Feb 1, 2011

I'm a text You're a text

Everyone is living a multiplicity of texts. I won’t say narratives because I don’t think they are the same thing. A narrative is a fantasy, something that exists purely in the mind, but a narrative is only a part of a text. The text comes from outside and marries narrative. The text comes from television and marries a submissive personal narrative. We see a text, read a text and think: that is so much like me, and thats only the beginning. The text is a virus and an idea, something that can exist whether we are living in it or not. Everywhere, lying around like snakes or angels, there are texts for us to run into, pick up, inhabit, or make part of ourselves. Every political ideal is a text, or I should say every political ideal comes with a text. There is a text for how to behave if you believe abortion is illegal. There are consequences for stepping outside this text and sudden questioning of faith in the ideal when it happens. The text is often what traps us; because we cannot see outside it, because stepping outside it is not easy, because stepping outside it will be noticed, because the consequences for defying a text are real, because the consequences for defying a text are serious.

I imagine Bob Dylan in the text of Folk Singer, Bob Dylan in the text of Evangelist, Bob Dylan in the text of Sex Symbol, and I notice that when Todd Haynes made his Dylan film he knew it too. I imagine Bob Dylan because he read Rimbaud and got it: Je est un autre, I is another, because I is part of a text already as soon as I conceive of him or her. I imagine, remember without being truly able to remember, that the failure of someone who comes to embody a text to remain exemplary of that text is called a betrayal. Obama, inhabiting the text of a revolutionary liberal leader, is a traitor for defying that text and becoming a centrist governing President, even though he never pledged allegiance to that text.

That’s a problem. Whose text is this? It’s a collective text. Every text is collective, shared. Every text is a multiplicity, thus a difference and a repetition with all implied shades of Deleuze’s two ideas. The repetition of collective multiplicity that keeps a text alive, the repetition of collective actors playing the parts of the text, and the repetition of the text itself driving those actors. There are juicy, living, bloody texts and there are stale texts. Cohen says “the photograph tells you the way you hold your cunt is old fashioned” and we know there is an ancient text there. Bolano says, “everything is possible; a poet should know that”, and we know there is an ancient text poets should be inhabiting but often fail to. But what do we do? Everywhere there are deviations, everywhere there are failures of the text, at least as many as there are unchallenged texts.

What does art have to do with this? Art gives us texts. What is different about those if so many things are giving us a text, if movies, TV shows, YouTube, friends, lovers, philosophers, corporations, advertising, on and on in a list as infinite as Borges library are all throwing texts at us to receive, to try and defy, to ignore, to promote? Art has the potential to give us intentional texts. Texts that want to say something specific. Alright, but advertising does that too. If art wants to be different it has to do more. Great art gives us infinite texts: that is, texts with infinite starting points. Art gives us texts that are possibilities and expand possibilities. Ulysses does not presume to tell us what it is or what it will do to us. It can’t be qualified or quantified. It refuses to be a closed text because it constantly reaches out into the world. Great art is entangled, and so its texts are entangled with the world and with us. It doesn’t give you one text to live, but throws all the operative texts into confusion, or realigns them, reconfigures and combines them, shakes up the normalized world of texts which we live.

The point is to notice. Notice the texts I am living and you are living. I know I have a text for how I walk into a room which is more substantial than my emotions, how I hold my body, what I think about, because the text encompasses and informs all of those. If we think of ourselves as authors rather than actors we are capable of modifying the text. An actor is not capable of that move. An actor can only play the part and must submit to the text. To become conscious of the text is to become an author of the self, which is close, I think, to what Borges means when he imagines that we are dream figures in the dream of another. We are actors in the texts of others, and the texts of others, like our own, are implicitly caught up in dreaming. Do I need to prove that? No, but you can. Do something outside the given text. Roll some sex dice. Stand up to the next racist joke you hear. Flirt with the grocery store checkout guy. Watch TV and pretend you’ve never seen a TV before. Take hallucinogenic drugs. Forget what you are supposed to be, supposed to do and live outside it, staring into the absurd. Then you can learn to play with the text, with the texts, delighting in them rather than being slaves to them the way Phish sings about being a slave to the traffic light.

The text, after all, IS the absurd. That’s why Gregor Samsa waking up as an insect matters so much. What do you do when you wake up and realize all the given texts have been stripped of meaning, or never meant anything to begin with?