The beautiful arabesques of the writing of Raymond Roussel, still evident in translation, are most interesting as discipline (contrivance, organisation, code, device), and made all the more alluring by the discovery, in 1989, of a trunk full of manuscripts. I have always been interested in the manufacture of text, and the versionings required. First draft, second draft, the processes of revision… The mechanizations we invent in attempting to get around the ways words are always already prefigured, so as to say the same thing anew.
Writing as a craft is not besmirched by a patent ‘method’. Roussel wrote according to a calculus, as has often been remarked (Ford 2000, Foucault 1963). There are sentences with parentheses inside parentheses that multiply into entire books. Meanings are deferred and referred back to each other, and the first word is both clue and angular destination. Sure, there are cryptograms in Jules Verne – and these fascinated Roussel so much he went to meet that author in 1898 (Ford 2000:17) – but experimental writing was never more elaborate before Roussel, or so it seems from the cache found in the attic in 89.
Unleash the word hoard. Cubist, Dada, Oulipo, Lettriste. Experimental writing, even where obscure, retains a special critical potential; perhaps best outlined in English by Burroughs as a work against control. The word cut-ups were something he considered a useful way to expose control orders. Burroughs as political oracle may seem reckless – an extravagant, untamed, rampant, enthusiasm – and a writing greedy for meaning (thanks Tinzar) – but isn’t this just what might sidestep control?
The orders of language certainly have us in a tight squeeze – grammar, spelling, typography, layout, html, the aesthetic use of empty space (black here, white there). What do we need to do so as to sidestep this pious complex? Nietzsche proud as punch to write such good books? Ginsberg running hysterical naked in the negro streets at dawn [Moloch still being dragged to heaven]? Kathy Acker attacks on high school and on Don Quixote? Leonard Cohen or Nick Cave harmonic mumbling even? Amidst the welter of words there is precious little time to stop and consider our faith – an experimental church, with a god-botherin clergy raging at our misdemeanours, and demanding sacrifice on altars. With Roussel as the fallen high priest become demonic victim, and hero.
Ford, Mark 2000 Raymond Roussel and the Republic of Dreams, London: Faber and Faber
Foucault 1963/1989 Death and the Labyrinth, Editions Surkamp
The pics are of a Japanese Communist Party rally in Tokyo. Pink t-shirts! Talked with the comrades about war, and housing. Still translating their policy document.