Liminal Space

Even a casual reader of Hawthorne will immediately find examples of this obsession with the “terminator”–the term used by astronomers to denote the line on a celestial globe between the light and dark halves. We frequently see the terminator in Hawthorne (and if statement makes you want to see some murderous cyborg running amok through a Puritan village, please keep that image to yourself) ranging from the play of light and shadow in the various forests to the painted faces in a mob scene to ambiguous morality of so many characters.I bring this up now because I have just finished reading Barthes’s section called “Edges” (“bords”) in The Pleasure of the Text. As Barthes recommends for modern works, I find myself reading this very slowly, going over and over passages to make sure that every word makes an impression: no tmesis here. He says of pleasure in texts, “Neither culture nor its destruction is erotic; it is the seam between them, the fault, the flaw, which becomes so.” The edges of language provide the necessary friction, or, as Barthes puts it, the abrasions that provide a compelling narrative.For Barthes, the erotics of reading are sadomasochistic. He compares this pleasure to a libertine being hanged, and cutting the rope at the moment of orgasm (this paragraph is going to be a googletrap extraordinaire, I can see). This moment is “untenable, impossible.” He speaks of a literary language that creates a “paradise of words,” where the excess of “verbal pleasure” causes one to “choke and reel into bliss.” When I read Barthes, I not only see what he is saying, but I experience it in the wild flights of his own language. Here is a stunningly beautiful example; he is talking about this wild literary language that does all sorts of outrageous things:a kind of Franciscanism invites all words to perch, to flock, to fly off again: a marbled, iridescent text; we are gorged with language, like children who are never refused anything or scolded for anything or, even worse, “permitted” anything.That image of the author as a sort of St. Francis, standing there with his hands outspread as wildly plumaged words flit and flock about him, landing on his shoulder, fluttering in his ear, dropping little black and white splotches of poetry on his soiled tonsure, is magnificent, and it obviously inspires me to my own sort of outrageousness.But back to my point–which was what? (That was an example of anacoluthons, a term of which Barthes is enamored.) Liminal space, the edge (not the Edge with his wailing, thrashing guitar), the precipice. (That was asyndeton, another thing Barthes loves so much he not only discusses it but does it again, again, again.) Language that cuts things apart and then tries to stitch them back together provides pleasure. As I write this blog, I realize that I have cut and pasted ideas from all over, and it provides me with a wild joy as I allow my typing fingers to fly over the keys. Does this pleasure extend outward, or am I an immature writer, intent on suckling my own delusions? Or have I created a space for enjoyment with this small chunk of electrons and pixels and floating bits of magnetic memory? But this is not what I wish to discuss.The space that Barthes speaks of is a linguistic space, but I think we should expand, stretch, distort his meaning to encompass the space of imagination, that other world I mentioned a post or so ago in my discussion of Barnes. And here is where I must part company with Barthes. He makes a distinction between types of reading. One, he says “goes straight to the articulations of anecdote;” that is, one is plot-driven. The joy, he says later, “occurs in the volume of the languages, in the uttering, not in the sequence of utterances.” Although I do think that beautiful language is an important component, I think that plot, the anecdote, is one seam, the cut that separates the world of the novel from the world of the reader. Once we cross over into that world, we have achieved the bliss of traversing the dividing line into mystery.

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