«1 Unreadable, Notes robert cheatham / fehta murghana You hawk up and spit on your typewriter and produce a monument of writing disease: bloated, ...»
robert cheatham / fehta murghana
"You hawk up and spit on your typewriter and produce a monument of writing
disease: bloated, unreadable, 'originality,' the counterpart of your own diseased
Crimes of Art and Terror
Frank Lentriccia / Jody McAuliffe
❒ 'Unreadability' is surrounded by a constellation of concepts which both complicate
and elucidate as well as frustrate it's placement. The 'unreadable' can play host to a
whole constellation of confusions, delays, varying intensities, opacities. and intentionalities.
Surely unreadability cannot be purely a perceptual problem -- although the imperceptible must also cross with the seemingly imperturbable figure of that which can't, or attempts to refuse, to be read. It thereby refuses a placement into any certain category except that which can not be read.
But in an age figured by 'transparency' and accessibility what can be the status of the unreadable (does it hide a secret, is it hermetic, or just non-sense?), of an event that refuses to be figured other than by its own refusal?
A whole range of phenomena move within the orbit of the unreadable: certain gnomic poetic texts (some might even say poesis generally, in its emphasis on singular expression); encrypted texts, with varying levels of intentionality, from 'unsolvable' hoaxes to encrypted government texts; mystical or apophantic texts, where the referent is placed necessarily 'one step beyond' (we could include certain philosophical texts here also, as well as the theological); texts of the insane, where there is likewise a radically displaced referent; texts generated by system or machinic failure, either naturally occurring or mimetically induced, as with computer generated texts, where reference is clearly on THIS side but understanding still falters; historical texts which have lost their cultural, political, or, and this perhaps amounts to a recapping of the first two, historical contextualization and have no apparent Rosetta stone.
And lastly, a very contemporary environment of 'objects' which increasingly demand to be read as 'subject-like' (i.e., language-like, textual), if not actually subjectivity itself: that is, the mute opacities of gestural and semiotic systems, uprooted from their humanistic references and displaced onto or within the cybernetic blur the line between the human and its mechanical other, making each readable by the other, but at the expense of shunting aside what cannot be read. The result seems to range from catastrophe to epiphany, each being all but impenetrable to the other.
The unreadable seems to be about the extreme limit of cognitive and emotional states, a liminal state where chiasmatic reversals are apt to occur just at the moment of 'understanding', where translation becomes suspect, and where stoppage becomes a virtue in search of its own foundation.
❒ 'Impenetrable,' 'inexpressible,', 'unpronounceable,' 'untranslatable,' 'unspeakable' all attest to a structure which is by turns blank (white on white, black on black) or a vertiginous density, to the point of being a total singularity.. The would be 'reader' is confronted by a host of 'un-' and 'im-' conditions which act to funnel understanding as well as to deny it. The very appellation 'unreadable' names a black hole-like region whose event horizon is constituted by the inhuman of language 'itself' as it confronts the task of consciousness in attempting to come to grips with itself, to place a standards and means testing on every threshold where the brain would wish to find purchase. The unreadable throws us into system fault which propagates instantly in all directions, temporally and spatially, closing down/opening up avenues of thought and action before thought and action can take place (this was formerly the job placement which only the divine could take over: "The unpronounceable is the very thing withheld from revelation, being nameless and therefore having no expression. At the same time, the inexpressible is the very thing that transmits the finite character of revelation." Metaphysics of the Profane: The Political Theology of Walter Benjamin and Gerschom Scholem, p99. This 'before-ness' is incorrigibly met before the readable as
well as the unreadable, making both architectures haunted by their respective other:
the readable is forever threatening to become un-, while the unreadable forever holds out the lure of becoming known, or at least placed in a field of effects where the unreadable does not remain totally unknown but can be accounted for in any number of ways: hoax, parody, art, useless non-sense, broken part needing to be discarded, faulty system error to be corrected by moving backward through the chain of effects, 'correcting', and then moving forward again. Any attempt to MAINTAIN unreadability rather than correct it must inevitably move in two only seemingly opposed directions: power [the monstrous power of nihilism, that unwanted guest at the table, instantly recognized by Nietzsche] or the weak anarchic distance of the divine numinous, under the guise of 'mysticism,' both relying on the cover story of the 'human' while in fact holding fast at their core to the inhuman.) The fate of the mechanical testing and besting of the unreadable meets no better fate in these terms since it too must round into the mechanical determinations of the inhuman core of the mechanistic. In all of these the human disappears under the blank and unperturbable onslaught of the unreadable, a depthless surface, yet a surface which beckons with the allure of a mirage seen through heat waves, continually moving in it's not-thereness, testimony to its potency, a potency which (only) resides in it's potentiality. A potency which can only manifest in its non-manifestation, in it's threat to become.
❒ Undecidable meanings and / or a surplus of meaning, a saturation? Strictly speaking, the unreadable text, like Bartleby the scrivener, can only 'prefer not to'. In fact, the unreadable prefers not to be text at all but to become image; deprived of meaning to emerge from the morass of strokes, the event becomes an icon, an image.
The recession of meaning from the ink leaves a residue, a subliming effect, the reverse of ink on blotter, a bare materiality, but a materiality which the mind can never leave well enough alone (and wasn't it ever thus?). Thinking (or rather desiring fervently, desiring beyond desire--does 'thinking' even have much to do with it at this point?) not to be left alone, the mind immediately begins to construct another language; or rather another constellation of relationships based on the visual solely must slowly comb the tangle which the eye is given of the surface (since to the eye everything is a surface) and which is given because…the eye opens. This will always remain the subplot of the unreadable, a voyaging into mute matter and without benefit of hindsight (or retention or history or prehistory or race, religion or creed) or foresight (or prehention or insight or Law or the coming community of socio-economic variables to put us in our place). This zero degree of meaning is well placed in a letter from Gersholm Scholem to Walter Benjamin in speaking of Kafka's novel The Trial as being "where the wealth of significance is gone and what appears, reduced, so to speak, to the zero point of its own content, still does not disappear (and Revelation is something that appears), there the Nothing appears.' (quoted in G. Agamben, Homo Sacer. According to the gloss by Agamben, "a law that finds itself in such a condition is not absent rather appears in the form of its unrealizability." Unreadability of a sudden finds itself in the camp which Girogio Agamben has recently delineated as a constellation of concepts which emerge from singularity ("presentation without representation", the state of exception ("what cannot be included in the whole of which it is a member and cannot be a member of the whole in which it is always already included"), and bare life. The unreadable -- it's perverse striving in all directions -- thus seems to take on some of the topological uncanniness that Agamben directly relates to the state of exception [from the Law, rules, life itself] which the sovereign can impose, "a complex topological figure in which not only the exception and the rule but also the state of nature and law, outside and inside, pass through one another." P. 37. Elsewhere Agamben elegantly pinpoints at least one form of that sovereign: "Language is the sovereign who, in a permanent state of exception, declares that there is nothing outside language and that language is always beyond itself." p. 21. Unreadability manages to have its cake and eat it too, a limit-figure, always undecidably on the verge of extinction or explosion.
❒ Abandon, (un)Reading the Alien "The sole law of abandonment, like that of love, is being at the point of no return and of no recourse."
Jean-Luc Nancy Unreadability becomes abandonment, a condition undetermined in both space and time. The very readable text by Arthur C. Clarke titled Childhood's End details the last days of humankind when its children mutate into another, presumbably higher form of life, under the tutelage of another species of life, the alien. The children eventually abandon the parents and leave with the aliens, having crossed a boundary condition that was unseen and unreadable by the parents. Not mutation but rather abandonment would seem to be the governing motif of all forms of modernity, including the form which has apparently embraced its abandonment, postmodernity. This leavetaking seems to always be accompanied by unreadability as a threshold condition and liminal state.
One can carry on with 'great abandon.' A centripetal collapse that approaches a great ecstatic release, the foundering of the sexual, the falling of loves of every kind (many times unreadable from the outside): to leave one's self for another place, to be thrown out of one's place. The greatest scientific advances no doubt come through an agency of abandon. It is to leave the safe confines of the human subject and embark on, and as, those dark seas called matter, 'that-ness,' with no safe shore in sight -- but undertaken with joy.
'Abandoment' proceeds with the loss side of the internal split of abandon/abandonment, the self recoiling from its sudden realization that its impoverished state has led it too far. Nothing but a threatening mystery surrounds the concept of abandonment in this latter sense, the queasy aftermath of ecstatic abandon, where nothing can be read with any certainty.
In some of the great tales of science fiction, such as the Clarke novella mentioned earlier ('scientific romances' as the genre was first called), explorers come upon great cities and civilizations which have been abandoned by the lost species that constructed them. A series of baffling encounters follow, as the artifacts, monuments, rules, and outlook of the dead civilization become either more opaque and unreadable -- the thrill coming from this inscrutableness ; or a Rosetta stone is found which seems to open an alien viewpoint, through placing the unreadable next to the readable. This opening of the unreadable frequently leads to disaster nevertheless, confounding the current dictum that 'communication' is all that is needed to solve problems. The shear/sheer (thin, deviating, cleaving from, completely such of what it is -- event the descriptors begin to abandon or at least disperse the site of 'reading') fact of understanding, of reading, acts to transform the reader (of the alien artifact) into a monstrous double of the alien….the nature of the inhuman portent of 'language, the sovereign' outside its allegorical sitings anyway.
Abandonment is held in reserve in the unreadable as at the same time it encourages 'the surprise of the event,' which is also a kind of ecstatic abandon. (And the disaster creates its own ecstatic abandon of a Battaillean sort). The’ progressive’ history of the human species, in its excavations of/relations with techne, can be seen as a millennial assortment of leave-takings and abandonments. The unreadable shows this final blank face of abandonment, the ever-closeness of the inhuman --always the source and scourge of any unreadability through either its temporal or spatial avatars: decay, distance--so close as to be a permanent guest of the human host, sometimes an unseen guest, sometimes threatening to take over, abandoning the human host to negativity, the hidden face of the unreadable (as the unreadable is always the hidden face of the readable). The human is always unable to 'read' this parasite --so lovable, so like its human benefactor to the point of often being indistinguishable, unreadable in its difference---to the point of terming unwanted guest (yet, miraculously, always present in some form) 'nihilism,' that most abyssal/abysmal nothing, negative of values lurking in every lump of matter, continual battle of readability with the human, itself a form of rarified matter, reified pattern, which only deepens the abandon.
Just so does the abandonment of and into the unreadable shear into the Hegelian good and bad infinities, Cantor's dust rescending forever, both from the outside in and the inside out.
At the threshold of this event of abandonment by unreadability, philosophy (traditionally, as the finding of what is true in events and not the mere recognition that there is an event) can have nothing to say. Or must lapse into its own solipsistic unreadability.