Reading and Nothingness
If the pressing question was, what is the meaning of my reading in the world, the more general, more immediate inquiry can be: how is reading—the notion I have belabored, as less subject than something, less act than the not visible other side, than nothing—how can this something which is nothing (this nothing which is something), how can reading be a way of being in the world?
I had the sense of where this series would go—then where it has gone; because something about it (the out of it, the writing my way out, reading my way out of writing it) does now seem gone, and something about me feels, imperfectly and essentially, having been left; left before after, before the next end; (where is this next end? where after may I begin?)
I had the feeling that I knew what I was saying, and it’s a horrible feeling, knowing what one is saying. It’s a horrible feeling, being after and neglecting the next one—less obliquely, being after after and neglecting this. My fixation has been too fixed in the otherness of object to be fixed on the otherness to it—its other being, general being, its being generally other to the otherness of object (which is other only iteratively to the otherness of subject) (which fixes my being other over my other being, fixes away the fact of other being, general being, the fact that I want to be in the world, I do).
Something about me feels imperfectly left, imperfect in that I have been the one leaving, really staying, straying before after, stranded before the next end. The fixation was after, was flight, the moving toward the desire for absolution, to get from this mired ground to higher ground, to overcome the bind of being subject (to) by overcoming myself: I didn’t want to be left. I wanted to leave none of me behind, leave sociality as is so as to be singularity as I had wanted, as I no longer did want, no longer could want as I no longer was, but I still am, want, do, and I don’t want to be left. I have the sense that I will not go, that I’m not gone. I’m tired of flight, going beyond and back and back to beyond and never back. I have been away, and “it matters how long we have to do it,” how long we’re gone for, how long we have to be after the break before we’re only ever before and beyond it—where, if not after, may I be?
“[W]here we are marooned in search of marronage,” leaving, staying, straying, stranded. Where I am not after, not before in my halting flight from subject, nor beyond in my prefigurative replacement by object. Both of which require me to move in denial of the condition of, if not my subjecthood, my still considerable subject-ness, my being (wanting) (going) after it, this subjective condition of its/my im/possibility. In these words: my desired world of objects, inescapably inundated with the subjective. In this enabling paradox, which made possible and overrode possibility, which makes possible the impossibility of pure possibility, the possibility of not, the possibility of not merely not being either but being unfully neither: being in the break, the break being a fold further in the bind of subjectivity and subjection, the break in the bind in the world, in the two-noted I don’t want to be left.
What is the possibility of not, the hope in the fold, this hold, this solidity that could cut, that could see and see through the hardness of the despair, of fatalism’s fortification and its refortifying counters, that could move against “the possibility of a [press], or any other”? Why hope against hope rather than hope against despair? Why hope against a type of hope designated as positive, resistant possibility? What does/n’t it do to hope against change (“change… in the form we think of as ‘revolutionary’”), to hope against “toiling in misery and from this place of misery articulating a ‘general antagonism,’” to hope against either and instead for “neither trying to extend the [press] nor change the [press]” (Jack Halberstam, Introduction to The Undercommons)? How does one move against “one location moving forward to another” (Halberstam) and instead with/in “the movement of things, unformed objects, deformed subjects, nothing yet and already”?
There is on one hand, the deformed subject, the fugitive subject, the always already nonsubject, moving in “the movement of things,” as I move belatedly toward a formation of something rather than subject, a formation of i/t. There is in the same hand, the unformed object, the fugitive object, the “nothing yet and already” nonobject, which, in my formation of no/thing, I attempt to touch (more really, feel the touch of) that which touches the nothing of thing, “the moving presence of absolutely nothing" (Sara Ahmed, quoted in The Undercommons).
There is—in the futility of the subject who can/not answer to the problems of poetry in the world, in the unrealization of the object that can/not absolve one of such problems—the undifferentiated desire to get back and beyond, to regress without recourse, to find and find oneself within the hold that allows for a break in the bind of the world. There is, in this desire, a certain limited capacity “to be without interests” and a not quite contrapuntal nor complementary capacity to be “incapable of disinterestedness.” These incapacities (more exactly, capacities to not) move with and against each other, incompleting the other’s approach toward its absolute or compromised end, completing rather a nonapproach: the relay of unformed object which is deformed subject, the break of being more not-entirely-interested than entirely not-interested, of being less interested than not-disinterested. In this break, which is not so only in the bind of resistance and compliance, nor in any way out from it in refusal, is the hold of neither: the nonresistance/nonrefusal of the nonsubject/nonobject that cuts (as opposed to changes) the despairing state of subjects with “this movement of things, this interdicted, outlawed social life of nothing.”
What is in this movement of things, of nothing (in distinction from what comes out of it)? What moves in the absence of subjecthood, in the obsolescence of a delegate from which to stand, move, in the presence rather of that which has been “relegated to the hold,” that which is (in) “the moving presence of absolutely nothing”?
What I’m calling the [reader] in a catachrestic sense. In my flight from the subject differentiated from the object; in my flight always already grounded in the nonsubject dispossessed (the nonobject unrealized) as the movement of things. In my less delineating than disorienting gesture; in my less gesture, the motioning, than this movement, the kind of dis/orientation that allows not a reading alternately or at once in and off the work, in and off the world; instead, a [reading], a way of working and being as if the world: “as if [one] want[s] to think as object,” as if on “the not visible other side”: “this ongoing experiment with the informal,” “not an activity… but the ceaseless experiment with the futurial presence of the forms of life that make such activities possible”: a [reading] “everywhere and nowhere, of never and to come, of thing and nothing.”
What I had called the “reader” extra-catachrestically (that is, exceeding my catachrestic sense of it) desired flight, tired from it, found tired the upkeep of away, tiring the “land[ing] with a jolt" (Adrian Piper, "Flying"). The flight was fixed on refusal, on beyond—a refusal that couldn’t be refusal without resistance, without its resistance of resistance—a beyond that could only be beyond when moving in impossible denial of its condition of possibility, of back. Back which was never so other to beyond, neither an instrument for its definition nor a context that undercuts; back that is content, that is irreducibly external and internal to the meaning of beyond, to beyond’s lacking meaning, moving not without beyond but with beyond’s without, the essential nothing of it, “the essentialist way of life” of it, beyond not undercut by but essentially cut with back.
This solid surreality that then cuts hard reality, that is not exactly a prefigurative politic, which swings on what’s here-and-now and not, which hasn’t gotten the feel for, the feel from, the movement’s “most concrete form, that is its potential form,” which ascribes to the formed without the informality, that which is not form, nothing. That is not making for the break so much as making in it, not speculative so much as subjunctive, as as if, in which the real thing realizes the surreal thing, in which more real than the real thing is nothing, “everywhere and nowhere, of never and to come,” in which flight doesn’t land but is always already landed.
I have a sense of where this can’t go; because the something of it (the something neither subject nor fully some thing) seems gone and nothing is left. Nothing which is something (something which is nothing) is left, and I, as if it, am not. I am less deformed subject than unformed object, and less object than its informality, and less the nothing of thing than the nothing that moves, not without thing, but with thing’s without.
How to take away nothing, what one can’t hold, can’t touch, can only nearly feel the touch of, more really, merely the touch of that which touches nothing (this thing)? How to take away nothing, how to not take away, that which is not my own, not to own, that which elaborates from, elaborates more deformation and unformation, more informality and debt?
I don’t know what I’m saying, and it’s a beautiful feeling, not knowing what one is saying. It’s a beautiful sense and feeling: the actualization of something—right there in the all there, not there in the right there. How does it happen, how to track it, put it down, the way one comes to be in the world? Without defiance, without embrace—a disorientation, a lull, an insolent ease. The fact of being that follows only from the fact of being. The fact of this: the word’s mere matter, the text’s flat matter, its substantive insubstantiality, “all of a sudden, transubstantial.” This general [reading], this “not visible other side of [reading],” the thin of being in the thick, the thin of being, always being and all of sudden becoming, nothing:
Unless otherwise noted, all quotes from The Undercommons by Fred Moten & Stefano Harney.
Question is worded from "The Undercommons": “black radicalism, which ‘hopes against hope… in order to survive in a deplorable present,’ asserts a metapolitical surrealism that sees and sees through the evidence of mass incapacity, cutting the despair it breeds.”
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).