Friday, March 07, 2008

Notes on Glossing

Whereas much contemporary intellectual discourse says so much that it silences the thing itself and whereas much contemporary artistic representation says so little that it becomes merely and mutely a thing, the gloss both preserves the independence of the thing it speaks about and creates itself as an independently speaking thing. This balance between text and context, subject and object, derives from the essentially relational nature of the gloss. The gloss does not come at you like a monolithic thesis or sword-Logos born from a sperm whale’s forehead. The gloss comes towards you like a human being, hypothetical, curious, speaking your language. Formed of the accumulated impressions of innumerable actions and reactions to the text, the gloss accomplishes nothing and so becomes capable of everything. As waves are to the stones that caused them, the gloss is to what it glosses, spreading out in unending uniqueness from the page’s unmarkable center, giving witness to depths the undisturbed surface cannot.

The gloss thus materializes phenomenological consciousness, as expressed and enacted in Gaston Bachelard’s description of the reverberation of the poetic image: "Through this reverberation, by going immediately beyond all psychology or psychoanalysis, we feel a poetic power rising na├»vely within us. After the original reverberation, we are able to experience resonances, sentimental repercussions, reminders of our past. But the image has touched the depths before it stirs the surface. And this is also true of a simple experience of reading. The image offered us by reading the poem now becomes really our own. It takes root in us. It has been given us by another, but we begin to have the impression that we could have created it, that we should have created it. It becomes a new being in our language, expressing us by making us what it expresses; in other words, it is at once a becoming of expression, and a becoming of our being. Here expression creates being."

The glossator makes the text real through an act that both defaces and recreates it. Running towards the text by running away from it, the gloss discovers a text within the text, a deeper word spoken by neither author or reader but something both within and among them, a new authority. The gloss, being only more words, neither contains nor expresses this word. Rather, the deeper word that the gloss reveals exists in the silence between the gloss and its text, a word within the spaces between words. Here we find the real function of the gloss, not to explain the text, but to multiply explanation and signification fractally, to generate more and more verbal and visual enclosures within which the unexplainable is brought into presence. Secretly, the excessive, decentering, unending speech of the gloss multiplies silence, revealing it to be, not the absence of speech, but the real presence of what cannot be explained, a silent word, so to speak. The fruit of interpretation, to employ the medieval metaphor, is not merely understanding, but the direct conscious experience of things that understanding produces.

Glossing and phenomenology both express a longing to go beyond words and images to the reality of things themselves, not by transcending words and images, but by entering more deeply, perversely, wonderfully into them, by conjuring the presence of the res ipsa apophatically, via explanation as the intensification of absence, as the presencing by absencing of what is explained. Glossing and phenomenology enact deep frustrations with language and representation via excess language and representation: the slippery self-contradictory language of phenomenology that promises clear apprehension of experience of things themselves, the self-multiplying cross-referential signs of the gloss that promise unitary total significance . . . The problem with words and images is not that they are false, but that they are signs, vehicles of consciousness that simultaneously manifest and frustrate it, forever interposing themselves between self and world. Glossing fights against this condition of impasse through a whole-hearted acceptance of it, though a loving of the enemy of the sign that promises offspring between poetry and philosophy, intellect and art.

Glossing is doomed, futile, but how full of the infinite joys of intimate friendship with the futility of all things!


Anonymous said...

A gloss on glossing. Classic Masciandaro!

Nicola Masciandaro said...

You may be interested in the online journal I am starting. Check out