Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Function of Writing

Our interest in writing should be on what it does rather than what it means, the physical rather than the spiritual: "As an assemblage, a book has only itself, in connection with other assemblages and in relation to other bodies without organs. We will never ask what a book means, as signified or signifier; we will not look for anything to understand in it. We will ask what it functions with, in connection with what other things it does or does not transmit intensities, in which other multiplicities its own are inserted and metamorphosed, and with what bodies without organs it makes its own converge" (4). This is the point at which writing connects with both play and work. Both play and work are doing something, usually with others. Thus, we cease to look at writing as an artifact to be examined and deconstructed or as an expression of an individual mind to be understood or as a reflection of the world to be interpreted; rather, writing is an assemblage of energy and force arising out of other assemblages of energy and force and interacting with yet other assemblages of energy and force. It is the interaction of those assemblages, the interplay or inter-work done by the writing, that should interest us. We should ask what other assemblages of writing this writing interplays with, how it acts upon those assemblages and is, in turn, acted upon by them: what assemblages of commerce, thought, government, religion, or society this writing interplays with and how it acts upon those assemblages and how it is, in turn, acted upon by them. As an assemblage of energy, writing is a billiard ball of approximate size and shape struck by a cue of approximate size and shape with approximate force in an approximate direction on an approximate table of approximate size, shape, density, and level amongst other balls of approximate size, density, and shape in an approximate arrangement. Our interest is to watch the progress of the ball, how it strikes the rails and other balls, how it paces along, strikes, sheers, veers, and rolls, how it rearranges the table in its progress.

Now imagine an infinitely large table curving away forever with balls rolling in and out as they are struck by other cues with lesser or greater force and as the table curves, drops, and sheers this way or that, and then imagine a multi-dimensional table, or plane, or field, with balls of different size and intensities, weight, gravitational pull, and illumination, extending in bounded infinity, out through interstellar space or inside your head, and you begin—or at least, I begin—to capture a sense of an essay, a story, a novel, a book as a rhizome stretching, pulling, pushing, merging, sheering its way through other systems of energy in a marvelous dance of light. "This little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine," but only amongst all the other lights, building intensity, fading, interplaying, a dance of lights.

This note is my little light. It arises from the light of A Thousand Plateaus by Gilles Deleuze and FĂ©lix Guattari, specifically from the first chapter, "Introduction: Rhizome," of that book. It also arises from my own education, my own reading, the history of the United States, my marriage, my two sons, my vacation in the Bahamas where it is written, my impatience with the people waiting to go to the beach, my own practice of writing, my knowledge of note-taking and essays, and from infinitely more assemblages; and even now, as merely a faint light that serves only to illuminate my own thinking about writing and rhizomes, the level of this note's interplay, its intensity, is almost more complex than I can imagine as it careens and arcs through the rhizome of my own mind, striking chords with other assemblages of ideas, desires, emotions, plans, intentions, images, and doggerel. God forbid that I should put this on my blog and that others should read it, or that I should incorporate some of these thoughts in a presentation that I may make in Feb, 2010, at the Southern Humanities Conference in Asheville, NC. Who knows what weird scenes inside the gold mine may emerge if it should strike a chord, elevate an intensity, in the writing or thought or presentation of some other. Who can tell what bits of 2009, Christmas-time Bahamas may emerge in the cold hills of North Carolina by way of 1980s France. This single quark emerging from a collider cloud is already leaving traces of its path, and while it is most likely to lose its singular identity and traceability in some other writing or presentation, it is now emerged and is now in interplay with other systems, other assemblages. At present, it is just a note in TextEdit on my MacBook Pro laptop, but soon—or so I intend—a post to my blog, when I can reconnect to the Net. I can infuse, for more reasons than I have wit or clarity to enumerate, more energy into this little light of mine to see where it goes. Or not.

My interest in this bit of writing is its effects, what it does, with how well it plays or works, with whether or not it builds in intensity or is subsumed into some other assemblage of thought, or writing, or presentation, or blog, or glass of wine, or day on the beach. Have I struck it well? Does it have impulse and energy, a promising trajectory? Is it likely to go somewhere, to resonate, intensify? And, anticipating North Carolina, is this writing, this note, play or work? It feels like play just now, and I'm most interested in seeing how well it plays, or works, with other ideas I'm forming about rhizomes and writing, but is this just quibbling? Is it not work? I'm vacationing in the Bahamas, so some of the people here—my family, a sheer force against me (next to, not necessarily opposed to, but perhaps that, too)—think I am working and definitely not playing. They are waiting for me—a different assemblage with different energy decidedly disinterested in French philosophy and obscure plant reproduction—but they won't wait for long. I can feel their energy even as the force of Deleuze and Guattari is fading. What a strange thing writing is. I think I'll go to the beach for now.

But later, I'll have to think/write more about the distinctions between play and work. This note is both, but what does that mean? Deleuze and Guattari say not to ask that question of a text, do not ask what it means. So what is the function? What does it do? Will this  note function differently as work than as play? That's promising.

Footnote at time of posting: As it turns out, I didn't make it to the beach, but what the hell! I'm in the Bahamas and life is wonderful.
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