Signature Event Context

Archive Fever

Deconstruction Engaged

Counterpath

Limited Inc abc

Paper Machine

Copy, Archive, Signature

Aphorism Countertime

— English translations of Jacques Derrida’s books and papers that sound like cyberpunk novels.

Q

praemordeo asked:

How do you know when you're ready to be published? When does the learning curve end? I saw that you wrote that you don't like the things you've written before 2013. But, given enough time, won't all writing seem redundant? Is there a way around this?

A

I offer that disclaimer because I don’t like the idea of people thinking that the person I am today is liable to produce the kind of writing he produced one or two years ago.  It’s self-aggrandisement. It’s me saying that I’m a better writer than the high-school student who used to write under my name. It’s flagrant egotism and I get away with it because that high-school student no longer exists and cannot defend himself.

Given that admission, obviously my ideal solution would be simply to delete everything I’m retrospectively unsatisfied with. But the compulsion to erase my embarrassing past is locked in tension with a concern related to what you’ve asked.

A writer of a certain disposition will invariably find a lot of her work redundant, if by redundant we mean something like “not representative of the present writer’s skill/style/worldview”. For such a writer, the learning curve never ends and, short of maybe therapy, there isn’t a way out. I think I would call myself such a writer (if I am allowed to call myself a writer at all).

The reason I don’t delete my old work is that this redundancy is self-ascribed. Deciding which of my pieces are or aren’t worthy of your attention would feel dictatorial and wrong – not just for readers like the author of the only anonymous compliment I’ve ever received (for a story I wrote in 2011), but also to the attention-desperate Year 12 student with delusions of grandeur who wrote that story. At the same time, I impugn the skill of that student and claim to be better than him, in order to distance my writing from his in the minds of potential readers.

So, I guess to conclude, when I publish it isn’t because I think my learning-curve (whether that’s a general, over-one’s-lifetime thing or whether it’s local to a particular piece of writing) is over. That will not happen. Really I consider a work ready for publication when I’ve edited it sufficiently that I don’t hate it but am still excited enough about it to think that someone else might like it. It’s difficult to balance, which I think is why my output tends to be pretty slow.

Thanks for the ask. This is not a side of myself I have really explored before. It has been illuminating.

“Surreality might be understood as a reality teeming with meaning. It is about the imaginary multiplication of the potential of signs and their call to the speaking subject, as well as a celebration of the latter’s power to respond. The other side of surreality would be semiotic aphanisis, the fear that signs will no longer address us fruitfully.”
— GF Mitrano, Gertrude Stein: Woman Without Qualities, England: Ashgate Publishing, 2005.

Three Dreams III: Pores

I am among friends or family. My skin feels tight like I am stretching it out in front of a mirror. It worries me. I think I need moisturiser.

My nose particularly feels tight. I can see it in the bottom centre of my vision. It occurs to me that this becomes the bottom left of my vision if I close my left eye and the bottom right of my vision if I close my right eye. I close and open my eyes one at a time. I am still among friends or family.

My nose is very tight and uncomfortable so I stretch it out with my fingers as if in front of a mirror. Under pressure the pores open up. I see them dilate in the bottom centre of my vision. The pores are light red inside.

Suddenly big viscous lumpy streams of blood well up inside the pores. They are improbably large, larger probably than my nose. They are like thick raspberry jam except they are really nothing like raspberry jam, more like big streams of blood full of gallstones and viscera. I stop stretching my nose but they still stream out.

I scream. The blood does not horrify me particularly and it only hurts as much as it did when my nose only felt tight but I am among friends or family and I do not often get the opportunity to scream so I scream. I scream and scream. I see my friends or family move around me but I am too involved in screaming to notice what they are doing. I continue screaming even though it is starting to feel tired and disingenuous.

After I scream I remember nothing.

Three Dreams II: Eyebrows

The inside of the public library is an anticlimax. From the outside it shines white like marble. Inside its shelves are small and sparse and the blue carpet and bad tables remind me of high school.

I sit looking out the window at the grounds. Young students study maths at the next table. A book is open in front of me: The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas. I am writing a presentation on Gertrude Stein for my literature tutorial and have made it my mission to read as much of her oeuvre as I can before I begin. The mission is going badly.

I finish a page and flick away a stray eyebrow hair before I turn it. Continuing is difficult. It is hot and the heat makes me tired. My skin feels greasy and tired. I force myself through the page.

My eyebrows itch. I scratch them vigorously to remove loose hairs. I see some fall in front of my eyes. Two weeks ago I did a presentation on Australian modernist poetry and could not finish. I was prepared not excellently but reasonably well and whenever I looked up to see people’s reactions I saw nothing. My phone went off halfway through. I could not finish.

I drift to the next page, batting away an eyebrow hair, and look for a quotation to discuss. Nearly any quotation from this page is discussible. They are all similar.

A great sudden itch causes me to scratch my eyebrows again and I feel a number of hairs fall. I move my hand away and every hair of my eyebrows dislodges and scatters onto the open page. Every hair. My eyebrows have fallen out.

I slam the book shut, throw it into my bag, cover my eyes and stand. Under my fingers I feel the baldness there which has never been bald before. I run outside and step into the sun.

For hours I traverse the grounds and wonder about my presentation. I think I will begin it with an anecdote about how I lost my eyebrows reading Gertrude Stein and hope this elicits some kind of laughter. I think I will have to shave my head. I wonder if I will look stranger with hair and no eyebrows or no hair and no eyebrows. I think I will shave my head. I will tell them at the start of my presentation that I was reading Gertrude Stein in a public library and all of my hair fell out. It is a funny anecdote. They will probably laugh.

I think I will not go to class to deliver my presentation. I think I will try to get a doctor’s certificate.

“The irony of this discursive situation is that the heterosexist system of binary oppositions views the endless variety of resistance to heterosexism monolithically. Here, the views of Monique Wittig have particular relevance. If one locates oneself as the center of discourse, as the universal, the norm, all the variations of nonheterosexist identity can be casually lumped together as the marginal, the other, the deviant, the queer. This attitude Wittig has called "the straight mind".”
— Mary E. Galvin, Queer Poetics: Five Modernist Women Writers. Greenwood Press, 1999.

Three Dreams I: Cooking

People I do not remember are standing in front of benches and stoves, layered upwards on large steps like a lecture theatre. This is a cooking exam.

My team should be preparing. Every other team is preparing. I look behind me to find my team but they are gone. I look up to the top of the theatre and see them standing around a bench. They are waiting for me. There is something I must do and they cannot begin until I do it.

I start walking to them and become aware of something in my hands. It is a list – a grocery list, I think. I was meant to gather our ingredients. I do not want to go back to my team without them but I am almost there already. I do not have the ingredients. I anticipate what they will say to me and consider simply leaving the hall.

Nobody says anything. My group looks bored. Every other group is bustling to cook their assigned meals but we stand on the top level looking bored. I assume it is my fault. I want to leave and never be looked at again. I worry about failure and I worry about my parents. I hope there is a way I will be able to obscure my exam results from them.

I see our teacher hurry up the steps with a stack of loose papers in his hand. He looks flustered. Later I will recall that he is a famous scholar of Heidegger who teaches me Heidegger (and Husserl and Sartre and Merleau-Ponty). This does not occur to me now. Now he is our cooking teacher. He arrives at the top of the steps and drops his papers on our desk.

“Sorry I’m late,” he says. “Let’s get on with it.”

I almost collapse in relief. He was late with our recipes. The whole team begins late but the fault is not mine. Suddenly everything feels manageable. On the bench I see our ingredients: packet pasta and limes and a big tub of red lentils. I find my partner – a dark haired man I do not know – and we go to collect our ingredients. They look vibrant. We take them in our arms and go to our stove. I am determined. I cannot wait to begin.

Sometimes I think I kill my dashboard when I post.

Also The Conserved was my 100th post. That’s important, right?