Prelude: The Wrapping Text Fragment

I want composition multiplied in reflections. I write what I think of as a wrapping text. Sentences the length of something wound. A ribbon. A reel. Sometimes compressed. Paralogical. The wrapping text is one that has a magnetic arc. Its place is the subtlety of combinations. Its centers that of coprecision. In the plural, the adjuncts move, trade places. Their cadence is toward a willingness. Their autonomy, in sculptural terms, is a question of what they make: armature, pedestal, sometimes devastating, like the face of a wall and its embrasure, whose link to the mouth, in embrasser [to kiss], elucidates all the pressures of the kiss, all the pressures of the body. In military architecture, an embrasure is the opening or slit where guns or canons or arrows are fired. Like a loophole, it cuts a small mouth in the wall. A widening like indents. The expansiveness of line breaks. The hole only slightly wider than the muzzle it embraces it with its mouth. In dentistry the link to the mouth is literalized. Embrasures are V-shaped valleys between teeth. Duplicitous, the embrasure kisses nothing but swallows the composition of the landscape, its composure defined by what it disgorges. That link again, to the visceral, this time falling on the throat. La gorge [the throat]. In architecture, the neck of a bastion. And of course returning to the mouth and to the stomach: to gorge. And then to composition again. To the valley between the hills.

[Exit Prelude]

• • •

What I had begun to conceive as a digressive text, with various wrapping mechanisms and the compression invested there—the way such moments in writing fold and expand like a ribbon as they interlace several, sometimes disparate threads together—soon appeared trivial in contrast to the tentacular reaches of a poem.

• • •

One day, reading a book that is not one, Fernando Pessoa’s The Book of Disquiet, I suddenly realized that it was not wrapping that had concerned me all along. It was something else entirely: the exit text.

I am not the inventor of the exit text. The term comes from the philosopher Avital Ronell who used it in reference to Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s promenades and to a genre of writing that, anticipating death, has an après-ma-mort (afterlife) structure that can be likened to what she calls a post-autobiographical utterance or afterword (the essay is entitled “Street Talk”).

• • •

In French I am tempted to call it la fuite, which carries resonances with the escape (s’évader), but also with the leak, as in la fuite du réservoir (the leak in the reservoir), which is also a kind of fault: that crack or imperfection that lets the water out. Of course, one might also think of Deleuze and Guattari’s ligne de fuite—or lines of flight—except that, as their translator Brian Massumi points out, “Fuite covers not only the act of fleeing or eluding but also flowing, leaking, and disappearing into the distance (the vanishing point in a painting is a point de fuite). It has no relation to flying.”

• • •

The Book of Disquiet performs something like a literary vanishing point.

• • •

In Pessoa selves multiply. Bernardo Soares, Alberto Caeiro, Ricardo Reis, Alvaro De Campos—all these constitute Pessoa’s heteronyms. In other words, they are all Pessoa and not Pessoa. Like his very surname, which means person in Portuguese, the creation of these heteronyms, an invention of Pessoa’s own making, allowed him to recast his words—to disembody them into other author-characters. In French the inflection of Pessoa, the surname, is slightly different. Person means personne, which is both “someone” and “nobody” depending on the grammatical context.

The Book of Disquiet performs something like a literary vanishing point.

There is an indeterminate quality to the The Book of Disquiet, too, which ambulates toward everyone and no one in a stroll of double occupancy, between heteronymity and pseudonymity, as well as inside and outside death (Pessoa’s), as it holds within itself something rumorological.

Signed by Pessoa’s semi-heteronym, Bernardo Soares, The Book of Disquiet has a long and slippery history. The book was never published or assembled in Pessoa’s lifetime, and it was collated by several editors, translators, and scholars into different versions (four different editions and translations exist in the English language alone), so the question becomes not which one is the truest Book of Disquiet, or even if there such a thing as Pessoa’s Book of Disquiet, although such a question is certainly valid, but rather: how are we to tell whether or not, in its itinerancy or anti-trajectory, The Book has actually arrived?

In a talk on the nature of the test and testing, Ronell points out what is often overlooked, unless perhaps one is a reader of Gertrude Stein:

We do not always know how to calculate the importance of a work. In some cases, there is nothing even to guarantee that the work will arrive. Some works seem to set an ETA—there is a sense that it will take them years to make their arrangements, overcome the obstacles of an unprotected journey, get past the false reception desks blocking their paths.

In the case of The Book of Disquiet, it is difficult to tell if it ever really took off. Assuming that Pessoa was not quite done collecting and preparing the book—taming its restless spirit—there is a sense that it had never fully arrived on Pessoa’s doorstep to begin with and that it was already in motion before he ever caught wind of it. In this less assured version, the book is rife not just with uncertainty but with untraceable origins.

Taking into consideration its fleeting nature, as though it had arrived from a secret source of scrambled origins, only to always be getting away, and in a sense always on its way out, The Book of Disquiet can be read as a kind of exit text. It is also an exit text in the sense of its perpetual (semiotic) restlessness. Always destined to be elsewhere, even the fragmentary quality of the book suggests that parts of it remain estranged. As a text on the move, The Book’s restless qualities certainly justify such a reading—of exiting rather than arriving I mean—as does the fact that its fragmented or elliptical qualities stem in part from its author’s ultimate departure in death. 

After Pessoa’s death, the book holds a kind of quantum superposition. It hits a literal dead-end on one hand while continuing on several forking paths on the other, with no observable in-between. As versions of The Book of Disquiet multiply, it becomes the ultimate orbiting text. It is a book which is situated on the very outskirts of itself. As such it is tempting to read The Book of Disquiet not as a space traveler or a molecular particle, but as a rumor: “[a] widely disseminated report detached from a discernible origin or source. Inasmuch as it becomes what it is, the spreading rumor takes on the qualities of a story told, without author or term, imposing itself as an ineluctable and unforgettable account.” The idea that The Book is somehow detached from a discernible origin or source is compellingly located in the figure of the semi-heteronym, Bernardo Soares, the assistant bookkeeper whose factless autobiography we are reading. “[Bernado Soares is] a semi-heteronym,” writes Pessoa, “because his personality, although not my own, doesn’t differ from my own but is a mere mutilation of it. He’s me without my rationalism and emotions. His prose is the same as mine, except for a certain formal constraint that reason imposes on my own writing, and his Portuguese is exactly the same."

In the disfiguration of the writing, expressed in Pessoa’s changing figures from persona to persona, a literal and a figural defacement happens. As Pessoa relinquishes his name and the name of several other of his heteronyms to Soares, one wonders what, in a rumor, one has to lose but one’s (good) name? Is Soares, the assistant bookkeeper, to blame for the book’s rumorological quality? Or is he, as the keeper of all records, keeping tabs on the rumors, over five hundred of them, and transforming the book into a kind rumor control center? What better than a factless autobiography to frame the rumor, after all?

The book is constantly being remade, each iteration of the work a dress rehearsal.

How many editors have received the psychic call, played the role of The Book’s amanuensis, taken its dictation, arranged its “post-autobiographical utterances,” listened to its archival cues, Pessoa’s trail of clues—in the form of letters or notes, multiple prefaces—as though he too was constantly rehearsing the book, trying it on. The act of close listening, as though to a rumor, sent Richard Zenith to review the first edition, published in 1982, redressing the rumor as it were.

The Book of Disquiet is a trial book. The book is constantly being remade, each iteration of the work a process of rehearsal, a dress rehearsal. In this sense it is convenient to think about The Book as itself a kind of performance of the book, the noun, constantly making sense of and evaluating the limits of its bounds, testing its sovereignty—calling itself The Book even though it escapes its appellation and therefore cannot be summoned, or else perhaps it may only be summoned. Like a ghost.

Vampiric, there is a sort of “auto-mobility” to the book as rumor that is not unlike the fantasmic transmissions of the restless ghost of Hamlet Senior. The scholar Horatio, after he sees the ghost of the king, is coaxed by the others to “speak to it,” “mark it,” and “question it.” He then demands that the ghost “Stay! Speak, speak! I charge thee, speak!” The ghost, however, does not answer Horatio’s call. Instead, the stage direction reads Exit Ghost. But the Ghost does speak a few scenes later, advising Hamlet to “Mark me.” “Speak, I am bound to hear,” answers Hamlet, the Prince of Denmark, in a retort that has affinities with the wrapping mechanism I first summoned: to be “bound to speak” is to be tied, to wrap something tightly. But bound is a word that also comes to signify a trajectory or direction, as in “homeward bound.” The auto-mobility of what I have, thus far, been characterizing as an exit text is also one where inclination is important—I am inclined to hear, says Hamlet, in other words.

• • •

And so, to return to the reflection that opened this digression, what all along I have been calling the wrapping text can, in fact, also be a misreading of an exit text. Such a misreading does not entirely surprise me. For instance, in reading an invitation to give a talk on the errant, Rosi Braidotti misreads the call to discuss nomadism, thinking “errand” instead—she recounts the perverse temporality and peculiar geographies of the life of ideas.

• • •

See also: the image on the cover of Friday the 13th Part 4, The Final Chapter, which in fact is not the final chapter since there are twelve movies in total. The image depicts Jason Voorhees’s hockey mask like a skull with a dagger puncturing its phantom eye. Blood oozes from an inanimate object. When I first happened upon this image it had an eerie citational quality fantasmatically clinging to it. I had a vague premonition that I had seen it somewhere before, and of course I had. The image shares a proximal affinity to the image of Yorick, that famous skull in Hamlet.

In the mask, the prosthetic part of Jason that is in many ways more Jason than Jason is Jason—for who would Jason be without his mask?—I see affinities with Pessoa’s half-mutilated personality, Bernardo Soares. In the mask, I see affinities with The Book also, that roams “afterworldly in-the-world”—that entity which persists beyond death. In Hamlet Act One, Scene Two, Horatio confesses to Hamlet that he has seen the ghost of his father. “Then saw you not his face?” Hamlet asks. “Oh yes my lord,” answers his interlocutor, “his wore his beaver up.” This might read like a bizarre expression now; what is being described is the movable visor of King Hamlet’s armor. We can imagine this close-up on the ghost’s face homonymically as Darth Vader, or Batman’s Bane, or the Ninja Turtles’ Shredder, the faces of all of whom recall the visor of the king’s headpiece. This is where the ghost’s afterlife is most visible and where the rumor is most contagious. In its trappings, the ghost is described as wearing “the very armour he had on / when he th’ ambitious Norway combated.” The ghost’s costume was not iron-clad but made of a supple silvered leather so as to allow the actor, who apparently was often Shakespeare in cameo, to enter and exit stage traps without making any sound. The ability to fade in and fade out is crucial to the nature of the ghost as apparition, and crucial to its afterlife.

[Exit Text]