Writing as Strolling
Book as a Condom
The written always has a definite purpose and a ready way to reach it; the writing is but the result of aimless writing: writing as strolling. The stroller is a political subject, and the police always refrain him/her from peeping to the forbidden places. The writer is like a vagrant stray, coming in the forbidden places. (S)he is not in search of a place to reach but in search of ways to get lost. For him/her (writer or stroller?) The origin and destination do not matter, and he/she only thinks of the way, of the virginal ways and forms of going.
All truly great thoughts are conceived by walking.
(Friedrich Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols)
You road I enter upon and look around, I believe you are not all that is here,
I believe that much unseen is also here.
(Walt Whitman, Song of the Open Road)
He is a foreigner, he is from nowhere, from everywhere, citizen of the world, cosmopolitan. Do not send him back to his origins.
(Julia Kristeva, Strangers to Ourselves)
Ms. host: Is the gentlemen's way far away?
Jacques: We don't know.
Ms. host: Are the gentlemen looking for someone?
Jacques: We're not looking for anyone.
Ms. host: So the gentlemen travel depending on what they are doing and where they need to stay?
Jacques: We have nothing to do.
(Denis Diderot, Jacques the Fatalist and his Master)
And I shall travel far, very far, like a bohemian,
Through the countryside - as happy as if I were with a woman.
(Arthur Rimbaud, senation)
The process of writing, when it comes to The Writing (not the written), is something like strolling; aimless and pointless strolling; if you look at it from a dominant cultural perspective, straying. The writer is not looking for anything, but just like a stray only encounters things. So what about him searching for something through writing? The process of writing leads to the written for him, not the writing. He is trying to arrange words to achieve a certain purpose: The Written: the production line of words. Who wants to write a love letter, he puts the words together and launches the production line to produce a definite product (a love letter) and reach a definite goal (proving his love to his beloved). Love letters have certain stereotypes that make writing easy. Who desires to write a best-selling story (a written), he turns to available stereotypes and makes another definite layout of words, and launches another production line. Everything is right in its place, there is no place for imagination and deviation. But he who wants to write in vain deals with not words but the intervals between them (silences). He is looking for nothing but writing in itself, but the stereotypes surround him and keep him from writing aimlessly.
Who comes out from his home to reach a particular destination will have a simple way to go: the clichés are ready. It can be a taxi ride, a few metro stops, or a bus ride and a little walking; the composition of these clichés depends on his creativity (!). But the strayer has a difficult job to do because he must negate the stereotypes. The highways, the police, the honorable citizens, the culture, and so on are all standing against him. In a city like Washington, it is impossible to get across the city just by walking. A stray is an offender. Why? The stroller negates stereotypes and thereby questions the form of society. The governing power operates through this form (by dividing the available spaces), so the strayer stands against the power and hence he is an offender. There is an ideal alliance between a writer and a stray. Walt Whitman in the long poem “Song of the Open Road”, which is described by D. H. Lawrence as Whitman’s Doctrine, invites everyone to stroll and hit the road; Arthur Rimbaud praises bohemian and straying life, choosing to stray as his form of life, and dies just a few days after his leg was mutilated; Henry Miller often has no “room of his own” and strays in the streets and cities; Jack Kerouac always travels through the roads, forests, mountains, and cities, and always tells of his constant escapes from glowers and gazes of the police.
He who has a destination goes his way through the stereotypes, so he won't encounter what is forbidden. The strayer just follows his legs; so he can encounter whatever is forbidden. What is unseen and hidden to the public is revealed to the stray. A stray is always a political subject. The writer is also aimless as a stray: he does not want to follow the stereotypes of language which simultaneously reproduce domination’s relations. The origin and destination do not matter for him and he only thinks of the way, of the approaches and forms, and for negating clichés he needs to be aware of them. So, literature deals only with form. The writer seeks out undiscovered virgin forms, through forbidden ways, such as a painter or musician. Pierre Auguste Renoir was not looking for Madame Georges Charpentier and her Children to portray them, but they become objectified in the abstraction of his new form, and he, the painter, has just come across them, as Vincent Van Gogh has suddenly come to Le Café de Nuit in his nightly strolls, or Hector Berlioz has suddenly seen the familiar face of William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet in his wandering forms of music. But what can the Pure Form be except for falling into a meaningless abstraction? Although the writer is in search of new forms in the undiscovered ways of language, he finds things in these ways and these things will become objectified in the form; as Walter Benjamin looks like a stroller in the streets of Paris who suddenly comes across Karl Marx, “Capital” in his hand!
As we speak, we become caught up in the stereotypes of language. The form of language that culture prescribes always contains all kinds of relationships of domination. The writer can only freely write (just to write) by negating this domination: aimless and pointless writing. (William Burroughs uses the Cut-up technique to negate the hidden forms of domination in the language, by creating accidental meanings).
A writer, by negating the stereotypes of language, writes (walks) in ways other than pre-existing ways, so he can approach whatever is forbidden in the language (the Symbolic Order). So the author is always an offender.
There is an ideal alliance between writer and transgressor (translator?): the Works of Marquis de Sade, James Joyce, D. H. Lawrence, Jean Genet, Sadegh Hedayat, and Henry Miller were (are) thus banned and censored and suppressed. Crime: they have not followed the stereotypes of language and have embarked on forbidden paths. Sade reveals the hideous logic of the Enlightenment: Evil is as rational as Virtue; Joyce reveals the illusory notion of liberal individuality: the individual’s speech is formed by other discourses; Miller questions the notion of “citizen”; and all these writers say of other forms of life that have been kept out of the sight of people, because these forms, by their realization, simultaneously negate forms of domination. They are strollers of language that encounter whatever is forbidden and covered in their strolls.
The police of the status quo do not tolerate strays of language. Friedrich Nietzsche, Vincent van Gogh, Gérard de Nerval, Marquis de Sade, and Antonin Artaud die like that in European asylums in order to keep the existing order safe of what they say and write. The strays of Form are madmen of the planned world because they do not want to follow the gone ways. “That is why a rotten society has invented psychiatry to defend itself against the research of some high-minded people whose predictive power can be problematic. Gérard de Nerval wasn't crazy. But society accused him of going insane to discredit some of the very important revelations he wanted to make.” (Antonin Artaud, Van Gogh the Man Suicided by Society)
The assignment of the publishers
How about publishers? ... Much scarier! The same mentality of tradespeople, but a monster! ... Plus all sorts of deviations! That everything of you depends on them! ... Ropedancers of scam technique! Their frauds are so horribly accurate accounted point by point! So utterly twisting confusing and mazy, that if you try to understand you would get to an asylum, chained on the bed!
(Louis-Ferdinand Céline, Castle to Castle)
In addition to the pre-existing methods of domination in language, cultural institutions, publishers, and the conservative press also work to force their stereotypes on literature. (Who doesn’t know that a large proportion of literary journalists are just low-paid brokers for the big publishers?) In this respect, they take advantage of what has become already a part of the culture and fight against the genuine literature that has negated pre-existing linguistic forms and approaches, which have stepped on forbidden paths of language and form. The governing institutes endorse some forms of language in literature, publishers choose a category by testing these forms (clichés) in the market (which one of them gets more and more money?), and finally, it is the turn of the conservative press to select a few works among them, regarding the criteria of the status quo and promote them in the market. Cultural state apparatuses, publishers, the press, and the market are in search of stereotyped literature that guarantees that society, culture, and the market order are easily controlled.
As the paperback books came to the literature market, things got even worse. Maurice Blanchot had warned that with the advent of paperbacks, publishers would make more money, and it would be easier for the cultural state apparatuses to see that these books would soon be out of availability in a short production and consumption cycle: the literary books as shaving razors, condom or deodorant.
What the Cultural state apparatuses expect of the writer is to take the same worn-out paths of language so as not to encounter what is secret and forbidden.
What the publishers expect from the writer is to launch a product line of words to make money as soon as possible, and the author should benefit from the same reliable stereotypes that they had previously given their exams.
What the conservative press expects the author to do is to write based on the same clear criteria that are accepted by the cultural society and don’t bother imbecile critics.
The literary prizes come to the author as a result of the faithful obedience of the ruling cultural institutions, the big publishers and the conservative press! (Who can imagine Marquis de Sade or Arthur Rimbaud getting a literary prize?)
What the writing wants the writer to do is to not thinking about anything except to write, because the writer can only achieve emancipation and freedom by walking in the virgin paths of language and revealing what is secret and forbidden. The author will encounter a lot of things in his way and it is only his knowledge and awareness that will help him to understand things. The writer is a stroller, with extensive knowledge of the language, culture, philosophy, psychoanalysis, art, politics, economics, and more. The person who imagines being a stroller may only walk in the permissible but unfamiliar ways to him. What pretends to be a writing, how do you know that is not more than a written? What pretends to be the literature, how do you know that is not more than a part of culture? Literature is always counterculture.
This is a chapter from a book Politics of Literature published in Tehran in 2014. In the last decade has been one of the most controversial Persian books in literary criticism. It contains 9 theses on literature, one of which has been translated here, for a first time in English.