Tuesday, April 29, 2008

On Your Mark, Get Set, Gloss!

Glossator: Practice and Theory of the Commentary

Glossator publishes original commentaries, editions and translations of commentaries, and essays and articles relating to the theory and history of commentary, glossing, and marginalia. The journal aims to encourage the practice of commentary as a creative form of intellectual work and to provide a forum for dialogue and reflection on the past, present, and future of this ancient genre of writing. By aligning itself, not with any particular discipline, but with a particular mode of production, Glossator gives expression to the fact that praxis founds theory.

Glossator is an peer-reviewed open-access journal, sponsored by The Graduate Center, CUNY. It is available online at http://glossator.org.

Editors: Nicola Masciandaro (Brooklyn College, CUNY), Karl Steel (Brooklyn College, CUNY), Ryan Dobran (Brooklyn College, CUNY).

Section Editors: Erik Butler (Emory University), Mary Ann Caws (Graduate Center, CUNY), Alan Clinton (Georgia Institute of Technology), David Greetham (Graduate Center, CUNY), Bruno Gullí (Long Island University), Daniel Heller-Roazen (Princeton University), Jason Houston (University of Oklahoma), Eileen A. Joy (Southern Illinois University, Edwardsville), Sean McCarthy (Lehman College, CUNY), Sherry Roush (Penn State University), Michael Sargent (Graduate Center, CUNY), Michael Stone-Richards (College for Creative Studies), Frans van Liere (Calvin College), Jesús R. Velasco (UC Berkeley), Yoshihisa Yamamoto (Chiba University).


The Editors invite submissions for the first volume of Glossator, to be published in 2009.

Glossator welcomes work from all disciplines, but especially from fields with strong affiliations with the commentary genre: philosophy, literary theory and criticism, textual and manuscript studies, hermeneutics, exegesis, et al.

What is commentary? While the distinction between commentary and other forms of writing is not an absolute one, the following may serve as guidelines for distinguishing between what is and is not a commentary:

  1. A commentary focuses on a single object (text, image, event, etc.) or portion thereof.
  2. A commentary does not displace but rather shapes itself to and preserves the integrity, structure, and presence of its object.
  3. The relationship of a commentary to its object may be described as both parallel and perpendicular. Commentary is parallel to its object in that it moves with or runs alongside it, following the flow of reading it. Commentary is perpendicular to its object in that it pauses or breaks from reading it in order to comment on it. The combination of these dimensions gives commentary a structure of continuing discontinuity, which allows it to be consulted or read intermittently rather than start to finish.
  4. Commentary tends to maintain a certain quantitative proportion of itself vis-à-vis its object. This tendency corresponds to the practice of "filling up the margins" of a text.
  5. Commentary, as a form of discourse, tends to favor and allow for the multiplication of meanings, ideas, and references. Commentary need not, and generally does not, have an explicit thesis or argument. This tendency gives commentary a ludic or auto-teleological potential.

Possible submissions include: critical, philological, and/or bibliographic commentaries on texts, art, music, events, and other kinds of objects. Editions and translations of commentaries, glosses, annotation, and marginalia. Historical, theoretical, and/or critical articles and essays on commentary and commentary traditions. Experimental and/or fictional commentaries.

Submission Deadline: October 31, 2008

Questions, queries may be directed to Nicola Masciandaro: nicolam@brooklyn.cuny.edu

Nous ne faisons que nous entregloser—Montaigne

Monday, April 21, 2008

There is nothing like the sweetness of loving you

There is nothing like the sweetness of loving you,
Of being in this eccentric center with you.

The pale fear of ever forgetting how: a mask,
Only a light inside my face for seeing you.

A cosmic fortress of love, with stones of presence,
Mortar of absence, is building this knowing you.

Verse is a slow suicide of goodness, ethics
And aesthetics killing each other over you.

A tiny displacement, a light touch, is enough
To bring my being to the very place of you.

Dead under weight of infinite nowhere, here, now,
For endless opportunity to, I thank you.

Nicola has no reason for talking like this,
But it is not for nothing that he speaks to you.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

An Animal Talks on "Falling Out of Language with Animals"

I am a worm, and not a man—Psalm 22.6

Animals praise you, by the mouth of those who consider them—Augustine

Being does not see itself. Perhaps it listens to itself.—Gaston Bachelard

So let me begin by hearing one voice speak to another. “A moment arrives,” says Jean-Luc Nancy, “when one can no longer feel anything but anger, an absolute anger, against so many discourses, so many texts, that have no other care than to make a little more sense, to redo or perfect delicate works of signification.” “But,” says Tristram Shandy, “with an ass, I can commune forever.” We have had (and are again having) enough of words. Perhaps speaking to animals, or at least to the animal, may help.

More precisely, I overhear in this miniature found dialogue the following premises and possibilities:

1. That we have language only insofar as we belong to it and that our belonging to language depends in a fundamental way on our belonging to, our being through and with the animal. Heidegger says, “language is the house of being.” Lao Tzu says, “We make doors and windows for a room; / But it is these empty spaces that make the room livable.” Our language-house needs openings, through which animals may sometimes enter, out of which we may sometimes fall. The openings are the spaces of intersection between our relationship to language and our relationship to the animal. Through them we do the remembering that preserves at once language and animal from the violence of reification. “Evil,” says Agamben, “is the forgetting of the transcendence inherent in the very taking-place of things.” Dwelling in language this way, inhering to its own and its object’s taking place, has to do with cultivating the experience that being before the animal demands, with taking seriously the inner movement to consider the animal, literally, to be with it the way one is with the stars, in wonder. This means practicing language that on the one hand returns meaning to the actuality of things and bodies, and on the other returns language to ourselves, to our being, to what is not thing or body. Such language recognizes, sees the animal in a double sense. It speaks of things, bodies as they are, in their actuality, which means seeing everything as animated by its being, as animal. And its speaks from ourselves as we are, which means seeing our own prediscursive or animal being, what Husserl calls “that as yet dumb experience . . . which we are concerned to lead to the pure expression of its own meaning.” Seeing thus might be called speaking animally, as both articulating everything as a form of life (existence as animation) and articulating as the animal “would,” naively, as it were, speaking what presents itself before our words for it, so that the word does not blind. Speaking thus, the human enacts its “higher” animality, its having of language as the faculty which produces is ownmost perception, the ever-opening articulation of self and world which we gaze upon in animal life as the spectacle of our own possibility. “See or perish,” says Teilhard de Chardin, “this is the situation imposed on every element of the universe by the mysterious gift of existence. And thus, to a higher degree, this is the human condition.” To be at home in our language, in the world, means using it to see, to live. So speaking animally, as I have sketched it, is essentially deictic, in the way that Merleau-Ponty defines the end, and limit, of philosophy: “Our relationship to the world, as it is untiringly enunciated within us, is not a thing which can be any further clarified by analysis; philosophy can only place it once more before our eyes and present it for our ratification.”

2. That language is the we, a community to which animal, human, and all we see belongs. In other words, the ground of language, its very possibility, is the unity of life. This unity is not something transcendent or outside the world, but rather constitutes the world as such, that is, it is of a piece with the plural fact of our being here in the first place, our topos. Language thus belongs to the originary goodness of world, to the goodness of its taking place. So I read the hexameral creation formula—God said . . . and saw that it was good—as signifying goodness not as a worldly property but as the very opening whereby the said becomes the seen. Compare Giorgio Agamben’s comment on the event of beings: “God or the good or the place does not take place, but is the taking-place of the entities, their innermost exteriority. The being-worm of the worm, the being-stone of the stone, is divine. That the world is, that something can appear and have a face, that there is exteriority and non-latency as the determination and the limit of every thing: this is the good.” Language, like being, is not a thing, but a belonging, a participation in the innermost exteriority of the world’s taking place.

3. That language, as the wall or structuring principle of this community, neither simply surrounds nor separates human and animal, but rather separates by surrounding and surrounds by separating them, and so creates the distinction between, us. This betweeness of language, which Derrida deals with as the animot and according to which the human appears (from Adam’s naming of the animals to the Fischer-Price See N Say toy) as the animal-naming animal, is only one instance of the more general subject-object structure whereby every individuated being is a/the world-event. In other words, the idea that language is the animal/human boundary is simply the speciesization, our speciesization, of an omnipresent boundary that has a linguistic structure. For a picture of this structure, I turn to Samuel Beckett’s The Unnamable as a possible model monologue of every being: “Perhaps that’s what I am, the thing that divides the world in two, on the one side the outside, on the other side the inside, that can be as thin as foil, I’m neither one side nor the other, I’m in the middle, I’m the partition, I’ve two surfaces and no thickness, perhaps that’s what I feel, myself vibrating, I’m the tympanum, on the one hand the mind, on the other the world, I don’t belong to either.” Moreover, these lines also dramatize speaking as self-listening. So all entities, my intuition insists, are to be included in this truth, in the phenomenon whereby the self (animal, human, whatever) is an event centered on an inner place where speaking and hearing are indistinguishable. Every there is a here. All entities hear themselves. Some beings speak their self-listening more and more intentionally than others. Indeed, this difference may well be greater within the human species than between animal and human.

4. That a purely human discourse, a language for us by us in the narrow sense, is intolerable, maybe impossible, a dark, suffocating house of being. Such language, for which Nancy’s anger towards the asymptotic “little more sense” of critical discourse provides a clear image, is a language that merely means, language reducing itself, and its object along with it, to a thing, a self-enclosure, meaning-products, and this constitutes a forgetting or denial of the other dimension of language which has to do with its belonging to being, language’s operation within what Gumbrecht calls “the production of presence,” the deictic and auto-deictic, or pointing and self-pointing, procedures through which things reemerge and are recognized as beings. In other words, intolerably human discourse is language in denial of being’s discursivity, in the restriction of what it is to what it means, against which we may set Bachelard’s account of the human as “half-open being,” as something structured by the fact that “language bears within itself the dialectics of open and closed. Through meaning it encloses, while through poetic expression, it opens up.” Or, we can say that the two “halves” of human being as half-open are poetry and philosophy, and that it is through the separation or enclosure of one from the other that language becomes a place where we, our being, is not at home. Agamben terms such separation “the scission of the word” and identifies it as essential to Western culture and the birth of criticism: “the scission of the word is construed to mean that poetry possesses its object without knowing it while philosophy knows its object without possessing it. . . . In our culture knowledge . . . is divided between inspired-ecstatic and rational-conscious poles, neither ever succeeding in wholly reducing the other . . . What is thus overlooked is the fact that every authentic poetic project is directed toward knowledge, just has every authentic act of philosophy is always directed toward joy. . . . Criticism is born at the moment when the scission reaches its extreme point. It is situated where, in Western culture, the word comes unglued from itself . . . and can be expressed in the formula according to which it neither represents nor knows, but knows the representation.” This of course suggests an inherent principle or cause within philosophical and critical engagement with the animal, namely, that the animal fascinates these discourses precisely as “living art,” representation that cannot be understood as representation, unrepresentable representation, i.e. real, present being. In a world without animal presence, what would we say? Georges-Louis Buffon, the 18th-century French natural scientist, said “If animals did not exist, the nature of man would be even more incomprehensible.” So I imagine that if animals did not exist—an embarrassingly ridiculous hypothetical—this incomprehensibility would threaten language itself, would cause humans to forget, refuse, or in some other way lose the ability, to speak. Companion piece to Children of Men?

What does it mean, then, to fall out of language with animals? My desire to discover a meaning for this phrase began with recognizing it as an absent term of Agamben’s description of animal/human language boundary: “Animals do not enter language, they are already inside it. Man, instead, by having an infancy, by preceding speech, splits this single language and, in order to speak, has to constitute himself as the subject of language—he has to say I. . . . Contrary to ancient traditional beliefs, from this point of view man is not the ‘animal possessing language’, but instead the animal deprived of language and obliged, therefore, to receive it from outside himself.” If it is entering language that makes one, like birth, generically human, might it not be that exiting language, as a mastering of this entry, as knowing how to climb back out, has something to do with being, despite the poverty of the term, fully human? Is falling out of language, or letting language fall from us, or throwing language over itself, something that fulfills the hope of the human, its transcendent/perverse desire to be more than animal? And yet this fall, as the fall of a being that has language, can only happen through language. In the hearing of language’s silence? In its speaking of the unsaid? This is the point in my talk, near the end, where it would be normal to start talking about silence as a plenitude rather than absence of language and to conclude with a poetic description of the beautiful, awkward silences we sometimes share with animals, our philosophical familiars. Instead I will deliver something more concrete, a detail from one of the most remembered examples of animal-human communion, in which it is discovered that even nothing can speak: “Since he had now been made simple by grace and not by nature, he began to accuse himself of negligence for not having preached to the birds before, since they listened to the word of God with such reverence. And thus it came about that, from that day on, he exhorted all birds, all animals, all reptiles, and even nonexistent creatures to praise and love the creator.”

Monday, April 14, 2008

Saturday, April 12, 2008

What Must Be Done

"Rimbaud's programmatic exclamation 'I is an other' (je est un autre) must be taken literally: the redemption of objects is impossible except by virtue of becoming an object. As the work of art must destroy and alienate itself to become an absolute commodity, so the dandy-artist must become a living corpse, constantly tending toward an other, a creature essentially nonhuman and antihuman" (Giorgio Agamben, Stanzas, tr. Martinez, p.50).

Saturday, April 05, 2008

What happens when you read Gumbrecht, listen to the Terremoto de Jerez, and have to write on The Cloud of Unknowing

The experience of actuality accomplished by that, precisely because of the relation between deixis and visibility (pointing presumes its object’s being at hand, its being there to see) happens through blindness, in the sense that to follow a pointing to actuality is to move into seeing that something is, to witnessing its being, and into not or “no longer” seeing what something is. But in the midst of seeing actuality or witnessing being, seeing and not seeing do not interfere or interrupt each other. Rather, the whatness of something here withdraws into its thatness in such a way that it still remains there, negatively, as what is not being seen. This is how we generally conceive of the experience of presence, as an ontological seeing whereby what something is withdraws without being lost into that it is, into its actuality, into its being before us. This withdrawal is made obvious in the extreme example of Eucharistic presence, in which the fact that the Host is the body of Christ completely overtakes its breadiness without displacing it. The witnessing of being thus has the character of a not-seeing of what is seen which opens into seeing its being, its existence. In these terms Eucharistic presence is not the presence of God, as the presence of some other being, but presence itself, which is so wonderful and impossible that it is difficult to name it anything else. Presence, considered as a quality of the object that witnessing its being reveals, is more properly a certain kind of co-presence, whatness-within-thatness, just as presence, considered holistically, is more properly a certain kind of co-presence of a thing and its witness, thatness-within-whatness. For the mode of witnessing being is nothing other than seeing that one is seeing. It is only the actuality of one’s own being, the fact that one is, that testifies or gives witness to the actuality of another being. Which is certainly why intensified experiences of presence, musical performances for instance, bring us into heightened contact with the fact of our own being, even to the point of ontological panic, exuberant or sorrowful, or both, i.e. duende. This is not to say that presence, or witnessing being, is a projection of one’s actuality onto another being. Rather it is something darker and mysterious, a discovery of mutual, perhaps even identical, projection, a seeing that being, our being, mirabile dictu, is taking these particular forms.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

The one possibility is infinite worlds

The one possibility is infinite worlds
Forever intersecting into some one world.

Without beginning, I now always never start
To take in what it takes to fill a little world.

Seeing this hand grow old I know the unending
Lace of becoming merely one thing in the world.

Mock me and take heart in the limitless relief
Of hearing your echoing through a thousand worlds.

Nothing is inert. Perceval seeing blood drops
In the snow knows the open presencing of world.

Lay down the burden of having yourself and rest
Forever in the instant work of making world.

Nicola’s ambition is a small unknowing
Swallowing this, that, and every other world.