5 | 2020
Unmoored Languages

This volume explores the complex relations developing between a literary text and the world beyond the representational function. Not content to capture, narrate or describe the existing world, writers keep creating autonomous worlds and inventing new languages to account for yet unmapped territories and experiences. As the materiality of language and its poetic quality come out, the sounds, rhythms and visual effects of the text become living milieu rather than material or simple instruments subordinated to thought. Though the effect first produced upon the reader may well be of strangeness or obscurity, such unmooring of language warrants a valuable extension of language likely to bring back to the reader buried, unsuspected emotions and aesthetic experiences, should she be willing to adopt an open type of reading, more fluid than the automatic system of conventional associations on which reading largely relies.

In this collection, writers and literary scholars from the U.S. and France focused on the nature of the mutations to which unmoored language is submitted, as well as on the various ways in which the text makes sense in spite of all. How to describe that which exceeds language rather than avoid the confrontation by relegating it into the vague category of the ineffable? Throughout, literary, linguistic or philosophical analyses have as their horizon the vision of language reflected by the unmoored text, as well as of the relations between language and the world.

5 | 2020


Rob Stephenson

Texte intégral

1When I started writing this talk — I made a list of things I wanted to explore and think extensively about in preparation — after a month I had more to add to the list and couldn’t find the document, not a trace of it on my computer — a futile half hour passed until I resigned myself to starting over — I created a new document and rewrote the list as I remembered it — as soon as I was finished, it occurred to me to look again for the document by opening all of them in the folder of unmoored language docs and the first one I opened was the original list of notations — I was amazed at the difference between the tentative abbreviated ideas in the original document as compared with the much more fleshed out concepts in the list I had just produced — obviously over the month of not working on the list, I was actually working on the list and transitioning those iotas into much more specific and elaborate possibilities — this same thing is always happening — when I make music or write or make images — an unawareness made up of creeping mutation or development is always at work — transitioning.

2Wait something’s wrong — something’s really wrong. That wasn’t me. That’s not really me. That was someone else. I am actually a 12-year old girl. My name is Jenny. I like to play video games and order pizza when my mother works late. She always works. I am alone most of the time. I have been recording my dreams on the Device and making drawings of them. If I had paper it would look like a comic book, but I only have the Device and the Device only responds to how I move. Now I am trying to use things from my dreams in the newest game, Engine Man. I figured out that I have to use action, the movements that happen to me, to others, to things in my dreams. If I import any form of stillness, the game resets itself and I have to start a new session. I have discovered the pleasures of slowing down and never stopping. The game is most rewarding after an extended period of motion is followed by a gradual shifting deceleration. The images in the game begin to come apart, to merge with each other, to become much less like discrete objects. But just when everything is about to white out, I make abrupt motions, forcing things back into their previous order, their previous constellation of separateness. Perhaps one day, I will be able to perform continuous movement. That is unfortunately the only way to save the history of my playing, to keep the trajectories of my interactions with Engine Man. I have started to collect the movements I record from my dreams into data scripts. There are many variations of uncommon complex movements. I have over 3,500 identifiable scripts I can import into Engine Man. The tortuosity of my movement seems to be increasing the more I dream and notate the movements and play the game. It makes a cycle: dream notate play dream notate play dream notate play dream. I’ve become an ace navigator.

34. How does one describe that otherness, that something in transition becoming something other than what is being transitioned to and what is being transitioned from?

4Vincent Descombes said: “To name a fictional person is to name nothing at all, since that fictional person is precisely someone whom nobody is.”

5You may want to avoid any abrupt or radical changes. Transition in the landscape is often a gradual change. This transition can be illustrated in plant height, color, textures, foliage shape and size as well as the shape and size of different elements.

6The first example of natural transition is the ‘step effect’ or using large trees, to medium shrubs, to bedding plants. Proper plant selection is necessary. Knowing the growth rate and mature height of various plants is very important.

7Sometimes a transition is just a space — a resting — a dropping out —

8does not look like her
camera can only disfigure
prolonging night and time
cataleptic bodies leaning
that generation you see everywhere running
under the weight of natural flowers
much fairer and crueler mirrors
light goes on in the bedroom
now disabled at their keyboards
to disown what is given
the last one is slipping

9The second example of transition can be achieved by the gradual ascending or descending arrangement of different elements with varying forms, sizes, color and texture. As a result, transition can be used to create illusions in the landscape. A transition from taller plants to shorter plants gives a sense of depth making the garden seem larger than it really is. A transition from shorter plants to taller plants can be used to frame a focal point to make it seem closer than it really is. Just to be clear, cutting is not a legal thing to do to a topological object.

10There was a point when I realized I couldn’t make the shapes I wanted without using the computer and I couldn’t make them only using the computer. Look here for a relaxation of content.

11The third example of transition is to use heavier-textured, larger-leaved plants (A) in the back and finer-textured, smaller-leaved plants (B) in the foreground. By doing this, the heavier textured plants (A) frame and support the finer-textured plants (B) that would otherwise disappear if they were mixed in with or planted behind the heavier plants (A).

12This is how landscape becomes a theory of experience. A person who is writing (Y) does not experience anything (X). This empty slot is devoted to experiences (X + X +X + X) of the indeterminate or the indefinite.

13Beyond -- all was black, and the few people passing in that direction vanished at one stride beyond the glowing heaps of oranges and lemons.

14Certain words and phrases guide your readers from one thought (Ta) to another thought (Tb) in a text. For example (there’s one right there!), also, sublimation, but, deposition, indeed, condensation, first, vaporization, and afterward, melting and freezing.

15When choosing a transition word or phrase, you must know what the relationship (R) is between your ideas (Ia + Ib). Are you trying to show how two ideas (Ia + Ib) are similar or different? Are you giving an example?

1671. I am faintly distressed by the incongruities. There is no orchestra and she has the wrong instrument. She has the wrong parts. That’s when it hurts the most: the gradual red sky.

17Transitions make smooth in the middle: between between sentences and between between paragraphs. To transition, place words or phrases at the beginning of your sentences. For the same effect with paragraphs, place beginning words and phrases at the beginning or end of your paragraphs. Use these devices to make your writing heavy and difficult to read when it is necessary to make the relationship between your ideas obtuse and overload your readers.

18Let’s look at some common transition words and phrases in English to see what they do:

  • as a result: shows the consequence of what was said before

  • because: introduces the reason for something

  • finally: is the amount of time an electron spends in an upper "excited" energy level before it decays to a lower energy level

  • for example: illustrates what was said before a radiative lifetime

  • in addition: shows the lifetime of a given upper level is the same for every transition in that level

  • in fact: emphasizes these lifetimes using time-resolved laser-induced fluorescence

  • on the other hand: shows a complete change in measurement

  • next: introduces fluorescence as the emission light produced by the transition of an electron from an upper level to a lower level

  • so that: shows the result of what was said before and can be used to measure lifetimes from approximately two nanoseconds to two microseconds.

19also, but, indeed, first and afterward.

20Some of the terminology used during your transition process may seem confusing. For example, do you know the difference between separating and being discharged? The following terms and definitions will help you understand the process and what to expect.

21Discharge: Complete severance from all military status gained by the enlistment or induction concerned.

22Sometimes, you can put a word anywhere in your sentence or paragraph.

23Separation: A general term that includes discharge, release from active duty, release from custody and control of the Armed Forces, transfer to the Individual Ready Reserve, and similar changes in active or reserve status.

24one can slide peacefully
make words disobey
retain a certain animal
staring at the rock and filming it
the various activities are no longer eating
in this distracted state you have the impression
no longer flowing it has become sticky
the objective terrorism of natural forces
comedy goes on elsewhere
the tourists devouring its absence

25Your readers need transition words to understand what you are trying to say. Without these handy connector words, they have to muddle through on their own and may not get the intended meaning.

26Emily Dickenson wrote:
The brain within its Groove

Runs evenly — and true
But let a Splinter swerve...

27Hi my name is Jenny. I am thirteen. I used to be Jerry, but now I am Jenny, always Jenny now. I still have a penis, but I use the women’s restroom whether it is legal or not. The first story I ever published was about a male earthling hooker, a prostitute who went around the galaxy making a lot of money from extraterrestrials — the first scene describes this man-whore having intimate contact with an alien that has the physical form of a Willem deKooning painting.

28Code Unknown is a film by Michael Haneke shot in Paris in which an interracial incident between two young men becomes the point around which many short digressive and progressive scenes occur. Some relate immediately. Some become related later on. And some never seem to have obvious or knowable relationships except that they exist in the same film. The main character is an actress who is having several domestic problems while working on a film. But what is fascinating about Haneke’s film is the way one scene moves to another and moves within a scene to another mode. Sometimes the scenes end or begin in the middle of a spoken word or a sentence. Sometimes the scene turns out to be part of the film the actress is working on, even once a scene literally becomes the dubbing session in the studio, the same shot running backwards and forwards as the actors are caught up in uncontrolled laughter that they can’t break out of in order to finish the dubbing. A literary equivalent might be the doctoring of Jean Baudrillard’s Fragments by lopping off some of the beginnings and endings of his fragments and combining them into longer continuous streams of language, so it becomes a bit less clear where exactly we are as we are reading along. A reader becomes less focused on Baudrillard’s opinions and more focused on the relationship between unexpected things in the language he is using. Various codes of social behavior, racial difference, family function and dysfunction, urban vs. rural, etc, collide in Haneke’s film and remain unsolved and to a degree undefined. The incompleteness of the vignettes that make up this film and the insecurity that arises from the confusion between what is film and what is a film in a film, both lend to an alterity that complicates obvious solutions to a host of delineated differences that pile up over the course of two hours.

29Why aren’t we spending more time trying to make language do something it hasn’t done enough of before now? Maybe that’s just a way of stating my opinion as a question. But I do like the question.

30A transverse wave can be created in a rope if the rope is stretched out horizontally and the end is vibrated back-and-forth in a vertical direction.

31Kohldampf — Flause — inwiefern — Zwist — bedauerlich — spitzfindig — Baulärm — Sachgasse

32On the crests and in the depths of the waves woeful human beings were clinging to objects, which they had happened to grasp in their predicaments.

33Well into the novel, The Secret Agent, by Joseph Conrad, there is a point, a beginning of a chapter, in which the thread seems to be a continuation in time from the previous chapter. There seems to be no reason for the last chapter to end and a new one to begin. Several sentences later, the reader becomes uncertain as to where this bit of forward motion in time really occurs in this narrative. For a short while, the reader has entered a limbo period, a gap that is nowhere, but between where he thought he was in time and where he finally relocates this chapter in the timeline of events in the novel.

34I read The Secret Agent six years ago and wrote the paragraph I just read to you at that time. I wrote it not in a notebook, as I do most of my jottings about art, literature, films, whatever, but on a piece of paper with a list of eight words I wanted to look up in German, words I had come across in German television programs and books. I found this paper on my desk under the printout of my ticket to Paris for this trip.

35Ludwig Wittgenstein said, “We could paint semi-darkness in semi-darkness.”

369. When light passes through a prism, a broad band of transitioning color is spread out. How do people see this gradation of color? In Japan a large portion of what we Westerners call blue and green is seen and described as a single color. And when I say the word red, I imagine everyone here pictures something slightly different.

37The decomposition of a permutation into a product of transpositions is obtained for example by writing the permutation as a product of disjointed cycles.

381. It is growing dark. 10. I have made a journey to distant lands. 4. It does not lead there; you are going in the wrong direction. 18. I have heard all that before. 11. You are a fine specimen. 17. I can assure you of that. 11. Are the punctuation marks counted? 23. Hello Central, I wish to speak with five hundred thirty-six. 13. It is not pleasant to push in so great a crowd. 8. One can hear the prompter. 14. I look sick, and in fact I am not well. 24. The telephone is a wonderful invention. 25. Shave me. 2. It is the first street on the right. You will see the castle. 25. An inundation is feared. 27. Do not use that word. 17. Be quiet. The curtain is rising. 2. He is not fitted for tragic roles. 20. The chandelier is magnificent. 12. He went straight against his instructions. 27. We shall soon pass over a viaduct. 11. Yes, indeed, and also through deep cuts. 13. He separated soon from his friend. 4. The rich beautiful maiden attracted the aristocratic lady. 17. Who would have thought that of this man? 4. It was a frightful collision. 42. Beer is not so good as water. 4. They pointed their fingers at him. 1. Do I disturb you, my friend? 24. I may be mistaken, but I think the case has two sides. 10. A balloon is not always manageable. 14. You deserve punishment. 14. What is the name of this town? 12. The rain has laid the dust. 8. Is it allowed to telegraph in cipher? 2. The Swiss costume is very pretty. 15. I do not know what is the matter with me. 24. You do not pronounce badly. 11. Please repeat your question. 6. Tomorrow she will appear as Joan of Arc. 24. A little air will do us good. 1. Arm in arm both went towards the house. 16. I am waiting for your reply. 37. There were none there. 43. Do what I tell you. 2. What does that mean in German? 16. Let us go back to our places, the bell has already rung. 14. I saw all that beforehand. 16. Such a thing does not exist here.

39He walked, swam, ran, fell down. One could say he collected globules of gravity in the hope that one day he would be able to rid himself of his weight. Something akin to leaving all his artwork as a collection to a museum, before he was dead. Is it less cowardly to burn it?

40Shades of green silk fitted low over all the lights imparted to the room something of a forest’s deep gloom. I cannot furnish conceptual proof that green, peach-blossom, white and black should be treated as self-contained images. It is as if each wants to have a contour within which to express itself. Shadow natures. White as dimmed light, the gentlest shadow; black the heaviest. I want colors with unbiased feeling, the way red shines towards us. I want wood that knows human eyes must be cut out of it.

41Just what are the insinuations of the dark?

42I decided to slice off the ends of and beginnings to Baudrillard’s fragments. In English the title of his book is Cool Memories. Maybe I could make them cooler.

43marvelous as being there at the beginning. How could one notations
a stealthy idea which would slip without being spotted
the empty period separates us
what are we before we are there
like the negative of a photo
this second time is also the last
so beautiful in black only because I dreamt
life provided an automatic regulation. How could one institutions
the most direct emanation of the reptilian
calling on the organs of locomotion and you can talk without
resistance to the harassment of the voice

44We’re like doing interesting things. It’s like uuuuh, really cool, you know, uuuuh, like really, she was just like saying the same thing like over and over again.

45Gregory Bateson said, “Communication is the creation of redundancy or patterning.”

46Something the artist Dieter Roth said kept coming back to me, “I hate it if I notice that I like something, if I am able to do something. So that I just have to repeat it, then it could become a habit. I stop immediately. Also if it threatens to become beautiful.” The first part of his comment I can admire, the desire to abort a system of making art that relies on a kind of robotic process for refining repetitions. But that last bit, the part about aborting something if it threatens to become beautiful, as if beauty is automatically the enemy of the artist, that bothers me. How can an artist have a fear of making something beautiful? Particularly since beauty is a judgment placed on a thing, not something inherent in a thing. It’s a kind of varnish really. Roth’s implication is that refinement causes beauty. I cannot agree that this is a rule, a given. But if it were true, his method of abrupt transitioning to a new way of working, when the mere possibility of expertise or fluency arises, is what would then become the repetition resulting in refined beauty. Ultimately, he can only relocate where the beauty occurs within his way of making art. He can’t eradicate it. Perhaps, then, beauty is something an artist always ends up with, no matter how hard she wants to avoid it. She can spend a lot of time trying to delay beauty, making it harder to find.

47A branching fraction is defined as the ratio of atoms that decay from a specific upper level to a specific lower level, to the total number of atoms that decay from that same upper level to any lower level. Branching fractions can be determined from relative intensity measurements of spectral emission lines. This involves measuring the intensity of the spectral emission line produced by the transition from a particular upper level to a specific lower level and dividing that value by the sum of the intensities of the lines produced by the transitions from the same upper level to any lower level.

48How could one moribund
How could one put an end to a relationship
How could one arrive early

49It seems I hear the sounds of a room different from the one where I sit.

50I could dream of her as a window or a sealed container half full of water and oil.

51Meander down.

52Directly facing you is a passageway. The art gallery there often has excellent exhibitions of little known artists. The front elevation and steps are original. It has an old-fashioned charm, something of a dark, smelly, airless childhood spent here. It takes its name from the monastery whose wall is followed. Perspectives and lighting were cleverly worked out. One feels as if one is aboard a hot air balloon. Through a cast iron gate made up of a school of small fish, you now enter a section of the ancient road whose only building is a convent for street girls who had abused their bodies. Later on there are toys, antiques, curios, and second-hand books.

53Overhead the violet ceiling of clouds blocked the predictive rays from the satellite. Each black dot became anchored in a nontrivial orbit. 47826 78246 86472 28764. Such a bleached view of mathematics creates the ephemeral colors of granular surfaces. 68247. What a bitter taste for the eyes. 4478728682426764. These chunks manifested into the hard-to-handle liquidity of disjointed vocabularies, like a concentric array of wildly acerbic alarms. The crowded spectrum of oppositions.

54What connects? What disconnects? What does both at the same time?

5517. Whenever we repeat any idea frequently, the mind by a sort of mechanism repeats it long after the first cause has ceased to operate. After whirling about, when we sit down, it is the objects around us that seem to whirl. After a long succession of noises, as the fall of waters or the beating of forge-hammers, the hammers beat and the waters roar in the imagination long after the first sounds have ceased to affect it; and they die away at last by gradations which are scarcely perceptible.

56For example, in these artworks, the runes are not confined to the circumference of the circle and may use the circle only as a small aspect of their function. In some instances, a transmutation array may not even be a circle at all, instead employing radical digital topologies to bring about the circulation of chosen elements. These full body tattoos consider the shape of the human body as it amplifies and focuses their attributes. The proper application of this craft requires not only a full understanding of chemistry, mathematics, and ancient alchemical theory, but also a sort of natural talent towards recognizing and manipulating those physical objects with uncommon levels of intelligence and aptitude.

57Tendrils and fronds of a language swim and intertwine in electric auras against a dark blue background.

58Wet footprints glisten on the gallery floor. I hear the pouring rain on the skylight. I am standing inside a room of Sigmar Polke paintings. I am staring. He has preserved corrosion and has had it hung on walls. A man comes up to me and asks me if I like the painting in front of me. I say I think so. I’m not sure yet. I point to two others I know that I like. He agrees with me about one of them, but thinks the other is too simple. He says, “I’m thinking maybe I should buy the one you are unsure of — I’m a collector,” he says. We talk about Polke’s use of hallucinogenic substances to make art. I tell him I took LSD a few times when I was young. He tells me he is a doctor. I ask of what. “Psychology,” he says. I ask him if therapy is about allowing things or correcting things. “Correcting,” he says. I say, “I think that’s a problem. Behavior of all sorts may be necessary for certain things to happen.” He finds this fascinating. He says that as a doctor he gives order to the contents of a person, the way one might organize what’s in a refrigerator. “A person may not feel like these things are his for a while after the reordering.” He brings up schizophrenics. I bring up the book Memoirs of My Nervous Illness by Daniel Schreber, who wouldn’t have been able to make that marvelous book if he had been a successfully corrected schizophrenic, which in this case means unified to the point of not hearing external voices. He agrees with me that in this case the importance of the creation of that book might outweigh that of the author’s re-socialization. We are talking loudly. Visitors walk in and quickly out of the room. I realize that now we are facing the opposite walls to those that we faced when we began to talk to each other. He turns back to look at the painting I was not sure I liked. I look at one that had escaped my scrutiny. Eventually, we both look at the painting I was unsure about liking. I do like parts of it very much. He decides the dark green blob in the center is a mistake, mentioning that it breaks the harmony of the rest of the painting. “Maybe that is the point,” I say, “but I am not convinced it is a good painting.” He tells me I should write about my ideas. “It could help people,” he says. I laugh and say I am not sure art is supposed to help people and if it is, I don’t know if there is a direct answer to how it would do that. It could operate in a myriad of ways that might not be obvious or predictable. He thanks me for talking to him. I ask him if he is going to buy the painting. He is unsure. I tell him I rarely want to own artwork I see in galleries. If it’s great, I want to go home and make something great or at least try. He asks, “Are you telling me that art collectors are buying relics of the art experience because they can’t make their own art?”

59The eight German words are translated by the app on my phone as:

60to be starving — nonsense — to what extent? — dispute — regrettable — nit-picking — construction noise — dead end

61For example, we might mutter to ourselves the story of what we were doing to reorient ourselves after our work is interrupted. Or we might explain arriving by describing decisions about routes taken. But if we wreck the car, or our child is hurt coming home unaccompanied from music lessons, or we learn we have a serious illness, we tell and retell our story to ourselves and to others, expanding and amending it in order to clarify to ourselves and to others what happened and what consequently can be understood about who we are and what others should or should not change in how they relate to us.

6223. What happens between the collection phase and the dissemination phase of primary data that renders self-narration so stunning in its authenticity and turns case files into people? The audience is either addressed as physically present or physically absent in the world of the story. In which case does my discourse not always clearly acknowledge the pastness of the story I am expressing? I present a sequence of images or gestures, and have you feel as if the events projected or performed are happening right in front of you, in the here-and-now rather than the there-and-then, conveying a story that at least seems to pre-exist the vehicle of conveyance.

63You, the audience, are positioned as a ghostly presence: consciously present, but physically absent, able to travel through temporal and spatial barriers experiencing the sensation of being surrounded by a completely other reality, as different as water is from air, that takes over all of your attention, your whole perceptual apparatus. The moment I acknowledge your presence, make eye contact with you, and start interacting with you, you transition from being an invisible observer to an active participant. You are made aware of your physical presence and through this contact are drawn back to the here-and-now of your own bodily existence: physically anchored to one location in space and time and in principle able to act. But if something should go wrong during this change, you will remain whole days and nights, sometimes, whole years, in the constant repetition of some remark, some complaint or melody; this recurrent fragment disordering your imagination at the beginning of a frenzy, during which every repetition reinforces the fragment with new strength; so the intensity of your unrestrained spirits by the curb of reason, continues this frenzy to the end of your lives.

Pour citer ce document

Rob Stephenson, « Trans(positions)(mutations)(formations)itions » dans « Unmoored Languages », « Lectures du monde anglophone », 2020 Licence Creative Commons
Ce(tte) œuvre est mise à disposition selon les termes de la Licence Creative Commons Attribution - Pas d’Utilisation Commerciale - Partage dans les Mêmes Conditions 4.0 International. Polygraphiques - Collection numérique de l'ERIAC EA 4705

URL : http://publis-shs.univ-rouen.fr/eriac/index.php?id=742.