I want to say that the poem, not through the material support given it by language, but on the strength of its being a poem of the language, is given immediately, through the clarity or renewal of vision it insists on, as the ‘in-itself’ of language. The being of the poem as poem is a pre-analogical or pre-predicative semblance, which stems (to adapt François Laruelle) neither from ‘iconic manifestation nor from pragmatics or the norms that make of the poem a verbal index, but from the poem’s non-specular manifestation of Identity’. What is at issue here is a non-ontological thought of essence, a thought not to be confused with the active construction of essence on the basis of a philosophical or logical conception of identity: it is rather that the identity to be discovered is an identity in the Real, which is founded passively, and which, by virtue of that passivity, is philosophically sterile. The poem takes place in a mode of immanence, and therefore no burden of proof is required of it. By which I mean that the thinking of poetry, or the poem (as I conceive of it here), is not constructed on the basis of a model derived from philosophy or aesthetics. Rather, thought of what poetry might be, or what the poem might do, is immanent to the poem, and is only to be discovered by a stance or posture towards it that is non-philosophical. The poem may thus be seen as an enactment of an intrinsically realist knowledge directed towards the Real, rather than the World. The poem is, one might say, thought-experience, rather than ontology, thought-experience occasioned by the Real. (Thought-experience is comparable, in many ways, to the seeing of aspects.)
If this seems unduly obscure, I would suggest that what is at issue is a matter of relieving poetry of its un-thought philosophical residues, one of the most obvious of these being the ‘representational’ fallacy, namely, that the poem is about this, that or the other, a position shared by commonsense and most dominant regimes of philosophy and aesthetics. I would insist against this position that the poem is not so much an object as it is its own Reality: it does not merely engage with the World (though it may do so), it seeks to identify the Real. It is the thing, and possessed of the same ‘affect of identity’ as the thing. Distinctions between Being and beings, ontological and ontic, form and content, as well as the distinction between the transcendent thing and the transcendence of the thing, lose their purchase. As distinctions, they have, one might say, become strictly identical or indiscernible. The identity at issue is not constructed in logic, nor is it any synthesis of form and content, sign and thing, signifier and signified. It is an identity of the Real, and as such it is non-totalising: in Laruelle’s idiom, it is a non-decisional self-identity. To clarify this notion, one might draw an analogy with the quantum mechanical phenomenon of superposition, where all the possible states of a physical system co-exist, including the mutually exclusive ones. The poem, as part of the Real, relates to the Real mereologically (in the manner of a fractal), rather than in the mode of representation, as an application, say, or example, or illustration. That is, the poem is immanent to the Real rather than transcendent of it: it is a matter of its being of one kind, of sharing one quality, with the Real. One might call a poem thus understood a ‘meta-poem’, ‘meta-‘ being taken as ‘beyond’ in a purely physical sense, beyond our standard vision, on the periphery, on the margin, just glimpsed. Laruelle identifies this necessarily situated glimpse with what he calls posture or, as he puts it, ‘force (of) vision’:
what does it mean for the transcendent posture to realise itself as force (of) vision, if not to suspend from the outset or to immediately reduce the transcendence of the World, and all the phenomena of authority that follow from it?
To answer that question requires one to consider what poetry does, what it performs, as a function of the immanence of the force (of) vision. And this in turn requires one to recognise that to speak of ‘force (of) vision’ with respect to the poem is to speak of the poem as a way of seeing or ‘way of looking’ that traverses and animates the materiality of its own processes in thought-experience occasioned by the Real, while at the same suspending the power and domination of the world.
What holds of the poem holds also of the human essence. Inasmuch as it is of the Real, it too stands apart with respect to the World, and this means that it also stands apart with respect to time. The subject, the ordinary human being, does not have his or her being in the world, but simply for the world, being subject to the world in the most usual sense. The crucial point is that the human subject is, in his or her being, separate, and separable, from the world. That is, the subject and the world are different, due not to some relation of difference that holds between them, but to separation as such. This means that to temporalise or historicise the subject is to fold the essence of the subject into the play of the world and, as a result, into its inevitable violence. However, the position being insisted on here means that the human subject is not to be understood as a dimension of temporal ecstasis, as Heidegger and many others have had it. Something else is at stake: in the words of one exponent of Laruelle, ‘when it comes to what matters for humanity, the category of history holds no meaning, and the concept of time no promise’, or, to put it another way, the fundamental separation between humanity and the world is also a fundamental separation between humanity and the world of time. The future is not in the process of arriving: it is an ultimatum already here. Nor does the past pass away: the human essence or singularity, that which is ‘in us more than we ourselves’, exists out of time, as what has been excluded and despised by the temporality of the passing world; it is the stone the builders have rejected. The poem, occasioned by the Real, is therefore the voice of a humanity exploited and betrayed, subject to murder and violence, and to a persecution that is simply the distinctive mark of a continuous revolt against a world whose banal and interminable attempt is to relate every struggle or need to a struggle or need within the world. The poem speaks from a position separate from the world, its utterance being that of a subject out of time. This means that the utterance of the poem is operating from the Real, and what it speaks from is an Identity, not a Universal: it speaks from and not of its identity, and without, as Laruelle has it, ‘the identity in question being constituted retroactively by the materials of which it makes use’. The identity in question is that of a strangeness that is not an estrangement, and is to be encountered outside of any process of having become estranged, or having been identified, beyond any mixture of transcendence and immanence, discourse and reality.
It is not only in poetry and photography but also in the cinema of horror, beginning with Nosferatu (1922) and on at least to Eli Roth’s production of Daniel Stamm’s The Last Exorcism (2010), where issues surrounding the Real have come to compelling performance, and disclosure. The films in question do not exemplify what is at stake: it is rather a question of what they enact, what they bring about (a point made forcefully by Roth himself during an intervention at a festival in London in 2010). The following poem, by Simon Smith, is likewise no example or illustration of the position I have attempted to set out. It is a work in which the poet is both present to the discontinuities of life and removed from any position of authority that would give him leave to impose meaning where meaning is otherwise elusive. The poem is a reverie, composed of commonplace events and memories, with no attempt to force significance onto what does not require it. What meaning the poem has is inseparable from, and constituted by, its taking place.
locale lyric& all the ls
a shell where a mollusc dwells
worn almost flat
then after the beach & marina
I imagine the troopships & minesweepers
were they painted zig-zag black & white to confuse
later hauling nine kilos of gold
curtain the damp halfway up
down the street all the way to ‘Paris’ for dry cleaning
next text – see-you-afternoon-or-evening-Thursday
don’t be wobbly be lovely
The elements of the poem are organised into self-interfering patterns internal to syllabic echo and syntactic folding and unfolding, turn and re-turn, which amounts to saying that the elements are superposed. Furthermore, it is in the context of such a patterning of self-interference that the poem is able to assert an identity whose manifestation in the poem is without consistency, that is, an identity defined in terms of what Laruelle has called ‘the separated middle, which is neither included nor excluded, neither consistent nor inconsistent’. One can say, on the basis of arguments offered thus far, that for the poem to effect such a construction of the separated middle out of superposed elements is to effect identification with the Real: inasmuch as the poem is set alongside the Real, not so as to represent it but as a re-discovery or immanent presence of it, the poem speaks, not from equality with, or equivalence to, the Real, but from the Real itself.