digital rhetoric

open composition

I’m going to keep writing this post until I actually say something close to what I mean to say.

Let’s start with the “material.” First, Heidegger from “The End of Philosophy and the Task of Thinking:”

The forest clearing [or opening] is experienced in contrast to dense forest, called Dickung in our older language. The substantive Lichtung goes back to the verb lichten. The adjective licht is the same word as “open.” To open something means to make it light, free and open, e.g., to make the forest free of trees at one place. The free space thus originating is the clearing. What is light in the sense of being free and open has nothing in common with the adjective “light” which means “bright,” neither linguistically nor factually. This is to be observed for the difference between openness and light.  Still, it is possible that a factual relation between the two exists. Light can stream into the clearing, into its openness, and let brightness play with darkness in it. But light never first creates openness. Rather, light presupposes openness. However, the clearing, the open region, is not only free for brightness and darkness but also for resonance and echo, for sound and the diminishing of sound. The clearing is the open region for everything that becomes present and absent.

Next, Charles Olson on projective verse

if he stays inside himself, if he is contained within his nature as he is participant in the larger force, he will be able to listen, and his hearing through himself will give him secret objects share. And by an inverse law his shapes will make their own way. It is in this sense that the projective act, which is the artist’s act in the larger field of objects, leads to dimensions larger than the man. For a man’s problem, the moment he takes up speech in all its fullness, is to give his work his seriousness, a seriousness sufficient to cause the thing he makes to try to take its place alongside the things of nature. This is not easy. Nature works from reverence, even in her destructions (species go down with a crash). But breath is man’s special qualificiation as animal. Sound is a dimension he has extended. Language is one of his proudest acts. And when a poet rests in these as they are in himself (in his physiology, if you like, but the life in him, for all that) then he, if he chooses to speak from these roots, works in that area where nature has given him size, projective size.

The inevitable (for me) Deleuze and Guattari passage (from A Thousand Plateaus):

weapons have a priveleged relation with projection. Anything that throws or is thrown is fundamentally a weapon and propulsion is its essential moment. The weapon is ballistic; the very notion of the problem is related to the war machine … One could also say that the tool encounters resistances, to be conquered or put to use, while the weapon has to do with counterattack, to be avoided or invented (the counterattack is in fact the precipitating and inventive fact in the war machine, to the extent that it is not simply reducible to a quantitative rivalry or defensive parade). (395)

Finally, Derrida from Aporias, where, echoing the passage above, we can see that the word problem:

can signifiy projection or protection, that which one poses or throws in front of oneself, either as the projection of a project, of a task to accomplish, or as the protection created by a substitute, a prosthesis that we put forth in order to represent, replace, shelter, or dissimulate ourselves, or so as to hide something unavowable–like a shield (11).

Ok, that’s enough material. Now for some serial integration of these concepts with punceptual(?) notions of open and composition.

1. The “open” is produced through a projection. One must think of this in Nietzschean terms as an opposition to the forces of ressentiment and bad conscience. That is, a la Deleuze et Guattari, the weapon projects a counterattack rather than accepting the doubling back of guilt. That said, the open need not be “external.” Heidegger notes that the open allows for resonances. For Olson, these resonances are internalized with the breath: projective verse begins there. I.e., projection is an embodied mode of communication, recognizing our own body “cavity” (both physical and psychical).

2. This extends to Derrida’s point regarding aporias. The projection both produces and covers the opening. The opening is itself an aporia, an originary wound in the Freudian/Lacanian sense, but also more generally in a philosophical sense. The projection responds to the human, psychic need to “hide something unavowable,” specifically our own fragmentary being, our own monstrosity. This fundamental aporia/void/abyss can only be glimpsed, never embraced, partly b/c our psyche can’t bear it and partly b/c we have no cognitive means to apprehend its sublimity. Thus, projective/open composition is the weapon whose counterattack pierces the shield of ressentiment and guilt, the shield that hides aporias behind problems which must be “worked” on.

3. As I’ve discussed before, open also resonates for me with the “open source” approach to both software and knowledge production. Like these practices, open composition pierces the problems surrounding authorship (e.g. plagiarism in college) to reveal the fundamental aporia of authority it conceals.

4. I was also thinking about Jeff’s post on WPA (writing program administration). My department is discussing a revision of our composition program right now and the discussion is closely linked to Jeff’s observation about the perceived need or impluse to establish order/hygiene in first-year composition. No doubt FYC is the Foucauldian cordon sanitaire. FYC seeks to cleanse and bandage the open wound of the writerly psyche and text.

5. It’s also a case of not seeing the forest. In FYC the trees are sentences and word choices. The forest is the affect of textual multiplicity. This is what the open field produces, a break from the trees to encounter the forest.

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