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B-Side: Reflections on “The Other Side of Reading” (and Writing)

Vertical peach/beige stripes on square white canvas.

I had this terrible need to explain. 

I wrote the first post not to explain myself. I wrote it as the drive away from, the drive referring back to, the terrible need to explain. I wrote it midsay (typo), midway between refusal and resistance. I wrote it, I didn’t read it, I’m not done reading it—The Undercommons (PDF)—I’m not done being undone by it (reading), so I was back from beyond rather than beyond the beyond, but not back quite right. I felt readier to go, readier to fall, to refuse, but I stayed on one side of the break, one leg flung over the side. So the language came out as this teetering tensility between the need to explain and the need to not, the language left as a break in the voice—a voice in parts, in part, reading, in part, “not passing, not completing,” but in full, still full; still, I was writing.[1] 

It is indulgent to follow up the first post with supplementary notes, and I don’t want to retread. I firmly believe each piece of writing teaches one how to outgrow it, meaning it’s less self-contained than self-cessating, ending not with a period but with a break, the jump before the next register. Still, I’m attached to my notes before the page, ones I wouldn’t ordinarily indulge on it. I’m attached to the sense that “before the page” could be incompletely and not unexactly “the beyond the beyond of reading” that I am after.

I’m thinking on writing as informed by my reading—more precisely, on my writing as reading, as the not visible other side of reading, as not the Kantian (and his resistant, adhering subjects’) beyond of reading, but writing as the “‘beyond of [reading]’ [that] is precisely what one is asked to get beyond”: writing “as if [one] will not be subject, as if [one] want[s] to think as object…” How do I get there? How do I begin to generate from and for this space, this commons, from the dispossessive force of being “unlawfully overcome by others, a radical passion and passivity,” such that my authorship is not temporarily compromised but never to be recovered, “such that one becomes unfit for subjection, because one does not possess the kind of agency that can hold the regulatory forces of subjecthood”? What would it mean for writing to not have to, to have to not, return to self-possession as a standard currency for sociality and exchange? What is produced by this work produced by such unlawfulness and debt? 

I’m seeing my subjecthood as a problem and objecthood as the solve. I’m sensing a writing that is less text-representing-subject than thing replacing it, writing not just to get it across in a feeling or sensing way but to get it: sense and feeling: the apprehension of some replicant mass versus the comprehension of resonant meaning. Reading The Undercommons, I’m either with it or not, tuned in or not, and requisite reading can assist but it doesn’t determine why on some days I’m fiddling with the knob and getting static, and on others—sharp sound. It’s like hitting a wall, an encounter rich in its unproductivity, and I’m there just looking, trying to figure the wall out, and instead of incremental clarities, there’s the long, sudden, anticipatory getting it. It doesn’t come to me; it doesn’t come to be as text.

I’m looking into nonliterary modes, modes of conceptual art, due to their comparative readiness in confronting the problem—rather than the distribution or means—of representation. What I’m thinking over—subject/ivity, object/ivity, and their dis/uses in the drive for singularity and the question of its im/possible sociality, the question/s of whether and how one can be in the world and as the commons—is more regularly engaged by the conceptual turn than critical recourse, in the writing from object as opposed to the writing of object (the writing from subject, made subject to and making subject of the hinge one is locked and nested within, and without movement toward a more complete obliteration of the problem, toward extensive incompletion). I am after the after, the thing that does rather than the text that says, the world of objects and the objects produced therein, their capacity to not come back, to stand, stand up to, stand in for the subject, my subject, other subjects, and our myriad mirements. 

I have this terrible need to explain.

I conceived of this piece as a b-side, as so purely secondary, with the formal directive to go no further. As less the other side than the other side of the first side. As a non-attempt, lolling about on the flip. Still, I was attached to the sense of where this could go, of what writing could be, if not back from beyond, if I was fixed on objecthood, fixed by (too fixed in?) the otherness to object that stands other to the otherness of subject. I sought to reflect on the failures of the first and I have come to reflect on how the second reflects these failures, how it seeks to (and succeeds in) repeat(ing) them: its not-text, not-thing, its uneasy thinking, unrealized doing, its unequal unfitness for the world of subjects as for the world of objects, its broken, breaking, mediating, intermediate being, its being not after the break (to be after is to be both, only before and beyond), not seeking, not having left, no further, un-undone. Suppose writing as reading is less retread than relay, not outgrowing but regressing, in/to the break, in/to the uncessating end, the durative subjunctive, the meeting with unmet condition: “as if [one] want[s] to think as object…”[2]


[1]Unless otherwise noted, all quotes from The Undercommons by Fred Moten  & Stefano Harney.

[2]Emphasis added.

Originally Published: May 16th, 2022

Jenna Peng is a reader for Poetry Magazine, associate editor of the Asian American Literary Review, and an organizer for the Smithsonian Asian American Literature Festival. She writes hybrid literary/arts criticism and occupies Shawandasse Tula territory (Pittsburgh).