reinterpret the content based on context, to dismiss or misuse the message by reinterpreting or discrediting the messenger.
When you liberate yourself from your own personal metadata you become music, you become a ray of thought. It is the beginning of creation, because I have the power to reveal exactly what I choose to reveal. (Although while speaking language of course reveals all). To speak anonymously (consciously omitting my personal socially defined metadata or internalising it to the degree of universality) is to speak freely, because I don’t have to count on the potential reinterpretation or misrepresentation of the content of my message extracted arbitrarily from the context of transmission, my family history, national identity etc.
Artistic form is such a necessary mask of anonymity, a prerequisite of direct speech, the freedom to talk through different characters, authors and narratives …
It is the recreation of the process of metadata creation through speech; or simply put: through narration you create characters, new alternative contexts carrying and predetermining the text itself.
Fernando Pessoa’s genius was in showing that while writing you create also the authors of the work being written. In literature anonymity is an already inherent prerequisite of the process of writing a book or a poem. Whilst writing it you are developing and creating the author who is writing it, as well as the reader. You are creating, you are programming the architecture for the transmission of value, content, experience or information on to the reader which feeds back into the text, disseminating, co-creating, co-developing it, without the possibility of exactly knowing how it influences him or what exactly it brings about or furthers.
Every text creates an autonomous zone, which the reader enters, co-creates and develops in the moment of reading. No autonomous zone is fixed. Just as capitalism moves its machinery of exploitation around the world, autonomous zones of opposition shift in the minds of men. They squat abandoned factories, internet domains or mediums of transmission…
THE TEXT IS THEREFORE AN INTELIGENT MACHINE, A FEEDBACK CARRIER FOR HUMAN DEVELOPMENT AND INTERACTION;
LIKE THE INTERNET LANGUAGE IS A COMMON TOOL OF HUMANITY TO COMMUNICATE TO ITSELF.
EVERY TEXT IS AN INTELIGENT MACHINE.
As I write I programme or design the architecture of a shared and common experience DOWNLOADABLE ENHENCABLE DEVELOPABLE BY ALL.
“Information is people in disguise”, Jaron Lanier says in his book Who owns the future? And Oscar Wilde said: “Give a man a mask and he will tell you the truth”.
(The mask concealing the identity of the transmitter, his human context.)
The goal is of course not to have to resort to such means or shields of anonymity, to speak and live freely without the threat of persecution and these apparently necessary masks of anonymity. In an ideal society my personal metadata may be present and self-evident but not given any special importance.
A great African leader perhaps said it best:
“That until the philosophy which holds one race superior and another inferior is finally and permanently discredited and abandoned; that until there are no longer first class and second class citizens of any nation; that until the colour of a man’s skin is of no more significance than the colour of his eyes; that until the basic human rights are equally guaranteed to all, without regard to race; that until that day, the dream of lasting peace and world citizenship and the rule of international morality will remain but fleeting illusions, to be pursued but never attained. And until the ignoble and unhappy regimes that hold our brothers in Angola, in Mozambique and in South Africa in sub-human bondage have been toppled and destroyed; until bigotry and prejudice and malicious and inhuman self-interest have been replaced by understanding and tolerance and good-will; until all Africans stand and speak as free beings, equal in the eyes of all men, as they are in the eyes of Heaven; until that day, the African continent will not know peace”. This was Haile Selassie I speaking at the UN in 1964.
Guy Debord says in his movie Howls for Sade: “Arts begin, grow and disappear, because dissatisfied people break through the world of official expressions and go beyond its festivals of poverty”.
Poetry is speech which destroys the wall between official discourse and discourse as such, the wall between you and me, exactly when it is spoken from the most intimate confrontation with a personal abyss, it becomes the most collective, the most universal (as noted by the Slovene poet Miklavž Komelj). Because traumas are shared by all.
Language ruptures the wall of language when it makes the most intimate: public. When it speaks of the things we don’t want to speak of. Not just when it subverts the predictable codex of language with the unpredictable thus multiplying the surplus of meaning ad infinitum, but when it shocks with an intervention of the hitherto unseen/unknown into the distribution of the perceived. When it gives a voice to the unseen, voiceless, unspoken and unspeakable. It subverts official everyday language by celebrating the multiplicity of meaning, by showing that language can never be private property, can never be owned, lest it is owned by all, developable and downloadable by all.
And above all that we write into people not into books and that the book we write is language itself.
Ljubljana-Tunis, November 27, 2015