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Sunday, 13 September 2009 02:00

Invitation to ...

By  Mike Hansen
'A silver, prematurely rusting mini-van, races through the quiet, manicured, tree lined suburban streets. A neighbourhood, where hubris is the motivator for a pristine exterior, like pride in an automobile demonstrated by zealous consideration to its exterior detailing, a compulsion to clean and wax constantly, decorating through accessorizing: under lit, jacked up, vibrating sub-woofers and so on. But in the car pristine, calm and tranquil is all that it isn't. A couple in their mid to late 40s are arguing. The discussion has traveled from a simple disagreement to a full-blown battle. The level of aggravation is escalating, with Paul becoming more and more defensive and Mary-Anne more and more accusatory. Paul wonders to himself through the growing chaos, how a simple conversation can become a nightmare. But the horror is just beginning. The scene in the car turns decidedly uglier. Paul turns his head towards Mary-Anne trying to get his point across while pressing the accelerator. Mary-Anne looks at Paul trying read his expressions and hoping to confirm her presumption of his lies. Through the expletives with which they are pummeling each other, neither Paul nor his wife notice another car entering the intersection ahead, a four way stop. The mini-van, containing two vacant children's seats and the livid couple is reaching an excruciating speed. The argument has now has engulfed the whole environment, neither of them are concentrating on anything, neither the road nor the traffic. The mini-van misses the stop sign…'
From Mike Hansen's notebook

When I wrote these lines I intended the reader to become fully engaged, mesmerized by the language, the rich text of vivid landscapes, painterly portraits and the suggested psychological state the protagonists. As the participant reads his/her mind's eye engulfs the environment, a Zen state, a dream, a utopia. The conscious self translates the written texts as the subconscious provides cinematic accompaniment. Readers visualize what they believe the author to be portraying through their own experiences. Yet the subconscious is completely engaged; personal experiences are relayed in a visual component alongside the language; a parallel processing. How each interpreter sees a suburban house and neighbourhood will be unique. I grew up in a modernist suburban setting in the 1960s and 70s outside of Toronto, Canada – presumably very different vision to being raised in suburban Paris. The reader falls deeper into a trance, the hypnosis is complete and the brain is awash in interpretation. All at once the meditation is destroyed, like a ringing-answered cell phone during a conversation, the moment is gone and there is a shift into a purely conscious state. The interpreter may no longer reflect on past memories or use the culmination of all their experiences to recreate another context. The author's act of punctuation, the ellipsis (…), has altered the train of thought. The ellipsis (…) becomes a noise, a parasite [1], in the language of the text. The ellipsis (…) is an omission, an intentional one, at that. The ellipsis (…) can be seen as an opportunity to cheat the system by omitting superfluous text, to be understood through contextual clues or to continue an argument when the well has run dry.

In the opening paragraph, a number of different scenarios can be presumed: the van crashes into the car in the intersection, the driver slams the brakes and swerves to miss the other vehicle, or the crash is overly horrific and one or more characters die. The assumption of text related to the ellipsis (…) could also take the reader into the fantastical. For example, as the car enters the intersection the couple are teleported out of the car by an alien spacecraft. Or, the protagonists could turn into animated cartoon characters that do not, like Wile E. Coyote, succumb to injury. The possibilities for improvisation or participation are endless. Can the narrative interruption be termed a noise, similar to the disturbance created by an airplane, flying overhead during a calm and pleasant afternoon walk in the woods?

An airplane enters the realms of noise in several contexts: the first being an aural change. The sound of its engines, and the plane itself dispersing the air around it, forces molecules to vibrate resulting in what some may refer to as "an unpleasant sound." Jacques Attali states in Noise: The Political Economy of Music, "With noise is born disorder" [2] . This is a commonly held relationship to the notion of noise, primarily in an aural context. The second circumstance of noise is the arrival of the airplane in the aesthetic, creating an alteration to the landscape by the temporary placement of an industrial object. Unlike a bird flying by, the plane occupies no place in nature, it disrupts the sense of being at one with nature. Yet the airplane is made of the earth: its shell and frame constructed from iron, its wires, tubes, plastics and fuel derived from oil. Its interior, seats, pillows, etc, are produced from cotton. This leads to the third context of noise, the environmental impact of the airplane. It dispenses an enormous carbon footprint, from manufacture to usage, the airplane alters the landscape forever. But surroundings are even impacted by people enjoying a quiet and pleasant afternoon walk though the forest as Adorno illustrates in Aesthetic Theory. Adorno takes issue with airplane noise ruining walks in the forest – but the walk itself is the first intrusion upon the tranquility of the forest. Noise indicates more than an aural disturbance. Noise culminates in infinite forms of meaning. Paul Hegarty's text, Noise/Music; A History, best describes the denotation of noise as much more than aural, "Noise is negative: it is unwanted, other. Not something ordered. It is negatively defined - i.e., by what it is not … it exists only in relation to what it is not." [3]

In the paragraphs above I have offered a societal definition of noise. I believe this is how noise is seen and heard. Of course I too can relate to noise in these ways; I believe it to be an invitation to re-contextualize my situation. In the airplane scenario, noise can be understood as an enhancement to the surroundings (not the airplane's environmental/carbon footprint but its arrival in the canvas). The airplane's brief appearance could be said to add glissando to the pizzicato produced by the forest itself. It is an invitation that brings forth an aural and visual addition to the landscape. Unlike James Joyce in Ulysses, who sees nature or music as a true sound and manmade utterances as noise:

"Sea, wind, leaves, thunder, waters, cows lowing, the cattle market, cocks, hens don't crow, snakes hissss. There's music everywhere. Ruttledge's door: ee creaking. No, that's noise."

A noise asks us to be distracted from that in which we are engaged. I am compelled to refocus my attention towards the noise. To me this is not an unpleasant interruption but an opportunity to re-tool my thinking, a co-authoring of the canvas or the soundscape by the object's entrance and exit. A noise is a splendor, an unexpected struck cord of feedback on an electric guitar that puts the cream in a coffee during an overly sedate or redundant piece of music. The feedback is analogous to the airplane's arrival in the landscape. This attack of feedback brings us out of the groove [4] generated by the song's predictability. Daniel Levitin has observed in his book This is Your Brain on Music, that our brains' "response to groove occurs via the ear-cerebellum-nucleus accumbens-limbic circuit rather than the ear-auditory cortex circuit" [5]. The latter is our way of deciphering language. In other words music taps into primitive brain structures that are involved with emotion, motivation and reward. Levitin writes:

"Whether it is the first few hits of the cowbell on "Honky Tonk Women," the first few notes of "Scheherazade," computational systems in the brain synchronize neural oscillators with the pulse of the music, and begin to predict when the next strong beat will occur. As the music unfolds, the brain constantly updates its estimates of when new beats will occur, and takes satisfaction in matching a mental beat with a real-in-world-one..." [6].

As we listen to a song or a DJ's created pulse, external time seems to stand still, and we don't want the beats or song to end. The idea of external time seeming to stand still plays within the schema (familiarity) and is stored mentally (according to Levitin, the subconscious). Experiencing music this way is analogous to traveling with landmarks as our guides. The suddenness of an unforeseen noise brings us back to a cognizant state where we can no longer anticipate the next move. In the cognitive state time comes back in focus, along with awareness of all that is going on in the surroundings. The reaction is now conscious: it is an improvisation that invites participation.

This noise, the ellipsis (…), creates a social relation through its ability to invite improvisation, thus eliminating predictability and forcing the viewer/listener/reader/participant to become an active ingredient in the artistic process. Each reader mentally visualizes a text differently and, according to Richard Rorty, "beats the text into a shape which will serve his own purpose." [7]  This is the case in the interpretation of all forms of art where translation is guided by our experiences. Modernism challenged the notion of experience as a tool for guidance. Duchamp's "Fountain", re-contextualized our experience of the urinal, while abstract painting, primarily from the New York School, challenged how canvases needed to be viewed. As does Kurt Schwitter's poem 'Ursonate' ('Primeval Sonata'), where the language of the text offers a simulacrum of human utterance, transcribed into text to become nonsense words. The notion of nonsense words moves the interpreter into a conscious state creating a shift from one's experience of text into a no mans' land of speculation. The poem is pure improvisation and fully participatory.

Excerpt from Kurt Switter's Ursonate:

Fümms bö wö tää zää Uu rakete rinnzekete fö
Uu zee tee wee bee fümms. rakete rinnzekete böwö
rakete rinnzekete fümmsbö
rakete rinnzekete böwörö
rakete rinnzekete fümmsböwö
Rum! rakete rinnzekete böwörötää
Rrummpff? fümmsböwötää
Rum! böwörötääzää
Rrummpff t?
Rr rr rum!
Rrummpff tll?
Rr rr rr rr rum! böwörötääzääUu pögiff
Rrummpff tillff? fümmsböwötääzääUu pögiff

This is a blatant and brilliant attack, by Switters, on the alphabet – as is the airplane to the landscape. 'Ursonate' moves past the limitations and codes of word structure that arise from only twenty-six letters. The poem itself is designed to be a spoken work, though it has to be digested through reading before it can be verbalized. 'Ursonate' does not allow for any drifting into the subconscious, the work evolves only conscious processes and invites the interpreter to completely participate in its meaning. This co-authoring of the work, which is its intention, brings forth a sense of community by its ability to be shared in such an improvised way. Social interaction revolving around 'Ursonate' has little to do with its meaning or lack there of, but by its openness to interpretation.

'Ursonate' can be seen as pure noise with no interruptions by conventional text, whereas Lewis Carroll's 'Jabberwocky' from Though The Looking Glass, uses a mixture of nonsense and conventional words. Carroll uses nonsense words to bring forth fantastical illuminations, bringing the reader into a participatory relationship with the text. In Martin Gardiner's, The Annotated Alice, he claims, "few would dispute the fact that 'Jabberwocky' is the greatest of all nonsense poems in English" [8]. The poem's mix of conventional language and nonsense words creates a competition in mental processing. The conventional text allows the subconscious to picture the events written about, then he throws a wrench into our mental gears when we stumble through the noise of invented words. This first stanza of 'The Jabberwocky' includes ten nonsense words:

Twas brillig and the slithy toves,
Did gyre and gambol in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

Our schematic processing is confused, trying to translate into mental pictures the text, which is designed to cause confusion as we decipher the Jabberwocky's words into a code understandable under the rules of written English. This is another attack on the alphabet, but unlike Switters we can perceive this as violence. After reading the poem, Alice claims; "Somehow it seems to fill my head with ideas – only I don't exactly know what they are! However, somebody killed something: that's clear, at any rate." Alice witnesses violence in 'The Jabberwocky," Attali believes "Noise is a weapon and music, primordially, is the formation, domestication and ritualization of the weapon as a simulacrum of ritual murder" [9]. Attali's writings remark on the violence found in noise through its' ability to halt and how noise has always been associated to destruction, disorder, dirt and pollution. In Alice's naiveté, she finds the challenge to mental processing analogous to death. Attali sees noise as linked to the "idea of the weapon, blasphemy and the plague. 'Behold, I will bring evil upon this place, the which whosoever heareth, his ears shall tingle' (Jeremiah 19.3)" [10]. The violence Attali discusses is not in the physical sense but symbolic of an abrupt mental shift from the subconscious to a conscious state. A change of thinking is a violent act, like water pored into the face of someone asleep. This abruptness shakes the mind, the body and the soul. These acts of violence, associated with these nonsense words are analogous to the ellipsis (...) in its association to noise, the great disruptor. Jean-Luc Nancy writes of his experience of the ellipsis (...) as being gob smacked, moved from content to emptiness or death,  

"…the ellipsis which finally never closes off anything, but which calls: the "gaping mouth," there, where the ellipsis itself, and it geometry, are eclipsed by a cry. But a silent dry: nothing but altered sense" [11].

I find Nancy's reaction to the ellipsis (…) befuddling. The ellipsis (…) is not a closed door or death, but a noise of invitation/life. Noise opens discussion, creates a social situation. A community is formed. A noise draws attention as weather evokes small talk. Michel Serres acknowledges noise's ability to create: " A noise erases an order and reconstitutes another order. Noise destroys and noise can produce" [12]. The ellipsis (…) fulfills this role. I see the ellipsis (…) as a noise that produces social outcomes. Allowing all readers to re-write the author's intentions and opening the gates to participation. The author's use of the ellipsis (…) according to Nancy is a loss of thought or direction, "El-lipsis, from ek-leipo. I avoid: I avoid - writing what I write. I live off writing. I leave off writing" [13]. The argument has ended, from the author's standpoint. It has just begun for the interpreter. The mind opens and the reader rewrites the content, shifting to his or her own fantasy. Nancy's summation of the ellipsis (…) displays the frustration of the writer and in itself is an invitation to the participant, to control the text. The ellipsis (…) affects the text's state of affairs and invites a field of possibilities on the part of the participant. Improvisation becomes the act handed to the reader. Improvisation gives the reader full control. Roland Barthes comments that the ellipsis (…) is "a misunderstood figure [which] disturbs because it represents the dreadful freedom of language, which is somehow without necessary proportion" [14]. Barthes' remark brings forth the notion of the ellipsis (…) as a noise though the use of the word 'disturbs'. A noise disturbs, morphing the code of the text into a new order, a structure of freedom without borders. Improvisation is freedom, a checking of ego (a major component in the author's arsenal). The freedom of language, as written by Barthes opens the text to endless speculation, without necessary proportion. The ellipsis (…) presents a never-ending brainstorm where code and rule are deleted. The ellipsis (…) in the words of many theorists is a corruption of the act of writing. An evil devised to create a loathing in the text, moving forward the death of the author. This is the fear associated with improvisation: "… informed by that paranoid desire of the composer to communicate a full and perfect intention to an audience via the transparent medium of orchestra-and-conductor which informs the symphony-machine" [15]. Composers, conductors, artists and authors follow a priori code as they strive to control the meaning or intent of the work. Balzac sees text as a leap of the social, but not fully achieving its goal but giving permission for the subconscious to rule the text:

"The Text, … is linked to enjoyment [jouissance], to pleasure without separation. Order of the signifier, the Text participates in a social utopia of its own: prior to history, the Text achieves, if not the transparency of social relations, at least the transparency of language relations."

Balzac's use of the term language relations, translates as a passive community where a social relation creates an active community. The passive is the sub-conscious state we all encounter during the dual processing of eyes and mind while enjoying the text. The social community requires us to be alert as our systems of processing require quick thinking or instant thought.

Punctuation seems to be an aspect of the text that can draw interpreters into an active role in the authoring of a book. The period (.), the comma (,), both the semi and the colon are all-passive tools that create drama in the text. Pauses and stops help create the tension needed to keep the reader engaged. But the ellipsis (…) is an activation machine, an invitation to participate in the text, by allowing the reader to fill in the blank. This is accomplished by the experience schemas changing from sub to conscious, elimination of the cinematic sub-conscious funneling of past experiences to fulfill the author's meaning, now replaced with conscious thought, bringing the participant back to external time. Employing the analytical self, precipitating thought to bring us back to the situation around us. The participant is in a state of cognizant thought and begins to co-author the text creating what Nicolas Bourriaud refers to as a relational aesthetic – the inclusion of an act of participation in a work of art. The relational aesthetic comes to be when the work purposely, "involves methods of social exchange, interactivity with the viewer within the aesthetic experience being offered to him/her, and the various communication processes, in their tangible dimension as tools serving to link individuals and human groups together" [16]. The ellipsis (…) forms this bond of human relations as the interpreter thinks of solutions to fill in the blank. The relational freedom brought forth by an aesthetic inclusion of the ellipsis (…) in a text according to Jacques Derrida in Writing and Difference, "carries with it an unlimited power of perversion and subversion" [17]. I have to agree with Bourriaud, that the power of relations builds an active community. Derrida understands the loss of power in the text as a perversion. The ellipsis (…) is a terrorist attack on language, through losing control of the origin of the text.

Oh! The ellipsis (…): the insurgence of punctuation, the undercover code interloper, never before given the role of creation. Analogous to noise, the ellipsis (…) is described for what it is not . Loathed by writers who see their thoughts (or lack thereof), lost, substituted by the language's most powerful symbol in punctuation. How you, the ellipsis (…) shift our translation from the rein of a premeditated text to a completion of the work with our own ideas. The ellipsis (…) forms a community outside of the artist's intention. A community of improvisation, stretching meaning, distorting notions... An invitation to…

1. The parasite is the expression used by Michel Serres, Serres, Michel, The Parasite, trans: Lawrence R. Schehr, p. 253, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, London, 1982., to describe the nature of noise and how its ever evasive presence grows and engulfs all that it encounters. "The parasite doesn't stop. It doesn't stop eating or drinking or yelling or burping or making thousands of noises or filling space with its swarming and din. The parasite is an expansion; it runs and grows. It invades and occupies. It over flows all of a sudden, from these pages. Inundation, swelling waters."
2. Attali, Jacques, Noise: The Political Economy of Music, p. 6, University of Minnesota Press,
 Minnesota, London, 1985.
3. Hegarty, Paul, Noise/Music: A History, p. 5, 2007, Continuum Books, New York, London.
4. Levitin, Daniel, J., This is Your Brain on Music, p.170, Plume, New York, 2006, writes, Groove is a quality that moves the song forward, the musical equivalent to a book that you can't put down. Groove is the tool used by DJs to mix songs keeping the flow of beats on the dance floor. Levitin advances this notion, "When a song (or a series of songs) has a good groove, it invites us into a sonic world that we don't want to leave."
5. Ibid, p.192.
6. ibid, p, 191.
7. Rorty, R., Consequences of Pragmatism, p. 151, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, London, 1982.
8. Gardiner, Martin, The Annotated Alice, p.192, W.W. Norton & Co.; Upd Sub edition (November 17, 1999), 1960.
9. Attali, Noise: The Political Economy of Music, p. 24.
10. ibid, p. 27.
11. Nancy, Jean-Luc, A Finite Thinking, trans: Simon Sparks, p. 102, Stanford University Press, 2003.
12. Serres, Michel, The Parasite, p. 243.
13. Nancy, Jean-Luc, A Finite Thinking, and trans: Simon Sparks, p., 106.
14. Barthes, Roland, Roland Barthes, p. 80, University Of California Press, Berkeley, Los Angeles, London, 1994.
15. Gilbert, Jeremy, 'Becoming-Music', Deleuze and Music, edited by Buchanan, Ian and  Swiboda, Marcel, p. 129, University of Edinburgh Press, Edinburgh, 2004.
16. Bourriaud, Nicolas, Relation Aesthetics, trans: Simon Pleasure and Fronza Woods, p. 43, Les Presses du Reel, Paris, 2002.
17. Derrida, Jacques, Writing and Difference, trans: Alan Bass, p. 373, Rutledge, NY, NY, 2001.
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