No Thing


Richard Marshall reviews No Medium by Craig Dworkin, in 3:AM Magazine:

Something has been fixed in. Something about nothingness, about unreadability and unwriterbility, about silence and absence, abjection and a special kind of boredom. Craig Dworkin’s book is about an aspect of this fix. He looks at “works that are blank, erased, clear, or silent.” He argues that “we should understand media not as blank, base things but as social events, and that there is no medium, understood in isolation, but always a plurality of media: interpretive activities taking place in socially inscribed places.” The last chapter gives a list of key examples of more than 100 scores and readings of ‘silent’ music.

Blanchot’s ‘gigantic’ de Sade impressed Beckett as being “jealous of Satan and of his eternal torments, and confronting nature more than human-kind.” Satan’s torments were in darkness, alone and in an eternity of ice. Jealousy is a feisty off-shoot of ambition. So why is de Sade jealous? De Sade is jealous of the perturbality of Satan. 120 days of Sodom reads like an accountant’s log. What disturbed Beckett when he read Kafka was the imperturbability. “I am wary of disasters that allow themselves to be recorded like a statement of accounts.” De Sade fails in his gigantic quest to be disturbed and so is jealous of Satan’s achievement. This links to the modern fix. In the modern fix there is a crucial disturbance freaking in blankness. There is an instinct in this stuff to not tone down what is mistakenly taken to be superfluous. Oddly, complexity and the amorphous can seem abstract. But they are correspondences of a desperate tormented plenum wriggling at the abyss. Torment in this mode stands time still, skips lives, makes space hard to cross. This is the liveliness of a “nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.”

“You would do better, at least no worse, to obliterate texts than to blacken margins, to fill in the holes of words till all is blank and flat and the whole ghastly business looks like what it is, senseless, speechless, issueless misery.” That’s Sam Beckett. Carl Andre says, “A thing is a hole in a thing it is not.” Dworkin starts to work out what he calls the logic of the substrate by examining the blank-paged poetry book Nudism in Jean Cocteau’s film Orphee of 1950. It is considered a pretentious joke in the film by Orpheus. Dworkin suggests that a sophisticated reading would get that it was a joke, but that a more sophisticated reading would refuse to get the joke. It depends on “how closely one reads a work that seems to ask only that it not be read.” At more or less the same time John Cage was delivering his ‘Lecture on Nothing’ where he said, “I have nothing to say and I am saying it.”