Let’s see you grit those teeth (version Simon)

I realize now I’ve titled these posts by puncher, not by target, when maybe it should have been the other way around. Am I subconsciously thinking of myself as the one capable of administering the blow that brings the other to his senses? I think I always feel more like the target, the one desperately in need of that punch to remind me that things are possible, I am capable, and TMJ notwithstanding I can still grit my teeth. And maybe it’s related to the purpose of this post, that I rely so heavily on narratives as sense-making making devices, as new ways of understanding not only my subject position but also those of others. That I am interested in the semiotics involved in manipulating the cognitive processes that transpire in the space between eye and text object, whether they pertain to our methods of reading and looking or our understandings of visual-verbal combinations: what W. J. T. Mitchell called”image-text” relations–that is, relations between the image and the word: namely, the “imagetext,” or syntheses of visual and verbal elements that accord and/or amplify meaning; the “image/text,” in which the synthesis is dissonant and visual and verbal meanings undermine, contradict, or elide each other (p. 89). This was, after all, my method of analysis in my paper on the simulation of PTSD in the visual-verbal juxtapositions in Gurren Lagann, which in retrospect might have made for a more controlled case study. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

What startles me most about reading this answer, which was way more readable and clearly set up, was how flat it felt. Answer 1 may have been a technical shitshow–with several wrong choices made concerning the literature–but, somehow, it was energetic. Maybe that’s because it made me feel instant panic. But I think it’s because, maybe, the messier the answer, the more interesting its message. My voice is present in Answer 2, whereas ruthless cutting excised it from Answer 1, but Answer 2 seems to be missing the hot steaming mess of my thinking brain, which is what makes for the good stuff. It’s like I knew what I was saying, I said it, and–despite the inclusion of creative work as a case study–my imagination was somehow stifled. To me, anyway, there are no startling moments. I’m advocating creative destruction and I’m not sure anything here was created or destroyed.

In a sense (without revealing the details of my question or this particular answer), though, maybe I can call this entry the same kind of so-called “quantum approach” I argue for beyond the field of literature and the hemerneutic tradition. To build on Jerome McGann, the quantum approach is meant to explode the text beyond its physical and content-based hermeneutic boundaries. It is performative and deformative, founded on “deformations” that deliberately alter words or structure to visibilize the underlying generic and structural rules of the text, and role-playing methods such as McGann’s and Johanna Drucker’s the IVANHOE game, in which the text is entered through traditional interpretation and “performance/deformance” through the intersubjective construction of a narrative based on imaginings around the original story as well as its social and material circumstances along a historical spectrum. This method collapses so many of the books on my reading list and I believe I failed to express that. It’s McGann, Drucker, Kember and Zylinska, Colin Brooke, Adrian Johns, Mikhail Bakhtin, Giuliana Bruno, Paul Ricoeur, Tobin Siebers, Espen Aarseth, Luciana Parisi and Tiziana Terranova, and the technicity and attentional forms of Derrida and Stiegler, all rolled into one. I barely used Kember and Zylinska in my answer, but, like them, I want to provide a platform for creative theory through practice-based research with an eye to artistic intervention. I want to bring together the affective engagement of certain kinds of spectatorship, the embodied memory of PTSD, McGann’s quantum approach to fiction, and the “liveness” of mediation to initiate dialogue about and better understand other fields as well, ranging from philosophy to transitional justice.

So. In ethically reflecting on Answer 2, I’m going to think about 1) what I left out or overlooked that makes this answer feel so enervated, and 2) the problems of the case study I employed.

1. What I left out or overlooked that enervated the answer.

Was it that I’ve already been thinking about this material, somehow, without the proper vocabulary, for years? It it because it’s so familiar to me that the thrill is gone and 10 days wasn’t enough for me to rediscover the spark?

Something about this literature left me wanting. It’s my own fault, since I compiled the list myself. I couldn’t think of any way to use the readings except in my usual English-major way, borrowing and modifying what I thought was useful to my argument, simply ignoring what was problematic or what would introduce issues that couldn’t be addressed given the time and space constraints of the exam. There was also very little I wanted to critique, which maybe suggests I chose well–instinctively selecting texts that all converged on that messy crossroads I’m calling my theoretical position. I was afraid that some of the items, like Lewis Hyde, belonged on the other list (conversely, I think Jonathan Crary belonged on this one), or that because most of the items fit together so well the ones that didn’t felt extremely out of place (Carla Hesse, for instance, or Susan Blackmore).

I left out a lot of texts on this answer for these reasons and not just because I ran out of time (or was already exceeding the page limit). I made some poor choices here, too. I wish I’d chosen a different text by Johanna Drucker–The Visible Word or The Alphabetic Labyrinth instead of her essay on graphesis. I think I could have mentioned even in passing Galey’s insistence on retaining technical concerns in hermeneutics and the recognition of perceptual surfaces and the human presence they conceal in digital texts. I left out Hallin, Zelizer, and Kansteiner, because I thought the linkages would seem superficial; now, I find myself wondering why I didn’t include Zelizer’s basic notion of the establishment of an authoritative interpretive community among journalists reporting on Kennedy’s assassination, which could be related to the archive, to a longer version of my case study; I could have included Kansteiner on the grounds of restoring the social, material, and historical aspects to traditions like memory, which he suggests we should look at as resulting from diverse vectors such as the intersection of makers, consumers, and the products of memory. I could have spent more time discussing Winter’s articulation of trauma and embodied memory in the case study. I could have used Hallin in the case study to contrast sanitized coverage with spectacular excess and body horror, to maybe delve into the quantum approach as alternative media for educating a public that suffers compassion fatigue or is simply used to and/or indifferent to sensationalism, particularly in a war that means little to the U.S. (The mechanisms of Sri Lanka’s domestic media representations, though, follow a similar discursive pattern.) I wish I’d spent more time on Stiegler’s ideas of attention and self-care, though perhaps that runs the risk of merging with my other area, or maybe it’s just a thought that’s come to me since writing about parrhesia in a previous blog post.

If I had to be critical of anything, it would be the same criticisms leveled by texts I agree with: for instance, Kember and Zylinska’s critique of Bolter and Grusin’s erasure of technicity from remediation in favor of human intentions and presence, or Eisenstein’s notion of fixity and the role of fixity in the print “revolution,” just as Johns puts it. Aarseth’s discussion of the cybertext itself could be strengthened or complicated–for instance, what is non-trivial effort, and what makes eye-scanning trivial? But then again, I felt like I had to read a lot more to truly be critical. I haven’t really read up on phenomenology outside of the excerpts on this reading list. I can tell that I’m in desperate need of Heidegger and Ricoeur. Bergson and Stiegler are also on my lists. Without knowing as much as I can about what they’ve written–and maybe this is my expertise problem–I don’t know how to begin being critical of their ideas (which, in typical bricoleur fashion, I just find interesting).

What might have made this answer feel more original, innovative, or exciting to me? I think if I had had the time and ability to write the answer in a format that itself destabilized the text object (as I did, in fact, initially attempt to do), my interest in creative theory would have instantly blinked on. If I’d had the space to delve further into disability aesthetics and the cartography of spectatorship, I might have been thrilled. I think, in distilling just enough to create linkages without taking up too much space, I stripped away everything I found interesting about a lot of these texts–the material that would provide openings for new questions and answers in the future.

That said, questions do remain for me, or rather, broad ideas I didn’t explore. If a disability aesthetics is in some way intrinsic to quantum poetics and its deformance of texts, how can we apply it to the visible word (and again, I wish I’d used a different Drucker). How might the gift economies of the Internet spaces I’m most interested in further this deformance through remediation, which itself helps preserve the collective memory of the space, heightening the importance of affectively moving deformations (whether pleasurable or horrific)? How else might memory and its formation and maintenance pertain to the quantum approach and performance/deformance? In the end, did I address what we actually gain by denaturalizing the word and image? New ways of “looking to see” in reading both image and text could allow us new methods of interpretation of content, sociality, and materiality. Maybe the central idea here is, especially given the scale and speed of (re)mediation online, the protocol structuring our ways of looking and writing also structure our behavior and therefore must not be invisible.

2. Case study.

If you lived on the Internet at all circa 2007, you know about Kamina, a supporting character Gurren Lagann whose early and unexpected death overshadows the rest of the series. I suggested that, in its use of imagetext and image/text, the series exercises a kind of constant confrontation and denial that simulates the embodied memory and experience of PTSD. It’s a bittersweet ending. Fanfiction and online role-play around the series seem to mostly accept the ending as the “true” narrative ending, even while imagining new possibilities: for instance, rather than attempt to resurrect those who died, role-play and fanfiction tend to insist that Simon remains alone and aimlessly wandering, that Yoko remains in self-imposed isolation as a teacher on a remote island, that Viral, immortal and stuck in the prime of his life forever, has to witness the aging and demises of all those he fought alongside. What do these imaginings say about the way these participants envision the experience of trauma and war? Does the fact that they do not succumb to wishful thinking and soap-opera revivals mean that the imagetexts and image/texts of the series effectively imparted a kind of (fictional) embodied memory of the traumatic event to them? Participants who deconstruct their “plays” in asides to one another indicate there’s some truth to this. They can understand that the event happened and cannot be undone, and that moving forward is slow, painful, the trauma never disappears, and it ripples out through all those implicated in it, permanently altering the way in which we see or “look to see.”

Because I am suggesting a departure from fiction, which is the sole scope of McGann’s approach, I attempted to apply such a quantum approach to the experience of the Sri Lankan civil war. I attempted to use McGann’s criteria: performance/deformance of the text as an object; reflection on the conditions or circumstances of its production.

Oh lord do I have regrets.

First of all, I realized at the zero hour that I couldn’t do the case study I wanted because the nature of an exam wouldn’t allow the intersubjective construction of a narrative. So, I supplied my own work and photographs from amateur gore sites or professional news media. The creative work I wrote or tailored for the purpose of the exam. Maybe this is risky scholarship at its most confessional. The more I think about it, the more vulnerable I feel about having brought my creative work to my scholarship. I tend to keep the two discrete. Even if I don’t publicize it, it’s not that I’m secretive about my lived experiences. But it would have been a book-length work to really untangle the social, material, and historical conditions of my contribution to such a narrative. I wrote post-it notes about my thoughts, indications of what it might look like if it were a longer work (not very successfully, I don’t think.) Secondly, I couldn’t include all the formats I wanted to use to properly destabilize the traditional idea of the text object, as a quantum approach (and other theories) implicitly ask for: for instance, a recording of a book reading with Q&A and commentary; footage from a Skype call; notes to myself and comments from others; contributions from others; etc. While I used text alignment, imagetext and image/text, hearsay dialogue, and news article formats to challenge traditional notions of the text, I’m not sure this was enough, particularly in the short form (although, then again, I didn’t have space for the long form). Finally, I didn’t have the time or space or mental fortitude, I think, to really talk about why this approach would be effective. I mentioned The Vanni in passing but barely described it or why it is effective with regards to affective engagement and embodied memory. When I talk about my creative writing, I talk about how I strive to induce a physiological reaction in readers, something that comes close to an experience of PTSD or embodied memory.

Here, though, I didn’t say much about it either way. It’s almost like I trusted my work to speak for itself, when that was hardly the point of the exercise. I wish I’d said that the whole point of writing in this way is that it enables the understanding of different viewpoints, and hence, understanding of the conflict itself from below, from above, and from outside. And that this is important to reconciliation and, perhaps, to combating compassion fatigue.

I want to drive a knife into my shoulder, so I’m going to sign off for now. As always, because I never know how to conclude, I’ll leave you with the silent prayer that the pain subsides enough for my brain to function tomorrow, and with this, which will only mean something if you’ve seen Gurren Lagann:


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This work by V. Manivannan is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

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