Mar 15, 2018
Re: Verse: On Anonymity and the Future of Collaborative Poetry
Kristina Marie Darling
Co-Written with Chris Campanioni
Long before the Internet was re-routed from military servers and mainstreamed, Foucault understood the efficacy of anonymous interactions on the level of literature, imagining “a culture where discourse would circulate without any need for an author.” But what he was asking for in “What Is An Author?” is something we can probably better answer today. Because it seems less and less likely (or germane) to call into question the need for an author in a culture in which almost everyone is writing, producing, and reproducing words—and increasingly more effective to think about re-evaluating the notion of a single author, or what it means to write by yourself. But it isn’t enough to say I am sitting here, alone, at my dinner table which I so often use for writing, as I type this, and yet in constant communication and communion with all of you, so many of whom I will never know. One would have to testify to the particular medium we have at our disposal, the actual discourse of the Internet, its ultimate permissibility, its provocations for collaboration and co-creation. One would have to surrender the idea that authors own anything besides our will to keep producing, and our desire for change; and to modulate means to resist without negating, to alter without omitting, to enable something new to come forward: unfolding of the text into the anonymity of a murmur.
And really it isn’t the Internet which has fostered these ideas of collaborative authorship but the classical world. We already know that for the ancients, every act of creation comes from elsewhere, something unformed or uncompleted, which was made to grow. It’s why “to author” all the way down to its Latin roots signifies advising, witnessing, and transferring. It’s why to author something means to also forget the act of saying “I,” to forget it or to make it recede in the background in service of the other or others, on behalf of a community, for the sake of an audience.
When I think of collaborative poetics I often think about the poetics of Relation, and thinking about what it means to be directly in contact with everything possible, an always-open structure in which, as Glissant said, “the creator of a text is effaced, or rather, is done away with, to be revealed in the texture of his creation.” When a solid melts, it reveals something always underneath, something at the very bottom, something inside—something new and something that was always already there. What I want is the intimacy of anonymous encounters within the text itself, and yet to be effaced and revealed, even and especially by my own authorial departure. And it would take the form of a repetition or a reversal; a re: verse in which we correspond lyrically; a re: verse in which our correspondence becomes the poem.
Of course, an integral part of any correspondence is the space between things, those slender apertures lit up with waiting. It is in these liminal spaces that possibility accumulates. We write toward this space, in response to its silences.
Because we are neither here nor there, the rules of syntax and grammar, and their implicit logic, no longer hold. More specifically, liminal spaces offer the possibility of new causal relationships. Which is to say, after this no longer means because of this. Since we are in no man’s land, working at the periphery of the governing bodies associated language, it becomes difficult if not impossible to enforce any normative idea about how language, and narrative, for that matter, should behave.
Nota bene: the meaning of the word aperture is twofold: 1.) a hole or gap. 2.) a space through which light passes in an optical or photographic instrument, particularly the variable opening by which light enters a camera.
A collaboration functions in much the same way, capturing radiance as it passes from one person’s fingertip to the next.
In a recent interview on their co-written volume, John Gallaher and G.C. Waldrep refer to this interstitial space, and the light that fills its corridors, as the “third voice,” belonging to both practitioners and neither one of them. Because there is no textual ownership, per se, it becomes difficult to hold someone accountable, let alone take up the customary practices surrounding language usage: copyright, attribution, citation. It is no coincidence that these routine procedures are bound up with questions of value, and the economies in which texts circulate. By abandoning the single-author text, we create a space outside of (or beyond) the linguistic marketplace.
One way we can think of this “third voice” is by thinking of glossolalia, this biblical “speaking in tongues” which also represents the generally ungraspable, a polylinguistic discourse which can’t be conquered or claimed; which exists, in fact, to disrupt the persistent motion to grasp. And to grasp is to understand, but before that, it is the attempt to hold, to have, to own. “How can a living being have language?” Agamben asks. I would return: Is it not, instead, language which has a living being? To the extent that language turns one into an “I” through the act of becoming, a move into subjectification and desubjectification, the unrepeatable and its repetition, within the trauma of enunciation, so to speak, or to begin to understand what cannot be spoken. The poetics of collaboration speaks in that silence, that call or signal, coded with repetition and cessation, the pause before another voice returns, a track resumes, a word is placed behind a blinking black dash, if you are doing this at your laptop and we are. And elsewhere A message in my inbox provides me WHAT’S NEW IN YOUR GROUP: When does a poem stop being yours? I don’t click here to View Discussion; I don’t click out. I begin to Add a comment, which becomes this project, this process of turning off so as to turn the page: a conversation and conversion, but also a returning to the primacy of the event of language, whose power is located in being almost unlocatable. The point is not to know what happens next, as in any good writing, but to take it further; to resist the authorial urge to answer, to close things off, to finish. Part of this is in knowing the unknowable outside the frame; to relish and relinquish what can’t be seen by just your own camera-eye. To think of the kitchen table when no one is looking—but more than that, to think of the kitchen table when one has photographed the parlor. Another way of saying this: it is always the unsayable which calls one to speak. When there is more than one voice, we must imagine one another’s silences as if they are our own.
The house grows quiet again. We are unsure who is at the door, and who has already passed through the silver gates. In the parlor, there is a single painting displayed on a white wall. A beige canvas that reads:
THIS PAINTING IS A PROPOSAL. I PROPOSE WE MEET ONCE A YEAR UNTIL ONE OF US CAN’T OR WON’T.
Of course, the obvious question: in that year, filled with works and days, where does the mind travel, and with whom?
In the age of virtual reproduction, most collaborations take place over vast expanses of landscape and weather. The voice on the other end of the receiver could be anyone, not just the dark-eyed girl standing in a garden, holding a plucked flower in her profile pic. It is what we don’t know, and cannot yet know, that pulls us farther into a forest of bright and burning branches. Here, fact becomes limitation, inscribing the boundaries of what is possible. It is more liberating not to know.
That silence is the struck match, the last light.