A review of 'Registration Caspar'
In her blurb for Registration Caspar, poet Divya Victor described the text — part genre fiction, part avant-garde experiment — as one in which “all of … Beckett’s unfulfilled plans and undeployed scenarios have come back to haunt.” She isn’t wrong: taking the form of a log written before the imminent “erasure” of Caspar (a non-gendered “entity” rushing to save money for the two partners they will leave behind), the text is certifiably Beckettian, in the sense that the reader’s patience is challenged by what Bataille would call an “incontinent flux” of language. But equally Beckettian is Caspar themself, who, like many of Beckett’s protagonists, lacks what can be called a “human dimension.” This is not to suggest that author J. Gordon Faylor consciously or unconsciously relies upon a stale archetype. Rather, it seems that in making reference to such a banal heritage, we may expose what is distinctive in the example of Caspar.
Take the following, excerpted from a point early in the text:
I should stay alone, but not so much as to more efficiently compose a terminal log, my register, and I’m not trying to get there though. This required mediation, I wouldn’t modify that practice, I decided — but remember, every second that entreats precipitancy is good and even more when allowed, and each of those seconds diminishes its holding still.
The writing of the log is a “required mediation,” and thus we are reminded of the protagonist of The Unnamable, who also stresses the compulsory nature of his (a)musings: “I must speak with this voice that is not mine, but can only be mine … it is I who speak, all alone, since I can’t do otherwise. No, I am speechless.” And again, this time from Molloy: “Saying is inventing. Wrong, very rightly wrong. You invent nothing, you think you are inventing, you think you are escaping, and all you do is stammer out your lesson” (my emphasis).
In Registration Caspar, however, the production of the text is explicitly mandated by Caspar’s employer, further underscoring the fact that the log, and therefore what is supposed to be “authentic” expression, cannot exist apart from a panoptic and corrective gaze; recall Foucault’s poignant analysis of confessional societies, in which the voicing (or writing) of one’s thoughts is required precisely because it makes one more susceptible to control by various regimes of power. Where Beckett leaves the driving force behind his protagonists ambiguous (escape who? what?), Faylor is more than ready to point to a culprit: Caspar’s employer, or to speak more generally, late capitalism, in which the worker (content creator, “creative,” etc.) is increasingly expected to market themselves, despite, and sometimes in direct contention with, their true beliefs.
What Registration Caspar then gives us is a play of signifiers (the log) regulated and determined in advance by a despotic sign (capital), which is to say that the play present in Registration Caspar isn’t the unregulated play envisioned by some poststructuralists. It is rather a play that is always already delimited, thereby mirroring the reality of the post-postmodern condition: despite believing that we inhabit a postauthoritarian age, often marked by an acritical openness to noncanonical perspectives, endless self-criticism, and feelings of moral irreproachability, postauthoritarianism is in fact just another form of authoritarianism, this time disguised as an unabashed inclusivity that merely reinforces the logic of the neoliberal market: anything is acceptable as long as it sells. (This is not meant to deride postcolonial/queer reworkings of the canon, in which scholars and activists rightly address issues of representation. Should we be committed to inclusion? Of course, and I believe Faylor would agree. But he seems to be interested in more theoretical questions: What does it mean to include underrepresented minorities? Include in what? And for what purpose?)
Registration Caspar acknowledges and rejects these claims to both authenticity and inclusivity, instead offering up a sort of hybrid of Language writing and Alt Lit, New Sincerity and conceptualism, irreducible to its constituent parts. Dissatisfied with all of the preceding schools and, by extension, their varying metastructural tendencies (primal irony in the case of Langauge poetry, dewy-eyed sincerity in the case of Alt Lit), Faylor has taken them, grinded them up, and given them back to us as indistinguishable “gobbets in a vomit.”
Clara B. Jones, in her review of Registration Caspar, notes some possible literary and cultural figures to which the name Caspar may refer (Caesar, Castor, Shakespeare’s Casca, among others), but missing from this list is the perhaps the most obvious reference, at least for millennial readers (and writers): Casper the Friendly Ghost. An interesting omission, especially considering the connection one could make to the ephemeral figure central to the Derridian concept of “hauntology.” And could there be a more apt archetype? Hanging between this world and the next, between the complete silence of death and the living obligation to speak, the ghost, not the zombie, is the essential figure of our age.
The overall effect conferred upon the reader is therefore a second-order silence, a silence that is not the silence of death, but that nonetheless produces a character under perpetual “erasure.” This is the silence of the postconceptual subject, who, yearning for ephemerality, is, again and again, confronted by the imperative of the marketplace: speak! And it is in this light that the impending registration of Caspar is realized: registration as the subsuming of even silence into the machine.