Notes on the discursive

A review of Susan Gevirtz’s 'Coming Events'

Coming Events (Collected Writings)

Coming Events (Collected Writings)

Susan Gevirtz

Nightboat Books 2013, 176 pages, $16.95, ISBN 9781937658083

Look at any word long enough and you will see it open up into a series of faults, into a terrain of particles each containing its own void.[1] A common problem in the critical analysis of experimental writing appears to be an insistence on systematizing a writer’s creative efforts without affording due diligence to that selfsame individual’s specific relation to a/the general social narrative. Leslie Scalapino argued that even a “reconstituting of the general social narrative may be a radical change in expression arising from one’s separation from social convention.”[2] Suggesting that such a change in and of itself constitutes a major break from that general social narrative and so works toward displacing it by appropriation, at least in certain cases, as the activity and its efficacy remains entirely deictic. Deleuzeian thought supports such claims, for it is by a process of subjectification and individuation that the individual is produced, and so each individual will therefore have unique orientations toward the general social narrative (problematic as it may be).[3] In order then to disrupt the general social narrative, should one aim to do so, a particular and personalized approach toward literary disruption/articulation is necessary. That is to say, that no two modes of disruption/articulation will necessarily have equitable impact.

The searching is my dynamic. I don’t believe in the gold at the end of the rainbow, but I do believe in the rainbow.[4] Coming Events signals that conventionally exegetical writing has proven insufficient for Susan Gevirtz. The matrix of information that makes up Gevirtz’s prose compositions wrests form away from conformity by a process of reorganization and proximal relation. Such a foray operates as an amorphous activity of thought and execution, a discourse in plasticity, in relation to that which is immediate and tertiary. Each essay explores the tethers of social convention as it relates to various forms of social discourse and creatively commits to exploring alternative and personal modalities of reinvention and separation. Furthermore, effective forms in Coming Events break with forms that would explicitly present information in favor of a form “that forms itself, newly invents itself, an ‘aesthetics of existence.’”[5] In wresting form from conformity, Gevirtz forges a personalized approach that creatively addresses the historical social violence inherent to available modes of discourse. It is an acute sensitivity, characteristic of these prose forms, that supports an active refusal to participate and perpetuate the social violence that Gevirtz describes as “the reign of the discursive.”[6]

We cannot opt out of discourse without opting out of ethics too: we are part of the conversation whether we like it or not. The Museum of Non Participation reminds us of this, proposing that the tactics of cultural production — Brecht’s allegory, Holzer’s semiotic excess, Andre’s reticent prosody — can be used to develop more nuanced and productive means of withdrawal.[7] If there is value alone in the disruption of intelligibility, it is primarily mobilized when it affords the possibility of intellectual and ethical constructivity. Such disruption of intelligibility operates generatively and in contrast to conventionally coded notions of regulation and truth.

Poetry doesn’t simply supplement the rational intellect but provides inherent and sometimes incommensurable forms of insight. Because its meanings are neither quantitative nor verifiable, poetry may offer different, subtler, and more complex expressions than the language of information and commerce.[8] Writing that overemphasizes communication and objective analysis inevitably misses the mark, as it stands in allegiance to dominant forms of representation and normative speech modalities that undergird regimes of violence and police domains of agency. In turn, those regimes actively and detrimentally police daily life, enabling myriad social, political, and economic margins, marginalized subjectivities, and marginalizable subjectivities. 

I want to make a work that is on the offensive. I want to make a work that can be destabilized. I don’t want to work with vigilantes and their dogs. I’m not for everything safe.[9] Gervitz’s speech modalities inform and work to inevitably subjectivize the individual. So here a common false premise is exposed: subversive speech modalities are not geared exclusively at toppling dominant regimes of violence, and no, their appearance on the social and literary landscape may not be revolutionary, as once considered, but remain absolutely vital in a conscientious society, not simply because they provide diversity, alterity, and artistry, but because they provide an active site for marginalized subjectivities by disrupting repressive norms and the policies, functions, and manifestations that police them. That is the struggle that many works of reinvention mobilize and embolden.

Language allows the animal to literally jump out of its skin — and to land inside a new and starkly paradoxical body.[10

Concerned with the proximal postures information acquires and the numerous networks of minute possibilities between disparate and sometimes seemingly contradictory terms, quotes, and other expectant bodies of information, the driving force of Coming Events is largely the formulation of these relationships.

 379. I say with passion “I know that this is a foot” — but what does it mean?[11] That which happens within and across those interstitial spaces allows for the formation of a matrix of prismatic meaning in perpetual revelation. Revelation, however, only in so much that it makes available the possibility of revealing, rather than exposing truth itself in the traditional sense; meaning is made available, rather than bestowed upon a reader. This approach reorganizes modes of discourse so as to make meaning and interpretations available that are never preordained by the linearity of meaning’s logic.

Poetry in this time and nation is doing the work of philosophy — it is writing that is conjecture.[12] Information, as a fragment, or in toto, is made up of holes, vacuums, absences, and losses, though it too is fraught with gain and possibility. Even a fragment of information is the organization of its numerous constitutive availabilities and unavailabilities. As a result, information is infinitely renewable and subject to reinvention. Gevirtz’s approach suggests a recasting of the variables of possibility. Recasting variables of possibility is not a casting of a die. Information is proximate; the more proximate it is, the better it operates as possible truth. What’s crucial to information is what’s unavailable. What’s crucial to an approach is what’s undone — and what’s undoable. Gevirtz’s approach suggests that to go directly to information is to overlook its actual shape, which is without measure and can’t be approached directly, given that the totality of information is at best incomprehensive and dispersed accordingly. In so doing, new insights are kindled between fragments of information and the relationships brought to bear by proximity. The proximal relationships of composition are crucial, with their various fragments that create an available methodology for the disclosure of information, and they occur in the active reticence of writing and composition.

In fact, it is quite likely that affect more often transpires within and across the subtlest of shuttling intensities: all the minuscule or molecular events of the unnoticed. The ordinary and its extra-.[13] Writing this closely tethered to performance enacts as much as it proposes in praxis. Crucial to this activity are the affective aporia made available by the many unpredictable prose forms, as they enact, embody, activate, and bring into existence new affective realities contingent on the proximities of thought, brought into new relation and offering new experiential possibilities. Affect is the result of the encounters made available by the reorganization of the familiar — the result of the proximal — the proximal as the result of reinvention, pushing back against familiar modes of discourse. It is interplay, but not only. A fertile, affective interplay of information and thought, and all its attendant properties, resists familiarity of form and composition. In Coming Events, it is the instance — the here and now of the text — that determines the necessities and probabilities of efficacy in relation to the modalities of speech mobilized by proximity and against the conformities of social violence. Writing has no form, but recalls form by recasting and reinventing it.[14]

pablo lopez lives in San Francisco, California, and coedits an online journal (comma, poetry) that features new innovative work in English and translation.  His recent poems, poetics, and reviews have appeared in Aufgabe; comma, poetry; Dusie; OmniVerse; and Rain Taxi.

1. Robert Smithson, “A Sedimentation of the Mind: Earth Projects,” Artforum, September 1968.

2. Leslie Scalapino, The Cannon (Middleton: Wesleyan/New England 1999), 24–27.

3. Gilles Deleuze coyly attributes this theory of subjectification to Foucault, who traces it back to the ancient Greeks. Deleuze elaborates on the process of subjectification in his essay “A Portrait of Foucault,” in Negotiations (New York: Columbia University Press, 1995).

4. Derek Jarman, Kicking the Pricks (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press 2010), 212.

5. Gerald Raunig, Factories of Knowledge, Industries of Creativity (Los Angeles: Semiotext(e), 2013), 151.

6. Susan Gevirtz, Coming Events (Callicoon: Nightboat Books 2013), 127.

7. Julia Bryan-Wilson, “Just Saying No,” Artforum 52, no. 1 (September 2013): 135.

8. Gander and Kinsella, Redstart (Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2013), 3.

9. Thomas Hirschhorn, Critical Laboratory: The Writings of Thomas Hirschhorn (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2013), 215.

10. Andrew Joron, The Cry at Zero (Denver: Counterpath Press, 2007), 55.

11. Ludwig Wittgenstein, On Certainty (New York: Harper and Row, 1979), 49.

12. Scalapino, The Cannon.

13. Gregory J. Seigworth and Melissa Gregg, The Affect Theory Reader (Durham: Duke University Press, 2010), 2.

14. This statement is a reconfiguring of an idea by Susan Stewart quoted in Outer Event: Lyric has no sound but recalls sound (130). My reformulation is not predicated on an acceptance of certain material aspects of both sound and form in writing as it might seem, but rather operates to draw important attention to the temporal aspects that function with respect to contemporaneity. Such attention to the here and now that occurs in the lyric are an operative and overriding principle in Gevirtz’s concept of “the event” — the here and now — of making and being made, be it lyric-making, sense-making, sentence/prose-making, or any/all other forms of making.