Placing Nonfiction – All That Bobbles Might Shimmer

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Today was the Placing Nonfiction Symposium at RMIT. Ross Gibson and Jeff Sparrow as keynotes, and then a think raft – or perhaps slew (stew even?) – of RMIT researchers presenting work and ideas in progress. Four honours students and two from last year presented, and they were outstanding. In case you’re wondering, I’m not making that up, I had people coming up to me to let me know how impressive they were, and that had outstanding students and were clearly doing something well. We are.

But enough trumpet blowing tump thumping chest beating. The notes I wanted to make were from Ross’ talk because (as often happens with his particular brand of intellectual perambulation, it provided fertile fields) it provided some new ways for me to think about some recent work and ideas.

So, these are the quick notes I took.

There is an oscillation between actual experience, the world, and the urge to account for these experiences (and the world). This oscillation is the site of fiction and nonfiction, of narrative. He used Lukács’ essay “Narrate or Describe” to outline the bipartite distinction between these two impulses. The one to go deep, to tell, the other to describe, to pass over all that is there, as Lukács says, Tolstoy and Zola. Gibson talked about this in some depth, but what I concentrated on was his comments about our acceptance of depth but our suspicion of the surface. He used a series of word riffs as epistemological prompts to talk about the task of the sheen of the surface, of sheening and shining this surface, to make it shimmer from our encounter with it. So we need methodologies of not only going deep, but of going across, sideways, transactional and transitioning with surfaces. These surfaces, our surfaces, should be buffed and shined until they shimmer and in their shimmering we find things to know, that this shimmering is the shimmering of the things to know.

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For me this is describing a surface aesthetics, or more specifically a methodology of surfaces, which is certainly a very interesting way to think about the About 7am project I’m currently doing (touched upon here, there, here again, and there) which is very much about surface. This also led me to quickly wonder in the margins if the shimmer and bobble that was being described, the glimmering between different regimes, was similar to things I toyed with years ago about text and image as different semiotic economies that then set up a frisson come wavering, well, let’s say, a shimmering, between themselves as they are bought near.

So, there was described a certain refusal to settle, a shimmering because of surface and surfaces are things that shimmer. From here he moved to Kluge and the issue of October on Kluge. There’s an essay in there that I don’t know about the silent cinema and Kluge argues that just before sound that the silent cinema was the most replete, or full, cinema. A scene, in silence, would be proposed, it would all be a contention that you, as audience, thought with and responded to. This scene was proposing ideas, and your responded with what you thought might happen, what might be. There would be an inter title, which sort of then told you what the film thought it would be, what it thinks and proposes. Yet you’d already done this, and so a sort of squabble happens between you and the film, where it contends with you, continuously. Again, for Gibson this is a movement between modes, now separated by the visual and spatial of the film image, then the different register and mode of the inter title. A flipping of modes, yet both still close enough to propose and respond, a different sort of shimmering, but a shimmering between all the same.

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And from here we traversed to Benjamin Libet’s Mind Time and what neuroscience currently thinks about time and consciousness. Here we get a model that scans what is current which is immediate, and briefly held and is now, scanning this there is a cognitive casting forward which is prospective. Again, Gibson turned this into the describe and narrate refrain, where description is the casting and scanning that we do immediately, while the narrative is this brief into the very near future (mere fractions of seconds) projection of speculative wondering what might, is, could.

That’ll do. I want to write and think about surface and shimmer, or at least riff with them as well, in some other things. Was good.