4th person narration

Wang Hao at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Photograph: Oded Balilty/AP. Courtesy of
Wang Hao at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Photograph: Oded Balilty/AP. Courtesy of The Guardian.

In my new novella I experiment with point of view by developing a question—“Is there a 4th person narration?”—posed by Shanxing Wang in his extraordinary work, Mad Science in Imperial City (Futurepoem, 2005). In physics, the fourth dimension of space is time. In the context of string theory, where our universe is thought to be one of a wilderness of universes comprised of infinite dimensions of space and time that are made up of vibrating membranes of energy, I imagine 4th person narration as a site for considering narrative mode in relation to higher dimensions in physical reality. To intentionally or unintentionally engage in a narrative mode within or beyond the fourth dimension might be to read, write, or construct texts outside of time, or in all times, making nonlinearity and simultaneity points of view and spacetime a literary device.

Wang, a former mechanical engineer, is from China and now lives in New York. In 2008, during the Beijing Olympics, I spoke with him about Mad Science in Imperial City while teaching it in my Naropa graduate seminar, “The Imaginary Present,” named after a phrase by Alfred Jarry in his essay, “How to Construct a Time Machine.” We discussed the book, poetry and science, and his ongoing interest in table tennis, included in the Beijing Olympics and which I now see as integral to his understanding of spacetime, on and off the page. With his permission, I sampled sentences—the molecular matter of our conversation—and constructed a new sequence using table tennis as a model. I see this reconstruction as a nanotechnological rethinking of the conventions for how we respond to the work of others.

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Amy Catanzano: I found Mad Science in Imperial City at the AWP Conference in New York City, read it on the airplane home, and felt like I never landed.

Shanxing Wang: I began to read the Wall Street Journal a week or so ago for the first time. I think I am witnessing the formation of a supermassive black hole right before my eyes.

AC: Also, the body: historical memory, the physical markers of memory, and the performance memory of both the athlete and the writer.

SW: Like the much-hunted dark matter which shapes the large-structure of the universe? Then what is visibility?

AC: Do all galaxies (and poems) have supermassive black holes at their centers?

SW: If only you are in a techno session or a real table tennis team tournament.

AC: I saw on your blog that the Large Hadron Collider is going operational in a few days.

SW: My experience tells me that thinking and dreaming seem to be more quantum-mechanical while memory is more classical.

AC: We thought about the surface of water never being ruffled.

SW: Before 2002, I never dared to dream to be a poet.

AC: “Is there a 4th person narration?” 

SW: The quantum supercomputer must work at the center of the supermassive black hole to battle its singularity. This is just my conjecture.

AC: You subvert the realism of scientific inquiry by integrating it with personal, political, and historical contexts. 

SW: Science seems to be the true progressive and impact-making force in the modern world, in addition to some arts.

AC: One student introduced vectors and differentials.

SW: Yes, as you observe or write about them, you change them inevitably.

AC: Your book made me reconsider image, that the equation is an image, too.

SW: The gendered human body can be a fascinating thing, manifested in modern dance, body arts, and pornography.

AC: A writer constructs gravity.

SW: Poetry mediates between parallel universes of the physical, personal, social, political, artistic, poetic, linguistic, philosophical. It is in and not in all of them. The poetic object/subject and poetic spacetime emerge from them.

AC: Like you Jarry uses equations (for the “surface of God” and other “imaginary solutions”). 

SW: I am obsessed now with the relationship between critique and lyric.

AC: I feel this, too.

SW: My favorite player lost in the semi-final. He got second Bronze in Men’s Single.

AC: Your pressing present?

SW: What are we when we are reading poetry? This is a great question. We are living to the fullest extent when we are reading great poetry, maybe even more than writing, which is a hard fight all the time.

AC: At tremendous speeds.

SW: I always feel I have to fight at least on two fronts at the same time.

AC: What are the attributes that make a table tennis player a favorite?

SW: That also speaks of the speaker in relation to characters and community and construction of the struggling subjectivity.

AC: T Square as the drafting instrument, Times Square, Tiananmen Square.

SW: I really like your formulation of imaginary present. By imaginary you mean the rejection of the actual, the construction of the alternative?

AC: I have a friend whose grandfather was a world champion in table tennis.

SW: How does quantum mechanics work at the center of a black hole? How does an individual poet function and act in the center of an unprecedented empire?

AC: One entry is metaphor.

SW: My question is, how can we change or effect changes of the actual? 

AC: Especially matter appearing in multiple states of space and time simultaneously.

SW: So not exactly an epistemological foil.

AC: Like the text’s body politic?

SW: I certainly like your idea of invisible community.

AC: The students read your book.

SW: Anything predictable is a failure.

AC: [note/for later: how does table tennis relate to light speeds like a Cubist painting or Stein/object? isn’t spacetime curved? look up.]

SW: As I wrote somewhere in the book, Something didn’t really happen unless we can write about it. Happening is not just an instant in the historical sense but an infinite process/period for us to bear all its consequences (and causes). And this process constitutes our subjectivity. Think about our first love. Think about our lost love.

AC: Speed and time. She/he identity (te). 

SW: Writing seems to be the best way if not the only way to know it. Not just “an aid to memory.”

AC: But I am also interested in the hard science. 

SW: Technically it’s speed and accuracy. 

AC: You say the inventor of the word “quark” came up with the spelling from Finnegans Wake.

SW: At the highest level, table tennis is about the quickness and strength of the mind, but a well-trained and fit body is a prerequisite.

AC: A student talked about wanting to communicate and called it “reclamation.”

SW: Poems can definitely be constructed based on forms of nanotechnology.

AC: How can narration be conceptualized in the higher dimensions of the multiverse?

SW: Does a poem have a supermassive black hole? This is work-in-progress.