Linking the Unlinkable: an answer to the question ‘Why Do You Do What You Do?
Such questions as ‘Why Do You Do What You Do?’ require one set of answers no individual writer can access about him or herself, in a personal history that is far from personal often, or in a genealogy of some profound but obscure disposition towards language or one of its substrata.
Aesthetic allegiance, from this point of view, may be no more than a position for this disposition to be situated. By this time, this doing can no longer be questioned. It is so far from a why, so ingrained perhaps in the individual’s concsciousness, that it requires the jolt of history to shake this intensity free of its occasions.
The question eventually becomes – or became for me – ‘why you continue writing’. The pre-disposition to write (for me) seeks a justification, in poetics, in the processes of a resistant practice, a negativity that balances the affirmation of the originating impulse. The project Twentieth Century Blues is a ‘net/(k)not-work’. One of its current aims is to link the unlinkable.
In ‘Discussions, or phrasing “after Auschwitz”’, (The Lyotard Reader, 1989), Lyotard considers this name that, for Adorno, risked overstamping all human endeavour, including, famously, and relevantly to my current purpose, poetry. For Lyotard, ‘Auschwitz’ is ‘a model for’ … ‘the incommensurability between the universe of prescriptive phrase (request) and the universes of the descriptive phrases which take it as their referent’. The ‘agon of phrases is perpetual’. The just action can only be to effect ‘the linkage “that suits” in a particular case, without there being known what the rule of suitability is’. One can only ‘invent rules for the linkings of phrases’.
Derrida responded to Lyotard's lecture and revealed himself less interested in phrases, than in the processes of the essential linkage.
We have, he says, ‘to make links, historically, politically, and ethically with the name, with that which absolutely refuses linkage’. It is the ethical imperative that I find both profound and resonant in these remarks. He continues: ‘If there is today an ethical or political question and if there is somewhere a One must it must link up with a one must make links with Auschwitz.’ But this necessity could be broadened, both ethically and technically; for me, it demands a writing practice that must link the components of the daily catastrophe, along with all its ecstasies, that we live. ‘Perhaps Auschwitz prescribes – and the other proper names of analogous tragedies (in their irreducible dispersion) prescribe – that we make links.’ These remarks have haunted (indeed, have been linked in) my recent work The Lores, Twentieth Century Blues 30, to offset the Adornoesque negativity that also haunts it. It implies a practice: ‘It does not prescribe that we overcome the un-linkable, but rather: because it is unlinkable, we are enjoined to make links.’ Any apparent unlinkability, I would generalise, requires creative linkage for a writer, a kind of investigative experimentation.
The writing practice will determine that such linkages be articulated at times on a surface which is like the skin of delirium, with simultaneously more disruption that would be connoted by the term ‘juxtaposition’ – and also less, where the links are so melted into the materials that they disappear.
This derivation for Derrida is different, tough allied, to Adrian Clarke’s fortuitous blending of Lyotard’s poetics of the phrase with his own phrasal poetic practice to form the poetics of his Listening to the Differences talk. (RWC Extra, 1991) Clarke himself integrates the theory and his practice and demands ‘a subversive plurality that many of the rules available to link phrases may also be used to sustain, short-circuiting the connections that might combine to pronounce a sentence, but not necessarily those constituitive of a critical judgement whose force is less than absolute.’
The rules of this subversive linkage, I believe, have to be invented to counter absoluteness with plurality. The disruption of the authority of the sentence by the micro-judgements of the phrase is one way. There may be others, as linguistically innovative writers momently create new ‘rules’ for linkage, for what suits the particular ‘case’: the disparate materials in need of procedural linkage. Lyotard has previously described the paradox of this process in The Postmodern Condition (1984): ‘The artist and the writer … are working without rules in order to formulate the rules of what will have been done.’ Indeed, ‘short-circuiting’ is an interesting analogy for a wholly unexpected and deregulated linkage. As Lyotard notes: ‘To link is necessary, but how to is not.’
Asking myself, again, the question ‘Why Do I Do What I Do?’ evokes the necessary response:
To link the unlinkable.
[January 1995] Generator 7:2: Whydoyoudowhatyoudo?, December 1995
Pages 362-380, January 1996
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