I write this introduction post-facto, in order to denounce myself. I am guilty, though I know not for what. On the one hand I’m trying very hard to be critical; on the other hand, I must be critical of criticism; and by accusing criticism of being uncritical, I accuse myself.
This “probe” – in the most painful sense of the word – somehow weaves in words like “Jen Bervin’s Nets”, and “Nicolas Bourriaud’s The Exform“, but if the reader expects a straightforward definition of these terms, I will ask him to spare me that additional moral pain
First Circle of Hell
It is horrifying to me how much of close-reading criticism has as its task to present interpretations which, if the reader let his mind wander eventually, he would hit upon; criticism here functions as a physic in the worst sense. To name something as an exform, then, in opening up new meanings also operates the gesture which closes them off; it does the psychic work for the mind, leaving the mind more under the grasp of censorship.
I suppose what I might do is to offer my illegitimate masquerade of a materialist glossing over of Jen Bervin’s Nets. In the nets, the more one tries to read, the more one is confronted with the need to signify, the need to have context for meaning. What the Nets do is deconstruct and present the function of each contextual element of meaning. Is the author Jen Bervin, Shakespeare, myself, society? Are these words selected – how much of this selection is done by whom? To what am I supposed to tie these words? To themselves? To the words in the sonnets? To none? What is the nature of these ties? If no ties, why is the word doing things to me? Where have rhyme and metre gone? Do I miss them? In other words, the Nets force us to assemble an interpretive method from scratch.
Have I changed the Nets?
They cannot be changed because they are an object. Yes, I have changed them because they exist as phenomena. They cannot be changed because they are change itself. That is not the right question, because you are assuming that there is something to change. You are assuming that the Nets are a thing. The Nets are a thing, and exist as I define them. There is a truth to the Nets that can be discovered by consensus. We will discover what the Nets have always already been.
To say that the Nets force wide the void of meaning creates. A new meaning erupts. If it is taken, the beholder donates his authorship; or, it has already been robbed. The creation of such criticism works against the exform. To describe the exform is to avoid it.
The words in Nets do not mean anything on their own. The act of interpreting Nets brings to the fore the nature of tradition as tradition, of signifier as signifier, and their incompatibility; it opens up the very space of context, of interpretation. To characterize such an object as an exform is of course besides the point, there being no point at all; if we think without a centre, we do indeed describe the exform.
Will a materialist critique show everything? How does it interact with its own history? Can it be edited? Can words be erased? The trace of the erased word is invisible to the human audience, only the computer knows it. The laptop as object is completely aware of the essay, the laptop has a materialist understanding. Or does he? The laptop is unaware of anything outside the pressure on its keys; as far as it knows, it is struggling very hard to write an essay. Or perhaps it is composing one with ease.
From my perspective, the erasure is pure loss. The trace buries itself in me somehow and I must make its death meaningful as I forget it through new writing. Does the beholder experience the erasure as it is lived?
The erased is the space of the excluded. Erasure is the idealist gesture par excellence, yet only so if the erasure remains. That is, the veil must always hide the truth, which may only be viewed in glimpses. The veil draws attention to itself; thus what it veils is less what is behind it, than the fact that it is drawing attention away from what isn’t veiled. It is easy to read the Nets idealistically, whereby the gesture of erasure leaves intact the essence of the sonnet; this essence existing only by this gesture, by the gesture of interpretation; within that erasure itself would be located the truth. We might then say that there is nothing behind the veil but a void; we might then say that the erasure itself is truth.
To attempt a critique of Jen Bervin’s Nets is to work against them, to ignore them; to critique them is not to read them. I’ve highlighted some standard aspects of critical discourse which could be used in critiquing them, all calling attention to themselves, not the nets. “Beyond all date /////// bold” evokes a beach in me; there is no way I could justify that in standard criticism, in a standard close-reading; as I’ve mentioned, the nets are “open, porous, possible”, their author-function non-fixed, non-centred, radicant-like, perhaps; if anything is an exform, they should be. Yet this criticism has little to do with Nets.
Bervin, Jen. Nets. 2004. Sixth printing, Ugly Duckling Presse, 2011.
Bourriaud, Nicolas. The Exform. Translated by Erik Butler. Verso, 2016.