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Reading Notes

ENGL 284

Table of contents
  1. “Notes on Craft”, Salesses

“Notes on Craft”, Salesses

Observation. Craft is a bidirectional interaction between the writer and reader which is inextricably and hopelessly embedded into social totality. The material act of the narrative - doubling of story followed by the redoubling of the interpretation - necessarily reflects and refracts our social knowledge. In a phrase - Derrida’s grammatology abstracted to fiction, narrative, story. But this symbolic necessity need not be a prison: it can be liberatory and transformative, provided serious consideration is expended into its navigation.

Question. It has been established that craft is embedded as a node within social totality. But when one makes a craft, how does / should it be done? This is a complex ether we are entering (or have always already been shrouded in). Should we pursue the standard stance from the now-popular standpoint epistemology and assert that marginalized craft should be elevated over hegemonic craft to obtain ‘true’ universality? Should we instead adopt a nihilist-post(-post)modern perspective and assert that universality is dead (or was never born in the first place)? Is the hegemonic or liberatory potential of writing a property of the individual’s social position (their race, gender, class, and so on) or of something different? Popular identity politics seems to suggest the former, but Barthes reminds us to consider the possibility that the writer was always already dead, a corpse artificially animated in a wicked ritualistic dance of faux politicization. Moreover, this position is redoubled (predoubled?) by Marx, whose thinking arguably (I believe this, anyway) provides the philosophical foundations for contemporary identity politics in the first place. Can a writer who is thinking consciously about politicizing and contextualizing their writing within social totality really be ‘authentic’, or does ignorance about the formalization of embedded social totality make for authentic, organic, liberatory writing? (Can a white writer write meaningfully about the black experience - Uncle Tom’s Cabin, can the bourgeoisie write about the proletarian experience - Engels’ collaboration with Marx on Capital, can a straight man write about queer experience - Andre Aciman, Call Me By Your Name; it goes on and on.) Perhaps we should turn to psychoanalysis here (the original trauma, Oedipus). But the purpose of my long rant of questions is to highlight how the thinking on this subject is so very messy, so very complicated, and so very interesting. And of course this line of questions relates particularly to the other text on decolonizing writing.

Possibility. In my opinion, we should not move forwards with simple answers to these questions; in fact, we may even consider the possibility that the openness of this contingent field is immanent to craft itself. (This is a proper Hegelian move, one which I am fond of.) In this way, we should not write craft towards some teleology - whether it is hegemonic ‘depoliticized’ writing or hyper-activist politically-saturated writing: we should understand the complex field previously referenced as constitutive of craft itself. For instance, to be concrete, I think this should make us question totalizing/absolutist positions such as Lorde’s “The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house” (quoted in #8). It is poetic, certainly; it echoes the writing from Althusser and Baudrillard. But we should think about the ways in which the master’s tools were always already dismantling their own house. We see this everywhere: Marx writes about capitalism’s “tool” (crisis) as its own undoing; it is well-known that capitalism both reifies gender and ‘liberates’ it (some of, if not the, first factory workers in America were women); we observe similar phenomena with race and sexuality. To put it succinctly, Lorde’s position is, in my opinion, not sufficiently (dialectically) materialist: structures decay, structures are constituted by antagonism and contradiction, structures embody pharmakon - they cure the illnesses they induce. It is precisely the absolutism of Althusser, Lorde, and company which leads towards incorporated revolution: revolution which has no plan for “the morning after” (as Zizek is fond of saying). And perhaps here, the dialectical-materialist position is an optimistic one: it gives hope for us to reach a more liberatory, universal (yes - I still hold on to a particular universality) future through a more conscious craft. And this somewhat echoes the response written in the text.