Impossible Architectures

This is something I wrote nine years ago and a friend just found online. Reading it, I barely recognized myself but then I remembered thinking it and writing it. And, frankly, I think it's  pretty smart.

Re-reading two texts recently, I have stumbled on an idea that at once eludes and titillates me. The texts are Clarice Lispector's Stream of Life (Agua Viva) and Velasquez's Las Meninas. Both works proffer a peculiar rhetorical strategy that gives way to an equally odd architecture of the perceptual event: dual vanishing points that are neither temporally successive nor spatially conflictual.

Lispector's sprawling text of fluctuating affects and intensities speaks in what seems to be a direct voice addressed at the reader: "you," the text declares again and again. Due to the way of language and its indexicals, the "you" is necessarily the reader. And yet this "you" is never quite the reader; or this "you" is both the reader and someone or something else — “after all, this "you" has qualities and memories that are rarely those of the reader. The text, then, hits it marks, if you will, twice: once upon the body of the reader, once directly over this reader's shoulder.

This strategy of the dual vanishing point is deceptively complex. It is not a matter of speaking to two audiences, directly or indirectly: this text is not Janus-faced. While the text sprawls this way and that, it nevertheless enjoys a rather pointed mode of address. The text, in a sense, gives itself over twice but not in succession, nor in conflict, nor in a strict parallelism. The text happens twice, instantaneously.

Las Meninas performs a similar strategy as the painting's perceptive horizon vanishes twice: once at the point of the viewer, once at the point of the royal couple. These two spatializations are mutually incompatible — the painting cannot vanish here and there. And it is certainly not a matter of the painting simply addressing two audiences simultaneously. And unlike Wittgenstein's rabbit/duck, there is no temporal succession as in, "now I see it this way, now I see it that way." Both vanishing points happen at the same time.

The ensuing architecture is quite odd: two equally possible worlds, the one excluding the other in a gesture of pure indifference. This is therefore not Leibniz's baroque world; here, God has chosen both worlds. And yet this is not the modern in which two equally viable spatio-temporal events collide in dissonance. Here, there can be no dissonance because the two worlds in fact share nothing. (Clearly, then, there is no harmony either.)

What is this space? I imagine something out of Borges, an impossibly intricate architecture in which two worlds are intimately intertwined and yet do not know, or care, anything of the other. Like Mr. Magoo, there are almost-collisions every moment. But collision, alas, is impossible.


roca de carioca said...

I've just read your past four posts and responses, which developed a brainstorm of sorts. As a close reader of Clarice Lispector, I wanted to share what's been rattling around in my head about her, Agua Viva, and these posts.

I think an interesting (etym. being splitting) thing about this dual vanishing point and Clarice's dual perspective is a third vantage point that witnesses the negotiation between the two. When I was reading Agua Viva in Portuguese as my first of many pleasurable discoveries with Clarice Lispector, I struggled in a variety of aspects.

Reading in a second language was challenging, as my developing bilingualism encountered punctuated boulders in her só called “Stream of Life”. Hanging onto familiar words and lexical constructions allowed me to enjoy certain paces of her great novel-poem (genre was definitely an afterthought for her), but I found myself often as confounded by her full-bodied vocabulary as I was by the visceral strangeness of her novel-poem.

The title itself confounded me; I translated Agua Viva as its zoological name, the Portuguese for “Jellyfish,” but also more figuratively as “Living Water.” I couldn't ever really figure out which title she intended, but found that it didn't really matter. I felt myself reading the book as both “Living Water” and as “Jellyfish” and as either and neither, in the sense that her text literally blobs along, propelling itself much like a jellyfish by flexing against and within its surounding medium (water metaphorically, and the surrounding text, actually), and also in the sense that the jellyfish rhythm often recedes into a drift-like rhythm, mimicking living water which is at times vigorous and at others, stagnant. I found this drift to be similar to the jellyfish taxis but also notedly different at different points in the book as I made mental distinctions regarding my guess at what the best translation of Agua Viva should be.

As you said, the characters in the book are foreign and strange. If I could name them, I'd probably call them “Clarice” and “Her Writing,” or “Her Reading.” Having read more iterations of Clarice, I can confirm that her sprawling text of fluctuating affects and intensities doesn't just seem to be addressed at the reader, it is her dressing her reader, perhaps even sustaining her reader. Her writing intimates her readers.

I wanted to share some of her interviews but none of them had english subtitles. I did stumble across her interviewing Tom Jobim, one of Brasil's keynote composers. I read your most recent four posts and responses today, and I see this interview touching on something of each of them, amongst other things. Here's the full interview link: http://www.jobim.com.br/entrevistas/lispector/lispector_eng.html

It could be that I'm conflating several posts and responses, but I think that the lack of an effort for quotidian dignity that you referenced is tied in with the panopticon effect, in that standing for self-sustinence and one's own space and own identity within the flood of media showers requires active effort; hence, the lazy dances on the street reflecting the youtubes. The lack of effort is like an anxiety about Nietzche's yes/no in that if I say no to this food or that nightclub or this dance or that song, and if I say yes to art and joy and strangeness then I stick out, a pagan amongst the pious. To stick out puts one under the disapproving eyes of an other, at which point comes vulnerability to (but not necessarily the entrance of) humiliation and its gut wrenching twists and turns.

roca de carioca said...

But I saw a grafiti on a wall a couple weeks back that said, “Só peixe morto vai com a correnteza,” meaning, “Only the dead fish goes with the flow.” This maybe speaks to the sudden urgency for so-called dignity at death, in that the infirmed realize a truth of sorts in their magnified shit and piss puddles: that everybody poops and gets dirty and makes a mess of themselves and so now that I see myself doing that I want to still deny it and try to not be shitty and pissy and human (this juxtaposition doesn't intend to say life is waste) even though I always already have been. Dignity is, in a way, actually embracing the mess. For the samurai this is why it's not dignified to will a clean lysol-protected death (my knowledge of samurai is via 13 Assassins, especially a showdown scene which highlights two fighters' (one a samurai, the other a lord) attitudes at the end). Dignity is embracing the mess not just at the end, but throughout (live by the sword, die by the sword?). For those who copy youtube dances, just because they surround themselves with people who like the same shit doesn't mean that the shit doesn't stink of gangrenous flesh bobbing in some stagnant eddy (not to say my metaphorical shit doesn't stink, but bigmacs and cc'd pop music metabolize differently than Slow Food and Radiohead). Because it's what you consume that constitutes what you produce, some people make niceties of their messes by knowing how to feed their mess. Think Jackson Pollack's mess, Picasso's mess, Nietzche's mess.

roca de carioca said...

This brings me back to Clarice's Stream of Life, which springs thus from page 1, “It's with a joy só profound. It's such a haleluia. Haleluia, I shout, haleluia that merges itself with the most dark human howl of the pain of separation but it's a shout of diabolic felicity. Because nobody holds me any longer. I continue with capacity of rationality-- I already studied math which is the craziness of raionality-- but now I want the plasma – I want to nutrify myself directly from the placenta.” This is the living water that Clarice sustains. Clarice embraces affect, feeling and living with her being and her arms. It's why she hates adjectives and adverbs (self-proclaimed) and sometimes nouns and favors verbing when writing. She continues to admit, “I've got a little bit of fear: fear still to deliver myself being that the next instant is the unknown/unrecognized. The next instant is made for/through me? or does it make itself alone/by itself? We make it together with the breathing. And with the resourcefulness of a bullfighter in the arena.”
Clarice's Stream of Life is the River Styx (not as some sort of deathcult kind of thing, but that it's two things at once): it's that the dead fish and the living fish breathe [sic] the same water, but choose [sic] a different current (see DFW's “This Is Water” http://moreintelligentlife.com/story/david-foster-wallace-in-his-own-words). What to some is 'flying a freak flag' may seem like death by public humiliation, but it's not-- it's merely a shout of diabolic felicity, a gesture of life. It's jamming the circuits, but not necessarily for shock value. It's the Yes response to a question that asks, “What is this?” and a No response to “Do I have to be like that?” or “Do I eat a bigmac?” It's Louis CK's take on periods (http://imgur.com/VjZf3). It's the heart pumping allure of heavy metal or electronica for some and the soul waxing flood of jazz for some.
It's Clarice's express use of the “sempre já,”the “always already,” as her setting for life. Because to look at both perspectives always already, to see through both eyes for Clarice, is I think why her writing digs the way it does. It's seeing the world camera and seeing what you're seeing and seeing how you negotiate these views: essentially, it's seeing difference disperse itself. As you said, “The text, then, hits it marks, if you will, twice: once upon the body of the reader, once directly over this reader's shoulder.” It's interesting, which is “between being” (etymology.com).

Daniel Coffeen said...

Well, first of all, thanks for the thorough, exquisite comments.

I did, of course, see the connection between my dignity and humiliation posts. But it wasn't until your comments that I saw the connection with the third post on CL. Indeed, it is a matter of how one is seen and of the multiple gazes and selves one enjoys. We are seen more than once; we are unseen more than once. We are seen and unseen at the same time, all the time, by others and by ourselves.

The dead fish quote is fantastic.