The Rejection of Closure

July 5, 2009

posted by Caroline Picard

I’ve been fortunate to recieve unsolicited xerox copies of published work. I can’t take credit for it, but I love it and thought I’d share–at least the first few paragraphs of an essay well worth reading entirely–here.

The Rejection of Closure

Carla Harryman

Two dangers never cease threatening

the world: order and disorder

Paul Valéry, Analects

Writing’s initial situation, its point of origin, is often characterized and always complicated by opposing impulses in the writer and by a seeming dilemma that language creates and then cannot resolve. The writer experiences a conflict between a desire to satisfy a demand for boundedness, for containment and coherence, and a simultaneous desire for free, unhampered access to the world prompting a correspondingly open response to it. Curiously, the term inclusivity is applicable to both, though the connotative emphasis is different for each. The impulse to boundedness demands circumspection and that in turn requires that a distinction be made between inside and outside, between the relevant and the (for the particular writing at hand) confusing and irrelevant–the meaningless. The desire for unhampered access and responses to the world (an encyclopedic impulse), on the other hand, hates to leave anything out. The essential question here concerns the writer’s subject position.

The impasse, meanwhile, that is both language’s creative condition and its problem can be described as the disjuncture between words and meaning, but at a particularly material leve, one at which the writer is faced with the necessity of making formal decisions–devising an appropriate structure for the work, anticipating the constraints it will put into play, etc.–in the context of the ever-regenerating plenitude of language’s resources, in their infinite cominations. Writing’s forms are not merely shapes but forces; formal questions are about dynamics–they ask how, where and why the writing moves, what are the types, directions, number, and velocities of a work’s motion. The material aproria objectifies the poem in the context of ideas and language itself.

These areas of conflict are not neatly parallel. Form does not necessarily achieve closure, nor does raw materiality provide openness. Indeed, the conjunction of form with radical openness may be what can offer a version of the “paradise” for which writing often yearns–a flowering focus on a distinct infinity.

For the sake of clarity, I will offer a tentative characterization of the terms open and closed. We can say that a “closed text” is one in which all the elements of the work are directed toward a single reading of it. Each element confirms that reading and delivers the text from any lurking ambiguity. In the “open text,” meanwhile, all the elements of the work are maximally excited; here it is because ideas and things exceed (without deserting) argument that they have taken into the dimension of the work.

Though they may be different in different texts, depending on other elements in the work and by all means on the intention of the writer, it is not hard to discover devices–structural devices–that may serve to “open” a poetic text. One set of such devices has to do with the arrangement and, particularly, with rearrangement within the work. The “open text,” by definition, is open to the world and particularly to the reader. It invites participation, rejects the authority of the writer over the reader and thus, by analogy, the authority implicit in other (social, economic, cultural) hierarchies. It speaks for writing that is generative rather than directive. The writer relinquishes total control and challenges authority as a principle and control as a motive. The “open text” often emphasizes or foregrounds process, either the process of the original composition or of subsequent compositions by readers, and thus resists the cultural tendencies that seek to identify and fix material and turn it into a product; that is, it resists reduction and commodification. As Luce Irigaray says, positing this tendency within a feminine sphere of discourse, “It is really a question of another economy which diverts the linearity of a project, undermines the target-object of a desire, explodes the polarization of desire on only one pleasure, and disconcerts fidelity to only one discourse.”


4 Responses to “The Rejection of Closure”

  1. If one engaged in the writing process with ALL of this held consciously in the mind, could one even begin to write? Yet, you ‘wrote’ all these thoughts with deliberation, focus, and consideration about ‘writing’. A certain irony lurks here.

  2. Picard, why do you ‘love’ this piece?

    Note–I pose the question out of curiousity with easy and ‘gentle’ intent –no confrontation intended.

    • urbesque Says:

      I’m interested in the division that she addresses between interior and exterior spaces. Also, this issue of closed vs. open text. I think about the agency of an artist/writer all the time. Some people say that artists should control the critique of their work, in order to control its consequence (and interpretative meaning). Others, I think, feel like once a piece of work is created it ought to be released into the world, and once there, to boast its own life. A life which, likely, the critique would shape and enforce. Since I don’t know which way to think about it (I’m likely more interested in creating work that lives free of its author), i.e. which is better (critics can be bastards, you don’t want someone to assassinate someone on your account etc.), I like reading about how others think about it.

      Personally, it’s more important to create a piece of work that has air in it, can breathe and suffers a charming awkwardness (in which it does not answer all the why’s of its own existence) than it is to make good on a philosophy of writing. So at least for me, to answer your first question, I don’t think I could write and keep all things in mind. However, I do think that I read things about writing, or think about writing in a particular way which marinates in my brain while I’m sleeping and then appears to influence the way I write without my express attention….


  3. Self awareness is part of the process—and yet, I don’t think–based on experiences with writing and teaching–that anyone can really ‘control’ reception by any audience because of the subjective natures of human beings and the diversity of their perceptions.
    Personally, while I am acutely aware of ‘audience’–I’ve relinquished any notions of actually being able to control how readers/viewers deal with written/visual creations. I’ve been surprised so many times at the unexpected reaction/interpretation.

    Your use of ‘marinates in my brain’ is apt and seems quite appropriate.
    –thanks for the responses–

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