How might some recent philosophical critiques grouped under the rubric of a ‘new materialism’ be brought to bear productively on creative writing practice and pedagogy? This article argues that the new materialism’s particular – and particularly intensified – awareness of the materiality of the writing process and of its textual products can be useful for writers. I consider how the environment in which one creates might look within a new materialist view, outlining what I propose to be one of its central features: the clinamen. I describe how feminist physicist Karen Barad’s concept of intra-activity can be used to view the writing environment as a posthuman assemblage of intra-acting relata, before proposing the figure of the clinamen as able to describe the movement of matter within this assemblage. My argument, ultimately, is that this movement is conducive to the production of novelty in both writing experience and product: it is through the unpredictability of the clinamen’s movement that new textual directions can be brought about. I make reference to my own creative process on this score – taking as examples a collaborative writing workshop I led and an exhibited work of conceptual writing – in order to demonstrate some ways in which new materialisms can prove useful for the proliferation of writing.
Keywords: new materialism – writing practice – environmental humanities – intra-action – Karen Barad
For new materialisms – concerned to account for the imbrication of human being within modes of production, reproduction and consumption of material environments – renovating the notion of agency is an urgent project. One critical strategy that this concern fosters is the identification of practices and epistemologies that continue to be underwritten by the assumptions of classical physics – a mode that, in contrast to quantum physics, does not allow for the time-space entanglement of all matter nor the possibility of matter having agency. The present article is tributary to this new materialist project, reconceptualising the environments within which creative writing happens as imbued with quantum vivacity. It asks what an intensified awareness of material animation and of the materially animated writing process can nurture in a writer’s practice. It is furthermore interested in how this pursuit might translate into new modes of writing practice and new kinds of literary product. Here, I track the way new materialisms re-figure the writing environment as ‘intra-active’ rather than interactive (that is, as an assemblage of material ‘parts’ that in fact do not exist as distinct parts prior to their encounter). I argue that the notion of the clinamen, with its attendant commitments to accident and to failure, is indispensible for creativity: clinaminic action, I will show, describes the material economy of the intra-active writing environment, and explains how the production of novelty in both writing experience and product is attributable to the movement of matter beyond rational anticipation. In order to suggest this notion’s potential to diversify writing practice and garner literary novelty, this article concludes by describing two recent writing projects – one a collaborative writing workshop, the other a text-based installation – that capitalised on the movement at play in my own writing process.
Taking diverse positions and emerging from distinct disciplinary trajectories, new materialist theories can nevertheless be aligned on the basis of a shared scepticism towards the apparent poststructuralist tendency to subsume ‘the place, role and power of materiality […] under the rubric of discourse’ or to otherwise downplay the formative power of material instantiations (Barrett & Bolt 2013: xi). Agitating new materialisms into existence, then, is the perception that scholarship, rather than being opened up by inquisitiveness about the nature of what there is, has been corralled by a scepticism towards what it is possible to know. In fact, this disgruntlement with positions granting logos (as language, as human consciousness, as the symbolic order) a mediating function at the cost of deferring an encounter with actual matter resonates with a wider cohort of environmentally invested research that, since the turn of this century, has emerged into what Diana Coole describes as ‘the wake of a paradigm [i.e. poststructuralism] that looks too limited in light of new challenges […issuing] from novel ways of understanding matter, handling objects and interacting with nature’ (2013: 452).
But new materialist revaluations of matter do learn from deconstructionist precedents, seeking not to privilege one term (‘nature’) at the expense of the other (‘culture’), but rather to erase the question of their contrapuntal nature in toto. Matter here includes manifestations of language – language, which ineluctably is, after all, only to the extent that it manifests, that is, to the extent that it is made apparent and perceptible. New materialisms disclose an ongoing investment on the part of poststructuralisms 'in the identity of the limit, a limit that separates human exceptionalism […] from the substantive reality that it can’t know and can’t be' (Kirby 2010: xi). Against such an investment, these philosophies would encourage instead an appreciation of the fact that ‘our corporeal realities and their productive iterations are material reinventions’ (Kirby 2010: xi).
From this very basic sketch emerge some interesting implications for creative writing. My own proposal is that the new materialist revaluation of matter promotes a form of creativity that is attentive to the liveliness of the writing process. This is because a working environment on a new materialist view is necessarily 1) posthuman and 2) intra-active. I have elsewhere mapped these two terms onto the terrain of Creative Writing (Rozynski 2015); here, I will briefly define them while focusing on the effect that a posthuman, intra-active workspace can have on the event of writing. First, appreciating the writer’s assemblage of spaces and materials as posthuman equates to a rejection of the anthropocentrism that would position human being as isolatable from and equipped to administer its surrounds, registering instead a ‘more-than-human’ figure constituted by, and constitutive of, a plethora of bodies, organic and nonorganic alike (Alaimo 2010). The writer situated within this environment has always already exceeded her discernible human shape: she simultaneously merges with, fosters and finds sustenance in the entities with which she intra-acts. Posthumanism, then, is a standpoint – a way of thinking about matters and matter – but only at the same time as it is a lively practice, an ontological performance, in the way that identity for Judith Butler is an idea at the same time as it is an embodied practice of iteration. But Barad (2007) in fact critiques Butler’s understanding of performativity precisely for its failure to imagine itself into a realm beyond humanism: why, Barad asks, does Butler’s understanding of identity stop at the skin, as though skin were a water-tight boundary, as if the human body weren’t entangled both internally and externally with a host of other organisms? Posthuman performativity recognises the ‘more-than-human’ nested within the writer, and the existence of the writer as, in turn, a consciousness nested within a larger environment.
Second, these inter-systemic entanglements are always in fact ‘intra-systemic’: always internal, always connections within – always ‘intra-actions.’ There can be no external entity with which to interact on a monistic view of the universe (of which new materialisms offer several versions). Illustrative of this is Astrida Neimanis’s (2009) concept of a political ‘hydrocommons,’ which sees human and other ‘bodies of water’ cyclically churning through each other. Intra-relationality is also what allows Vicki Kirby to talk about Derrida’s renowned aphorism as in actual fact meaning ‘there is no outside of Nature’. If there is no externality – nothing beyond the one substance – then not only is text the all-that-is, but the all-that-is is what we might call ‘Nature’ or empirical reality. Culture was Nature all along, Kirby would say, and language is but one of Nature’s materialisations. Barad (2007) adds a further, temporal dimension to this spatial sense of intra-connectedness. According to her interpretation of Niels Bohr’s quantum physics, ‘entities’ that come into relationship were never discrete bodies pre-existing their union but rather come into being only upon contact with ‘each other’. (The kooky temporalities of quantum physics show up English grammar here: how linear and dependent upon discrete subjects and objects it is). Again as per Butler’s sense of performativity, it is only through the act of nominating a body that that body is called into existence; but, what is more, on Barad’s quantum physical view of intra-relatedness through time, the nominator, through the act of nominating, declares itself retrospectively to have always been a constituent of that body. In other words, which elements make up an assemblage is a decision made not by an outsider but by a constituent element of that assemblage, whose status as having been a constituent is only determined upon deciding which elements constitute its assemblage. In the present context, we might say that a writer facing a body of primary documentation on a colonial history, for instance, selects from among the facts presented; her very act of selecting implicates her ‘own’ facts into assemblage with the selected facts. She is a part of the collection of facts that has always been a part of her, in an assemblage that is defined by co-implication: without this writer, this assemblage would not exist but be otherwise, another assemblage. The writer defines her identity in this intra-active moment as posthuman – as inclusive of the technologies, texts, affects and bodies selected for a given writing task. In the terms of experimental science, the apparatus used to measure entity x does not pretend (as per classical physics) to take an objective measure of entity x, but neither does it pretend (as per poststructuralism) to take a measurement that it acknowledges to be an interference, and therefore a construction, and therefore unreliable. In fact, on a quantum physical understanding, the measuring apparatus reveals that there is never an entity x, only ever entity-x-plus-apparatus. The ‘object’ of investigation includes the ‘subject’ to the extent that their intra-relation rules out the divisibility of ‘subject’ from ‘object’. An investigation is always a self-investigation.
We can extrapolate from this scenario, then, that the new materialist writing environment does not comprise a set of fixed entities with fixed purposes, as per a materialist essentialism that would anchor each entity to a list of defining characteristics and tendencies (Noel Castree, cited in Hawkins 2009: n.pag.). The classical physical model’s materialist essentialism allows it to posit stable objectivity; the resulting faith in the predictability of cause-and-effect (that is, in interaction between relata) overlooks the internal and non-linear generativity of materials that is posited by quantum theories (for instance, chaos theory and complexity theory). A quantum account of the writing environment would rather posit an assemblage of entities that gain a kind of usefulness to each other in the moment of engagement, in a reciprocal redrawing of the other’s outlines that remakes ‘subjects’ and ‘objects’, at their moment of union and not before. If the writing environment – the literal space of writing – is a posthuman and intra-active assemblage, it can be characterised as comprising a perhaps endless array of materials, technologies, texts, affects and bodies, including those of the writer, and including these as they change through time and across multiple places, engagements and sittings. The field in which one writes is in fact an assemblage of possibilities: a swarm or active substance whose seeming ‘parts’ are continuously being conjoined, disbanded and re-formed into novel configurations.
Several effects of this reconsideration of the writing environment promise to foster a mode of creativity responsive to the liveliness of the writing process. Again, I have elaborated on this promise elsewhere (Rozynski 2015), but a brief account is useful here. First, it makes little sense for the writer to attempt to disarticulate herself from her surroundings or seek subject matter that could be impersonal; in fact, it is investigating her idiosyncratic entanglement with her environment that engenders new writing. As noted, the writer’s act of noticing aspects of her material surrounds – of observing them and selecting them for engagement – occasions the emergence of the observed, as well as the emergence of the observing writer. Second, in valuing materials as active or even as having agency in the creation and transmission of meaning, new materialist thought licences the writer to co-operate with these materials – to calibrate the physical dimensions of writing implements and surfaces in order to enrich or diversify the import of the textual product. This is because ‘co-operation’ is here understood in its most literal sense, as a device operated by multiple actors: all materials in the environment within the writerly assemblage – whether human or non-human, organic, inorganic and/or synthetic – function as cogs in ongoing, mutual intra-action; thus, no element is extraneous to writing, and any is available to the writer to use in composition. What is more, it follows that the extra-linguistic components of a text acquire the capacity to mean – a function ordinarily attributed solely to the alphabetic elements that are literally supported by extra-linguistic textual elements. In this way, new materialism bolsters an argument for preserving the effects and affects of the writer’s process in the material artefact produced, since to exclude them would be to minimise the text’s potential to communicate meaning. Evidence of the writing body’s sensorial encounters during composition need not be extirpated from the work’s final presentation, as per publishing conventions. Fourth, it becomes possible on this view to consider a wider scope of existing practices as writing; for considering writing as a more complex object and event in both theory and practice.
The new materialist writing environment is by necessity non-linear, and foregoes the atomic distance that would afford objectivity and the certainties of Newtownian cause-and-effect. But how does such a space, comprised as it is of morphing intra-relationships, carry out its self-investigation? The figure of the clinamen goes part way to responding to this question. Emerging as an ontological principle from Epicurean materialism, the clinamen is a phenomenon native to physics that has nevertheless been elaborated persistently, though diversely, in the realm of writing, weaving a varied and complex path through Western literature and critical approaches to it. My position is that the figure should be understood literally to structure the physical environment in which writerly (and other) novelty is generated – but its use-value to writers even as a metaphor does not stand or fall on its empirical accuracy. What I suggest is that attentiveness to the materiality of the writer’s process constitutes a provocation to clinamina, from whose unforeseeable bifurcations new writing results.
A clinamen (from the Latin clinare, ‘to incline’) was first proposed in the fourth century BCE to describe the unpredictable swerving of falling atoms. The notion originally contributed to a Hellenistic physical theory that sought to extrapolate on Democritus’s description of the universe as an ordered flow of atoms falling within a void (Konstan 2014: n.pag.). Neither Democritus nor classical physics can abide an incalculable deviation, resulting in linear causal patterns and thus a determinism that fails to recognise the creative role of difference and deviation in and of itself. What distinguishes the Epicurean school of thought from that of Democritus is the clinamen’s role as the ‘locus and guarantor of free will’ (Motte 1986: 263), and this is where the usefulness of the Epicurean clinamen for philosophies that dispute a Cartesian/Newtownian worldview becomes clear. The notion of clinamina suggests a quirkier mechanics of productivity that, like quantum intra-activity, is at home with physical incalculability: clinamina – nomadic curvatures and break-away angles, in Deleuze and Guattari’s terms (1987: 361) – swerve irrationally from their gravitationally directed route to serve as ever-expanding probes, testing the (material) limits of the encompassing void.
Extending the clinamen’s association with creativity into twentieth-century criticism, the Oulipo are responsible for what is arguably its most recognisable manifestation. But, for this group, rather than an ontological principle, the clinamen is a metaphor that designates a creative device: the writer’s deliberate deviation for aesthetic purposes from a pre-established set of compositional constraints (Thomas 2006: 118). For prominent contemporary Oulipian Jacques Roubaud, such deviation represents the promise of creative freedom (Thomas 2006: 118) because it suspends ‘the absolute power of the constraint’, thereby offering ‘the possibility of presenting a more “intuitive”, a more “disconcerting”, a more “esthetic” way to deal with the controlled nature of the Oulipian texts’ (Thomas 2006: 118-9). But the potential of the Oulipian clinamen to explain the opportunities presented by a new materialist view of writing is limited because the Oulipo’s vision continues to tie the writer’s relationship with her environment to a traditional discourse of determinism/free will: the dominant Oulipian thinking on the clinamen is that it is to be consciously generated and deployed to the ends listed above – accidental deviations from constraints are to be eradicated as impurities in the composition of mathematically precise textual labyrinths (Roubaud 2005: 43-4). This view discounts (or is at least silent on the value of) the unavoidable, unintended and non-eliminable clinamina introduced by the volatile material circumstances of a text’s production. It seems to me to grant, on the one hand, too much power (or free will) to the writer to control her swerve from constraints, and on the other, too much credit to the constraint’s ability to structure (or determine) compositional outcomes. Most Oulipians undermine the usefulness of the writer’s misprision (Roubaud 2005: 44) or, as Harold Bloom puts it, her ‘intentional but involuntary’ departure from the norm (Bloom 1972: 391). But this implies the kind of authorial control over the variables of the writing environment that a new materialist view must by the lights of its own philosophy reject.
In fact, perhaps surprisingly, Bloom’s use of the clinamen to describe precisely an accidental deviation corresponds much more readily with new materialist thought than does the Oulipo’s. Speaking from a different context (he is addressing the poet’s nonconformity with literary precedents as a major factor in the establishment of her own creative style), Bloom’s reading is nevertheless instructive. He diffracts the Epicurean clinamen through the discourse of poetic influence for which he is well known, rhetorically linking the two concepts by resuscitating inflow as the etymological root of the word ‘influence’. If inflow was ‘to receive an ethereal fluid flowing in upon one from the stars, a fluid that affected one’s character and destiny’ (1972: 378), then influence is the mark left on the poet by a flow of predecessors; the clinamen is the poet’s unforeseeable break from the flow in establishing her own style or voice. Bloom laments (as would Barad in a different context) the dominance of an epistemology that doesn’t recognise the entanglement intrinsic to poetic influence, and that instead structures the relationship between poet and forebears according to a foundational atomic separation. The clinaminic figure is a means for Bloom to put forward a new poetics of critical reading – one that spurns the imperative to produce ‘accurate’ interpretations (Bloom 1972: 390). This is of course a point of crossover with the deconstructive practices of his Yale colleagues, where such a hermeneutics merely serves to engender an ‘effaced and respectful doubling of commentary’ (Derrida 1997: 158; see Bloom 389-90). But Bloom’s project differs markedly from that of Derrida. The latter’s strategy asserts the failure of critical commentary to reproduce ‘the conscious, voluntary, intentional relationship that the writer institutes’ with her historical context (Derrida 1997: 158) and thus seeks to highlight the writer’s isolation from readers and text. Bloom’s method instead invites an appreciation of cross-generational, textual co-implication: it consists in performing a critical reading that seeks to identify a poem’s clinamina, that is, the points in the poem at which a poet’s creative decisions testify to her unintentional self-differentiation from precedents.
What interests me about this use of the clinamen is the fact that a critic’s reading for a poem’s departures must simultaneously involve identifying the poem’s inexorable imbrication in a literary context – its being cut from the same cloth. What is more, it implies the critic’s recognition of herself as part of that context, since her reading, as any, is necessarily a misreading (Bloom 1972: 390) in which the trace of the critic’s own clinamina is planted for discovery in turn by her anticipated readers. It seems useful to describe the new materialist writer’s strategy by analogy with Bloom’s proposal as a strategy of responsiveness to environment: the writer must, in intra-actively engaging with her environment, ‘read’ the relationships with physical matter with which she discovers herself to always already have been embroiled. She identifies the way in which the new assemblage of elements that she creates diverges from other assemblages – in other words, she notices its clinamina. At the same time, her elaboration of text from within this assemblage alters her environment, generating further clinamina that are then made available to later collaborations.
The figure of the clinamen points to the event of writing as made up of assemblages of matter whose propensity for accidental movement and whose unanticipated failures of cause-and-effect are indispensible for the production of novelty. My own writing practice increasingly attends to the materiality of the creative process and the unpredictable nature of material animation; for the purposes of demonstration, I outline here two examples of the practical processes of intra-action. The first is a collaborative writing workshop I led during an academic conference in 2012; the second is a work of conceptual writing I developed over several months and finally exhibited in 2015.
De/generation: a reverb (2012)
This exhibition of texts resulted from a writing workshop of the same name in which participants attempted collaboratively to construct a textual version of Alvin Lucier’s ‘I am sitting in a room’ (1969). In this performance, Lucier uses a tape recorder to record himself reading a text; this recording he then plays back into the same room, while recording the sound of its playback. This new recording is played back, re-recorded, and so on, for 45 minutes. The effect is a building synthesis of sounds into complete tonal harmony. Since the particularities of the chosen room – its dimensions and occupation by an idiosyncratic configuration of objects – allow some frequencies to reverberate and others to be repressed, the resulting overlaid patterns of resonance might be described as the room’s unique aural signature.
The workshop I led responded primarily to the way Lucier’s performance pursued sound as a physical thing whose material dimensions came into being precisely at the time of their traversal by vibration. The ‘sound signature’ both disclosed and was constructed by the materiality of the environment in which sound happened. Lucier’s performance figured sound as pure vibration in matter, thus acknowledging that sound is never immaterial but rather is always already transmuted by the peculiarities of the substances within which it vibrates. An underlying premise for my workshop was the idea that this process is analogous for expression in writing: that the expression of thought is entirely dependent upon the materials that convey it; or, to phrase this another way, that when we ask someone to ‘write one’s thoughts down’ we overlook the fact that one does not write thoughts, one writes writing – it is a materially contingent event and one whose physical particularities modulate what one is able to write.
Participants were each given a piece of carbon paper; each brought along a source text of their own or found writing. The donated texts were passed around and, using a variety of implements found in the room or brought in for the purpose, were traced onto the carbon paper. As the texts continued to be passed between writers, each sheet of carbon paper accumulated and retained remnants of others’ texts. The placement of tracings on the page was the prerogative of the participant, but any smudgy carbon-related accident, handwriting quirk and/or unintended aberration introduced by any of the circumstances or tools of composition were allowed to influence the development of the carbon texts. There is an obvious sense, then, in which this workshop scenario mined the material assemblage afforded by the event of writing: we were attentive to the clinaminic mechanics of the writing environment, which were harnessed and directed toward the construction of literary novelty. But the workshop was also a posthuman performance, harnessing awareness of the specificities of the writer’s entanglement with matter in order to suggest a renovated understanding of agency or, at the very least, to point to the shortcomings of agency as a concept. The act of production, reproduction and consumption that the workshop entailed was not only expressive of the imbrication of human being within a material environment, it was moreover only possible because of this imbrication. In this sense and in this case, then, the new materialist writing act disclosed the concept of agency – defined as a property of intentional actors – as being deeply inadequate to the task of describing co-operation between beings and forces that exceed human shape. It would be overly simplistic to suggest either that agency eluded the human actors in the workshop or that said human actors were not alone in possessing it. But, at the least, the difficulty in ascribing agency in the collaborative event related here indicates the workshop’s capacity to open the term to re-signification.
The De/generation workshop process might have behaved like performance art, but it is important that the post-representational text that resulted from my workshop is classified as a piece of writing in its own right. While the process took advantage of a posthuman environment, equally important is the posthuman space the resultant texts put forward. These texts (of which one example is given below) evidence a dissipation of the boundaries between subjects and objects enabled by the workshop’s carbon-paper device. This device enabled a kind of mutual mimicry, where the pre-collaborative texts were allowed to overlap until the point of their camouflage. This is not a question of a nihilistic willed dissolution of subjectivity – not a withdrawal into objectivity – but of the generation of a third space where the objectification that would result from an act of representation ceases to be a coherent concern. In texts such as these, subjects and objects ‘become elided in space’ (Bishop 2005: 84) as the boundaries that would permit representational hierarchy are dispersed.
Print cultures: the microbial colony as feral writing technology (2015)
This work of conceptual writing was sole authored, but sought to trouble the idea of sole authorship by considering the influence of the microbially contaminated writing environment on creativity. The project began as 16 pages of an altered text, but evolved over the three months of its composition into an installation featuring multiple texts, whose unforeseeable conceptual directions returned to question the works’ initial premises.
The initial text was Hélène Cixous’s 'The laugh of the Medusa' in which all references to ‘woman’ were systematically replaced by references to ‘nature’. The text had been printed on blank pages torn from second-hand books, then covered in agar and positioned as page-sized petri dishes, left to collect microbial matter from the spaces of writing – the internal and external dimensions of the writing body, the desk, the apparatuses of inscription, the writing studio’s climactic phenomena, dust, and so on. The microbial organisms that ordinarily, though clandestinely, impregnate the spaces of composition were thus invited to more explicitly assert their influence on what is typically considered the purely human act of writing. The pages were to be exhibited, over which time bacterial cultures would colonise the pages, de/composing and editing the texts that dis/appeared in real time – live, as it were. The project sought to locate the feral in a very physical sense within human being, and suggest the cultural as an articulation of the natural, addressing three discursive oppositions: the cultural and the natural, the immateriality of thought and the materiality of its written expression, and the colony and the uncultivated wild. The microbes’ behaviour as an organised, colonising force would upset – it was thought – the clarity of these dyads’ distinctions.
Preparing the pages to hang, however, it became clear that their impregnation with microbes had failed to produce even a blip of discernible results. With an exhibition date approaching, I simply reprinted more second-hand pages with the altered text, and bacterial colonies were imported from found dairy mould and manipulated by hand directly onto the pages. The organic composition and self-government of the colonies was thus radically interfered with, and though the resulting text appeared to make the same point, it was in reality a farce of the intended result. Despite wanting to playfully suggest the more-than-human’s aptitude for writing, the work in fact represented my own underestimation of the truculence of matter, my not guessing at matter’s wanting not to speak. The initial enquiry had thus failed to intra-act with the assemblage of materials it drew into its construction – or, more accurately, I had failed to recognise myself as part of that assemblage: I had allowed my thinking to extend into activity with materials but I had not allowed my thinking and activity to be extended by and extensions of them.
Noticing the clinamina that emerged during my creative process, however, I could now understand myself not to be critiquing colonialism from a disinterested standpoint, but instead to have been always already implicated in colonialism’s trajectory – and, moreover, in its perpetuation. The project began to accumulate other questions. Having correlated ‘woman’ and ‘nature’ through Cixous’s discussion of the silencing of ‘woman’ became a provocative metaphor for the very question of a posthuman writing itself. What does it mean that the way new materialists speak about ‘nature’ can be made interchangeable with the way this landmark feminist text speaks about ‘woman’? Do new materialisms, in identifying nature and culture as natureculture, as one and the same substance, risk reiterating the colonising gesture that certain feminisms (Cixous’s among them) were widely accused of being complicit with in speaking for ‘woman’ – which is to say, is having nature speak not also speaking for? These questions brought other texts into the project’s orbit. From Kirby’s 2011 text, Quantum anthropologies, I selected a passage that ascribes nature’s role, and inserted it as an epigraph to Cixous’s 1975 text, wanting with this temporal disjuncture to suggest in fact a disconcerting temporal continuity. Photocopies from Trinh T. Minh-ha’s Woman, native, other, in which Minh-ha questions second-wave feminism’s tacit demand that ‘third-world’ women liberate themselves on a white-built stage, were added to the exhibition. Also added were the illustrated plates from A little Rhodesian, a children’s book published by Oxford University Press in 1925 that narrates the adventures of a white Southern Rhodesian child as she plays with the domestic animals she is gifted by the colony’s other, black children, who otherwise form a backdrop to the action. Since I had been troubled by the fact that substituting ‘nature’ for ‘woman’ in Cixous’s text compelled me to also alter personal and relative pronouns, I included lessons on these grammatical elements in the exhibition, sourced from a 1950s French-language textbook from my own bookshelves. Of course, French is a language of colonisation, and I was struck by the way this textbook’s sexist presumptions (‘Le cabinet de travail de M. Vincent’; ‘La cuisine de Mme. Vincent’) intertwine with its colonial intent. Chance then introduced me to a PDF of Roger Caillois’s 1935 essay ‘Mimicry and legendary psychasthenia’. This essay, whose translation was published in October in 1984, observes the phenomenon of mimicry as it occurs in the insect world and has been repeatedly extended by scholars of mimesis to analogy with human artistic practice. The photographic images featured in the article become almost comical when printed in black and white, since the in situ insects they intend to depict are camouflaged by the imprecision of inkjet. The deployment of animal life as a figurative device within academic literature, as well as the ease with which I could access these documents through online university archives, raised further, related questions: how does academia – the circulation of whose discourses is dependent on its publication fetish – continue to benefit from a long history of the print medium as colonising vehicle?
Such questions continued to arise as a consequence of my interaction not only with texts but, vitally, with the modes and materials of their delivery. Being attentive to the clinaminic directions these questions stimulated in ‘real time’ (live, as it were) meant that my pre-determined objective was displaced from the centre of my work, and replaced by a twinned concern: the unpredictable nature of the writing process, and the implicated nature of my position within it. All collected texts were ultimately displayed together, accompanied by a brief explanation of the turns taken during its development.
I have argued that re-figuring the place in which one writes as an assemblage of lively, volatile and agential relata can explain the mechanics of the production of novelty within such places. But perhaps the potential of what I have described as a new materialist or quantum poetics is located primarily in the permissions it grants to writers wishing to construct new writing environments and processes, the characteristics of which can offer an alternative to the stable subject and object positions that distinguish classical physical environments. The argument supports the construction of new kinds of writing, but it also instrumentalises the event of writing in renovating the notion of agency per se. To the extent that creative writing as a discipline continues to be underwritten by the assumptions of classical physics, with its commitment to subject-object hierarchies and, accordingly, to representation, the contemporary, urgent interest in the entanglement of human and more-than-human being will find this discipline ripe for exploration.
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