Friday, 28 March 2014

Plots Thicken: Time and Text

“it’s for ever the same murmur, flowing unbroken, like a single endless word.."

Reading Beckett's Texts for Nothing, I'm very struck by the ebbs and flows of sense, the bubbles of sense that immediately dissolve, the bright pools of meaning that collect and then disperse. There are memories that swim into clarity, vivid and beautiful, before in turn being borne downstream or sinking into oblivion. And it seems to me that we should attend to this ebb and flow as much as individual statements or images. So, for example, not just the "I" and what is said about the "I", but the "I" congealing into "he" - this very process of congealment. Anyway, this is for another post, prompted by some of what Alain Badiou extracts from "Texts for Nothing". I'd like to preface that with something rather more general.

Here is Deleuze on Bergson:
 Take a lump of sugar: It has a spatial configuration. But if we approach it from that angle, all we will ever grasp are differences in degree between that sugar and any other thing. But it also has duration, a rhythm of duration, a way of being in time that is at least partially revealed in the process of its dissolving, and that shows how this sugar differs in kind not only from other things, but first and foremost from itself.

Bergson's famous maxim is "we must wait for the sugar to dissolve." In other words, things reveal themselves in time and through time. We need to be attuned to how things evolve, persist, endure, change and recompose or decompose themselves. Again there is a slight but symptomatic problem of grammar. Grammar says that there are things which then undergo the effects of time. As if the default state of things was immobile, spatial. But they are of course always already in time to begin with. Nothing is exempt.

We prefer to take snapshots, to arrest the flow of things. It's convenient to think of things as basically immobile, solid. The camera is in this sense the rechnological realisation of what consciousness does in any case - it arrests, turns time into static images, extracts from ongoing experience immovable segments.We then regard these segments as the basic units, and time as secondary.

Writing focuses this problem in a very immediate way. Typesetting, layout, etc are of course spatial arrangements of the written word.  The text lies before us in its entirety. we could if we wish paste its seperate sheets on a wall and draw arrows and lines to create a map of linked words, phrases, patterns, a geography of the text. But the text, every text, is composed in time, words by word, and read in an analogous way. The first "I" was inaugural, anticipatory.. incrementally, and with each clause, it thickens, develops - and the illusion grows that we are gradually discovering something that was already there - uncovering a past. Whereas of course, the writer perfomatively creates this past by moving forward in a continuous unfolding of commas and full stops. With each word the writer writes the 'plot thickens' - builds, deepens.And the reading process is an analagon of this.

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