GABlog Generative Anthropology in the Public Sphere

January 5, 2010

Rendering is the Stay of Frenzy: Ou-GA-po

Filed under: GA — adam @ 2:50 pm

I’ve mentioned a couple of times in the past few posts the literary group Oulipo (the Workshop for Potential Literature), which devises rules and procedures for composing literary texts. I have situated my growing interest in Oulipo in terms of the way I have been thinking about rules and habits, rules and imperatives, rules and models, and so on. Most of the rules devised by Oulipo are arbitrary—like the lipogram, they are meant to take away some of our habitual uses of language and thereby force to think in unwonted directions. I consider that extremely useful and interesting, but in proposing a Ou-GA-po (Workshop of potential GA—noting that Oulipo has already spawned several spinoffs in other disciplines) it seems to me that knowing what language is should enable us to create more purposeful rules, rules that facilitate a desired line of inquiry or enact a particular element of the originary scene.

I’ll be working on some possible potential GA “workshops” in upcoming posts, but for now I’ll start with something more universally applicable to modes of inquiry, or theoretical vocabulary. The rule I have constructed is to gather together the key terms of a theory and replace them all with synonyms (a sub-rule here might involve how the synonyms are chosen, but I haven’t done that, even if patterns of choice might be detectable—one way of choosing a rule, incidentally, would be to identify a pattern or habit and make it explicit by formalizing it as a rule to be followed deliberately; or, formalizing resistance to that habit as a rule). Then there are a couple of possibilities: one might rewrite a passage in the original vocabulary using the new terms (and then, depending upon the results, other possible procedures might be invented and applied); or, one might conduct an analysis using the new terms. I’ll be doing the latter.

The interest in this procedure, for me at least, lies in the act of thinking along with language. As we all know, first of all tacitly as language users, words aren’t simply the labels of “meanings”—rather, they exist in a field with other words with which they can be replaced and combined more or less reliably under various conditions. Furthermore, the construction of a theoretical vocabulary itself creates a new field, in which words are drawn to each other with a new gravity: once you use the word “subject,” for example, the word “object” can’t be far behind, even though these are far from being the only ways of referring to people and things. So, my synonymizing procedure is to bring into adjacency with theoretical fields new aggregations of very different neighboring fields. The potentialities of language, in particular what I take to be its fundamentally iterative character, can then be drawn upon to complement our expansion and revision of the theoretical field at stake. In other words, questions about new possibilities for the theory, possibilities we would not have uncovered otherwise, might be generated.

So, here are my synonyms:


First, it seems to me a good rule to say one thing (and just one thing) about the likely effects of each replacement. So: want, it seems to me, is generally associated with more physical requirements than desire (it seems closer to “need,” in other words), but it nevertheless lies closer to the notion of “lack” so central to more theoretical uses of “desire” (for want of a…); wrath certainly seems closer to violence than resentment, more the feeling of the “strong” rather than “weak” man (Gans translates what is translated as the “wrath of Achilles” as “resentment” in his reading of the Illiad), and it also is more readily attributable to the center (God has wrath, He doesn’t resent); stay (as in “stay of execution”) seems to me to be both enacted and effected, whereas deferral is something you bring about, even in yourself (I will note by the way that a further interesting and unpredictable feature of synonymizing is that synonyms often work very differently in sentences and as parts of speech—“stay” is both verb and noun, “wrath” has no verb form, etc.); mark we associate with something we inscribe on objects, whereas signs direct our attention to objects; things seem freer from our mapping of them, whereas objects are defined by the more specialized attention paid them, but things are also more simply whatever we talk about, in the sense of “topic”; crises precede resolutions, for good or for bad, while messes can get cleaned up as much as desired or needed while remaining a bit messy (and a situation can’t be “crisisy”); I was delighted to find, in my very minimal research for this post, that the word “like” derives etymologically from the notion of “form,” in a way that we can still feel pretty forcefully, while providing us with the sense of being attracted to something, delighted in something, that could only add to our understanding of mimesis in all its forms; violence contains some sense of “violation,” but frenzy might be closer to the pre-signifying beings we were entering the originary scene, where it seems to me an anachronistic anthropomorphism to suggest that the pre-human pecking order was “violated”; setting is very close to scene, but it is suggestive of the acting of putting things in place whereas a scene seems all made up already (of course we lose the possible plays on “making a scene”); render is perhaps the most distant of the synonyms here, but it brings in a very promising field of associations concerning giving the other his due (“render unto…).

Hence, the title of my post is a “translation” of “representation is the deferral of violence.” A bit of violence is done to “rendering,” which I think is rarely used as a gerund, much less with the copula—indeed, it remains a bit of verbness in this formulation. A similar operation could, of course, be performed on “represent” as well, but “representing is the deferral of violence” doesn’t quite work, does it? “Render” is a transitive verb and so is “represent,” but the option of “representation” clouds the intransitive sounding “representing” (even though the word is actually used that way now), while there is no noun form for “render”. I think there is more to it, though: “rendering” and “stay” could both be verbs, so the real parallel would have to be “representing is deferring violence,” but the rendering and the stay can be simultaneous (if we compress “render” as “give” with “render” as “depict”) while there must be some time delay, however infinitesimal,, between representation and deferral. Meanwhile, “to represent is to defer violence” tilts towards the description of an action rather than a definition and is hence a better re-translation of my translation, but the two infinitives sounds more stilted and static than the “original.” In brief, it seems to me that this sense of simultaneity in action gives us the most to think about.

Now, I will see what happens when I put this new vocabulary to work in addressing an issue, the treatment of which in my previous post I am dissatisfied with. In considering the conversion of desire into love through the “blessing” of that desire by resentment, I neglected a crucial transformation—that of the object of desire, whose beckoning imperative is taken over by the desirer who in turn issues imperatives to the object (remain what you were in that moment I was first consumed by desire for you) itself becomes subject—in grammatical terms, commences to issue imperatives of its own. In other words, what converts desire into love is that the object breaks out of the vicious circle of desire by giving promise of continual mystery and by making the desirer such an object him or her self. The lover, in short, is encircled by questions, and is himself or herself transformed into a question—the question is the grammatical marker of the resentment that blesses the conversion of desire into love.

So, the thing issues imperatives to the—subject? If object is gone, why keep subject? I will indulge myself with a substitution I would like to make anyway, and draw upon the rich resources of available pronouns and simply say that the thing issues imperatives to anybody, and that somebody in turn issues imperatives to that thing. So, here we can mark a transformation that “subject” doesn’t note, from anybody to somebody—anybody is called, but only somebody hearkens; and this raises the question: who loves? Perhaps this one. This one is anybody who by becoming somebody has been converted into a question for himself.

Now, as the relation between a body and the thing undergoes these transformations, what is happening to the relation between anybody and the model who has directed anybody’s attention to the thing in the first place? The fatal attraction to the thing is a way of evading the likening match with the model—rather than contend with the model, somebody tries to extort fealty from the thing itself. This shift in attention makes it possible for a new set of imperatives to issue forth from the thing, imperatives that call upon somebody to remake themselves, so as to partially liberate somebody from the model at the risk of destroying the object. But this new status of the thing sends new imperative out to new competitors, with the difference now that somebody can save the thing and become this one by taking the thing as guide or, to substitute a synonym for model that can apply to the competitors in the likening match as well as to the thing, this one can take the thing as measure. This one loves, or worships, the measure.

This one worships the measure by adopting its wrath toward the participants in the likening mess, toward those commanded by want. This one renders the measure to the crowd by rendering the measure among the crowd while being that one amid the crowd—that one who arouses wrath while dispersing it by breaking up habitual, commanding approaches to the thing. Anybody can now try to take the thing by presenting a body in the middle of its measure, that is, by applying its measure in a way everybody can render to themselves. In order to become a this one worthy of the thing everybody worships, the somebody must wrathfully submit the likening matches to that thing’s measure by setting the increasingly frenzied motions toward the thing within a grammar of itemized and interchangeable gestures.

And, indeed, the grammatical element of language—the distribution of a finite number of phonemes and morphemes along with the rules governing their infinite possible combinations—is the work of this wrathful one, of resentment dispersing desire by norming it and construing infinite desire as error.

Powered by WordPress