a dynamically indeterminate coastline

Fractal models (with their scalar self-similarities and unpredictable variations) bring into the foreground of our attention the large patterns and erratic details, the dynamic equilibrium of order and disorder in complex life systems like weather and coastlines. …I have begun to think of certain forms of art (for example, the post-1940s music of John Cage) as having a fractal relation to the rest of life. They are complex constructions that, among other things, present their material presence as a dynamically indeterminate “coastline” for audiences to explore via their own complex cultural and psychological dispositions.

Ocean beach and Steinian page are equally contingent and dynamic zones whose life principle is change. The beach changes in its conversation with the vagaries and variabilities of meteorological elements; the page changes in its conversation with variable epistemologies, grammars, and genres, as well as with the associative lements of a reader’s mind as that mind lives within multiple intersecting forms whose rules are neither simple nor readily apparent. All this occurs of course within another strange constancy—the changing cultural climate of the developing contemporary.

Or rather I sense that languages and coastlines operate with similar kinds of principles. If one thinks of a coastline as just one site of mutually transformative exchange between different kinds of complex dynamical systems, then language as it exists in the active mediation between neural network and world ecosystems is surely such a site. There are specific things one gains in thinking of language in this way, particularly when confronted by literature that won’t resolve into simple mimesis or tidy containments and conclusions.

It saves a certain amount of frustration to remember that you will never solve a coastline.

Retallack, Joan. “The Difficulties of Gertrude Stein.” The Poethical Wager. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003. 153-4.

language arrives

The internal sense speaks at last and for the fist time. The tent is printed with burning tongues and crowned with writing. Language arrives.

Solitary belonging, devoted to itself, no longer devotes itself to what is given, except to what languge gives us—to what is said or dictated.

I am nostalgic for a lost world, a lost paradise, an island between two seas, where the senses sparkle like a lake of gemstones. I speak now and shelter in the tent of language or writing. The tabernacle closes, its flaps are lowered. I live now in the prison of my language and the jewel-box closes. …the beauty of the five senses lies in the black box while we sleep under the blue hangings engraved with fire.


This is the first sentence, the originary, primary proposition, as original as the fault committed in the past by a girl on a paradise-island, as original and permanent. These are the first words uttered by the body when it becomes an interiority endowed with a voice, and is enveloped in flames and imprinted with signs, when the skin-tapestry or the skin-pavilion no longer bears on itself lilacs or cheetahs but geometry and letters. This is the sentence that causes the world to flee and the necklets to be abandoned, that excludes rabbits and goats and that chased us from paradise, these are the words which cause the senses to withdraw into a black box. Our only desire is that it be reopened.

The woman-summation bids farewell to the world, takes the veil beneath the tent of language.

This is the first cogito, more deeply buried althought more visible than the thinking cogito. I feel, I have felt; I have seen, heard, tasted, smelt; I have touched; I touch, I enclose myself in my pavilion of skin; it burns with languages, I speak; I speak about myself, about my loneliness and the nostalgia of lost senses, I mourn the lost paradise, I regret the loss of that to which I was giving myself or of what was given to me. Since that phrase was written, I desire, and the world absents itself.

This is the first, self-contained proposition, literally circular, the first stable unitary philosophy of identity. My desire identifies with writing. I exist only in language.

Serres, Michel. The Five Senses: A philosophy of mingled bodies. London: Continuum International Publishing Group, 2008. 57-8.

the fragment is like the nucleus of an ephemeral destiny of language

46. For Barthes, fragments are “texts without structure” that return language to a continuous fluidity (1980, 4). To Blanchot, “[t]he fragmentary promises not instability (the opposite of fixity) so much as disarray, confusion” (1986, 7). In turn, Baudrillard believes that a fragmentary style of writing “is non-dialectic, disruptive, indifferent to its origin and to its end, a literal transcription of objective irony that I believe I can read directly in the state of things itself. The fragment is like the nucleus of an ephemeral destiny of language, a fatal particle that shines an instant and then disappears. At the same time, it allows an instantaneous conversion of points of view, of humours and passions” (1993, 159). Johnson’s myriad examples possess such disruptive powers, an omnipresent potential to insubordination, such that the coexistence between the Dictionary‘s power and its encyclopedic force are precarious to say the least.

McCaffery, Steve. Prior to Meaning: The Protosemantic and Poetics. Evanston, Illinois: Northwestern University Press, 2001. 259.

the primary problem of language is its magic

Mediation, which is the immediacy of all mental communication, is the fundamental problem of linguistic theory, and if one chooses to call this immediacy magic, the the primary problem of language is its magic.

Walter Benjamin. Selected Writings: Walter Benjamin. Marcus Bullock and Michael W. Jennings, eds. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1996. 64.

can only lead to the silence of writing

Other writers have thought that they could exorcize this sacred writing only by dislocating it. They have therefore undermined literary language, they have ceaselessly exploded the ever-renewed husk of cliches, of habits, of the formal past of the writer; in a chaos of forms and a wilderness of words they hoped they would achieve an object wholly delivered of History, and find again the freshness of a pristine state of language. But such upheavals end up by leaving their own tracks and creating their own laws. The threat of becoming a Fine Art is a fate which hangs over any language not based exclusively on the speech of society. In a perpetual flight forward from a disorderly syntax, the disintegration of language can only lead to the silence of writing. …for some writers, language, the first and last way out of literary myth, finally restores what it had hoped to avoid, that there is no writing which can be lastingly revolutionary, and than any silence of form can escape imposture only by complete abandonment of communication.

Barthes, Roland. Writing Degree Zero. Trans., Annette Laers and Colin Smith. New York: Hill and Wang, 1967. 74-5.

think for themselves

Sometimes, on the contrary, instead of becoming welded together, words loosen their intimate ties. Prefixes and suffixes—especially prefixes—become unwelded: they want to think for themselves.

Bachelard, Gaston. The Poetics of Space. Boston: Beacon Press, 1994. 213.


Language itself is not perfectly expressed in things themselves. This proposition has a double meaning, in its metaphorical and literal senses: the languages of things are imperfect, and they are dumb. Things are denied the pure formal principle or language—namely, sound. They can communicate to one another only through a more or less material community. This community is immediate and infinite, like every linguistic communication; it is magical (for there is also a magic of matter). The incomparable feature of human language is that its magical community with things is immaterial and purely mental, and the symbol of this is sound. The Bible expresses this symbolic fact when it says that God breathes his breath into man: this is at once life and mind and language.—

Benjamin, Walter. Selected Writings, Volume 1, 1913-1926. ed. Marcus Bullock and Michael W. Jennings. Cambridge, Mass.: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1996. 67.

words into things

Is thinking impossible without arbitrary signs? and—how far is the word ‘arbitrary’a misnomer? Are not words etc parts and germinations of the Plant? And what is the law of their Growth?—In something of this order I would endeavour to destroy the old antithesis of Words and Things, elevating as it were, words into Things, and living Things too.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge in
McCaffery, Steve and Jed Rasula, eds. Imagining Language: An Anthology. Cambridge: The MIT Press, 1998. 471.

autonomous worlds

If only people would understand that language and mathematical formulae are alike, in that they constitute their own autonomous worlds, sport with themselves, express nothing but themselves, and for that reason are so wonderfully expressive—for that reason they mirror the odd play of relations between things.

Novalis (Friedrich von Hardenberg (1772-1801))

Rasula, Jed and Steve McCaffery, eds. Imagining Language, an Anthology. Cambridge: The MIT Press, 1998. 502.

the rustle of language forms a utopia

And language—can language rustle? Speech remains, it seems, condemned to stammering; writing, to silence and to the distinction of signs: in any case, there always remains too much meaning for language to fulfill a delectation appropriate to its substance. But what is impossible is not inconceivable: the rustle of language forms a utopia. Which utopia? That of a musk of meaning; in its utopic state, language would be enlarged, I should even say denatured to the point of forming a vast auditory fabric in which the semantic apparatus would be made unreal; the phonic, metric, vocal signifier would be deployed in all its sumptuosity, without a sign ever becoming detached from it (ever naturalising this pure layer of delectation), but also—and this is what is difficult—without meaning being brutally dismissed, dogmatically foreclosed, in short castrated. Rustling, entrusted to the signifier by an unprecedented movement unknown to our rational discourses, language would not thereby abandon a horizon of meaning: meaning, undivided, impenetrable, unnamable, would however be posited in the distance like a mirage, making the vocal exercise into a double landscape, furnished with a “background”; but instead of the music of the phonemes being the background of our messages (as happens in our poetry), meaning would now be the vanishing point of delectation. And just as, when attributed to the machine, the rustle is only the noise of an absence of noise, in the same way, shifted to language, it would be that meaning which reveals an exemption of meaning or—the same thing—that non-meaning which produces in the distance a meaning henceforth liberated from all the aggressions of which the sign, formed in the “sad and fierce history of men,” is the Pandora’s box.

This is a utopia, no doubt about it; but utopia is often what guides the investigations of the avant-garde.

Roland Barthes. The Rustle of Language. Berkeley: The University of California Press, 1989. 77-78.