22 April 2013
I first became aware of Craig Dworkin’s work through his book Reading the Illegible (2003) and his contribution to Information as Material. A poet, critic, editor, and professor in the Department of English at the University of Utah, Craig is also the author of No Medium (2013) and editor, with Kenneth Goldsmith, of Against Expression: An Anthology of Conceptual Writing (2011). He runs Eclipse, an online archive of radical small-press writing.
Here are Craig’s words around En abîme, at once a response and an echo to my book:
Daniela Cascella’s En Abîme both describes and enacts the dynamic between writing and sound that gets put into play whenever we write about the auditory or sound out the phonetic limits of writing. Her soi-disant “archival fiction” thematizes the writing of sound in scenes where phonographs serve as mnemonic triggers or are deployed as answers in an interview, but the archival sense of “records” also plays throughout. Moreover, in its investigation of the dynamic between writing and sound, Cascella’s work makes a compelling argument for rethinking the metaphors by which we understand both reading and listening: moving from surface and depth to horizon and edge to entanglements and knots. Picking up on Herman Melville’s description of his unsuccessful book Pierre as a “shallow nothing of a novel,” Cascella patiently demonstrates that the depth-model of value (“shallow”) and the ontology of “nothing” (as John Cage had proved for “silence”) are far from certain and stable. Indeed, with its five blind-printed pages, her own second-hand copy of Melville’s novel reanimates the metaphors of ghostly haunting and diminished echoing that echo and haunt her text in turn. A visual version of an echo, “en abîme” names the recursive relationships that animate the formal structure of the eponymous fiction, but the abyss is also a formation where echoes emanate — the space required for resonance, the cry of the voice de profundis. Like Robert Walser’s poetry, Thomas Mann’s Doktor Faustus, and Gert Jonke’s novels (such as Der Ferne Klang and Erwachen zum großen Schlafkrieg), En Abîme conducts philosophy by other — narrative and aural — means. Cascella is a phonographer of the mind, and her work repays the replay of repeated auditioning.
17 April 2013
This blog is becoming more and more some sort of expanded or annotated bibliography/filmography for my new book. One major portion of the bibliography will feature books and articles by James Clifford and Clifford Geertz, whose writings have been invaluable for me to articulate my attempts at connecting writing sound, self-ethnography, notions of ‘fieldwork’ in sound, subjectivities in the field, and the use of archives/collections.
Here is Geertz in The Interpretation of Cultures (1973):
‘What the ethnographer is in fact faced with […] is a multiplicity of complex conceptual structures, many of them superimposed upon or knotted into one another, which are at once strange, irregular, and inexplicit, and which he must contrive somehow first to grasp and then to render. And this is true at the most down-to-earth, jungle field work levels of his activity: interviewing informants, observing rituals, eliciting kin terms, tracing property lines, censusing households . . . writing his journal. Doing ethnography is like trying to read (in the sense of “construct a reading of”) a manuscript – foreign, faded, full of ellipses, incoherencies, suspicious emendations, and tendentious commentaries, but written not in conventionalized graphs of sound but in transient examples of shaped behavior.’
15 April 2013
As I keep writing about songs, sounds, chants from religious rituals in Italy, as I keep writing of the experience of listening to them and recalling them away from home, I cannot avoid these (loud volume, please):
10 April 2013
I watch Fellini’s Le notti di Cabiria and I’m transfixed. Before, I’d watched this film and La strada on TV when I was about four years old, and never again since. To date, these two films are my earliest memories of sadness, from an age when I could not have possibly ever experienced that type of sadness. Except through those films. I was always afraid of going back to them. So here we are, that sadness and I, thirty-odd years later. I find: a film of unstable balance between a profound sense of drift and emptiness (the bleak suburban Roman landscape, caves, open spaces, the main character truly lonely in every sense, no respite ever) and a lightness of touch, graceful interferences of unexpected gestures that place what is implausible in what is stark real. Rituals and representations exceed a self that is void, but not meaningless. At one point, Cabiria joins a pilgrimage to the Sanctuary of Divine Love and asks for grace. One of the women in the crowd shouts at the top of her voice, speaking to the Virgin Mary: ‘I am REALLY asking you. I am REALLY asking you’. As if screaming was the space where belief is validated. Cabiria cannot quite scream and barely sings, she is hushed and overwhelmed by the chanting and the demonstrations, the gestures, yet she is the only one who believes (maybe because she’s speaking to herself, not to any divine presence). In the next scene they all sit on a lawn having a picnic, life goes on untouched by the empty yet repeated ritual, except for Cabiria, who is deeply affected by the fact that, after the pilgrimage, ‘nun semo cambiate’ (in Roman dialect, ‘we haven’t changed’). At the end, the space of utter truth is revealed to be the space of utter deception; unlike later films by Fellini, here truth and deception exist osmotically, they do not outnumber each other by means of cartoonish exaggerations. The edge is softer and I am more easily driven in the film, not as a spectator but enmeshed, affected.
(Then I thought of another harrowing scene of loneliness, staged faith, make-believe and loss of belief, in Lars von Trier’s Breaking the Waves, when Bess goes to church for the last time and can no longer sustain the double-voiced dialogue with God that she’s been staging up to that moment, deceiving or asserting her own self by speaking in two voices.)
10 April 2013
‘Why do we always do the opposite of that we like doing? Because, unable to achieve it fully, we try to attain it through indirect, ambiguous means.’
Pierre Schaeffer, In Search of a Concrete Music
Pierre Henry, Concerto of Ambiguities (1951)
Herman Melville, Pierre, or, The Ambiguities (1852)
or, the double book, or, the ambiguous nature of writing.
5 April 2013
I have just come across this review of En Abîme. It was written by Lola San Martín Arbide for the Ethnomusicology Review and it is the first one that deliberately addresses the notion of writing in a foreign language, and a certain way of approaching ‘research’.
You can read the review here.
3 April 2013
I have reviewed In Search of a Concrete Music by Pierre Schaeffer for the Los Angeles Review of Books.
You can read the review here.