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1. Formal relation(ships) & the geometer's art When a poet sets out to write a specific form, like a sonnet, rules of symmetry and rhymes enable the reader to encompass that structure : the specific relates to the whole, it requires architecture. Points and counter-points in musical writing also offer such euphonies and symmetrical design. A precise architexture rules the very fabric of Only Revolutions : every single line can be perceived in several relationships. These links offer jump-points & remembrances. Many aspects of languages are at work here — let us get into a geometrical mood to unveil the symmetry of OR, in order to build a compass for the traveler. (S will stand for Sam's narrative and H for Hailey's. SA for page number A and so on) 1. The P Concordance If we stay inside a single narrative vo i c e ( S a m ' s o r H a i l e y ' s ) , a symmetric relationship connects each half of their story. In this circular time, page 1 is connected to page 360, and going from there, if A is the number of the page, then every A is linked to A' with A'=361-A. Thus 48 corresponds to page 313. It is the same equation to be found in the circling and encircled enumeration/pagination that shows how the two narrative co-exist. This relationship could be symbolized by a parentheses. From going down the mountain to climbing the mountain top. Like a musical score played in reverse, we hear the same themes strangely twisted : key-words, oppositions, similarities and answering notes. This relationship is also sensitive to the organization of the page : the first line or couple of lines of page A
corresponds to the last lines of page A'. Here is a (very) basic example:
p. H/239 l.1 passing spoons around. l. 17 -Here’s to let Autumn fall where it wants. p. H/122 l.4 -Here’s to keeping it summer. l. 16-17. stir a pot of soup with forks
Seeing other feed // calling to the seasons : it is a net of leid-motivs. Remember that the revolution that led from the papyrus roll, the medieval volumen, and the codex form that we call book is based upon the techniques of folding and binding paper. Here's one of the first topological elements : in such an ideal binding, the cover and the back-cover are part of the same sheet, and each page has a subterranean link to another page. The binding would take place at page 180-181 where one half folds on the other, through spatio-temporal chiasma. 2. The R Concordance Between each narrative voice there is a sensible similarity, as if the same story (or the same kind of story) was told by a different consciousness. These are parallel narrative, two different diegesis : we will call it the R concordance. Those two versions share the same page number, the same diegetic pace (beginning, middle, end) but the date in their Chronomosaic ( the time of the narrative) differs because the two narrative start at two different dates (1863 for Sam, as indicated also by the changes in vocabulary and lingo as years pass) and 1963 for Hailey.
This R concordance allows the
reader to turn the book from page SA to HA to find that alternative vision. Here's a strong parallax effect, we look in the same direction and see/hear two different things : « —Forgive me, your eminence. / I can't accept such riches. » (p. S/55) versus « —Beat it Free Loader and take / your take toxic crap with you.» (p. H/55). Contradiction, discordance : this is even stronger when it relates to the body. « He gently strokes Hailey's cheek » (p.S/201) becomes « He slaps me hard across the cheek » (p. H/201). The whole scene at the diner between VIAMEPOLIS/VIAPAPONACCI and Hailey oscillating between abject cooing and attempted rape highlights such tension between two subjectivities : and one may add that even in real life, in court, testimonies can vary. Jealousy, a glass of wine, exhaustion after work, prejudice : all could affect what we see & what we feel, and the way we interpret it. This twisting of the book so peculiar of Only Revolution is halting at first, and then becomes more fluid, as we can estimate our landing point, judging by the thickness of the book and the timeline. Thus Only Revolutions implies and encourages a certain number of gestures, operations, building a practice, an experience around the physical book-object.
3. The P' Concordance Combining the two relationships we have established, we can obtain a third : the P' concordance which enables an effect of inter-diegetic (inter-narrative voice) parenthesis. Of course, this is the first thing a reader may discover upon opening Only Revolutions on the first page, and turning it upside down, only to discover the end of the other narrative voice. Thus numbers are symbolical (360 pages, 360 degrees) and the author’s level of attention to detail is almost absolute : then the 2x90 words per narrative page are not only a mathematical trick, they allow this entire network of concordances where not a single word is left unaccounted for. As Sam and Hailey's narratives are printed upside-down, HA' is always found under SA, woven into a network of semantic mirrors and gateways.
There, on each page a vertical AB/BA chiasma is always present, offering each page as a two-voice poetic reading, a canon, a duel, a duet.
Each line is thus magnetized with its visual correspondent, upsidedown on the same page : charged with the things and words to come, colored by the sentences and promises already spoken. On every page the prophetic and the nostalgic collide, backlashing through boomerangs and mirrored rays. Some words stand out and answer each other, even in reverse : « sunnyastounding » (p. S/ 42) speaks to « snowsurrounded » (p. H/318) and time talks to time.
To compensate for this (somewhat) austere demonstration, we would like to offer the reader a compass that sums up the semantic bonds of every line or page of Only Revolutions; the form of that compass may be that of a single link in that net of a book:
On every single page of the book, you are standing at one of those four corners. This is the frame of our concor-dance. No explication, no contextualisation accompanies these symmetrical rules. The edifice is left to the reader's eye to be explored, felt, and understood, at the pace of his or her own manipulations and reflections. The central symmetry of the spreading page 180-181, far from being a simple re-iteration, is the key of that entire system, where these schematics of mine condese into a single point, the only real instant of concordance between Sam and Hailey : their only, rare and precious unison, before the amplitude of their discordance grows again.
Each word, enchased in this triple game of echo, alteration and opposition, calls in to mind the legacy of the French poet Mallarmé. From his own words, what is Un Coup de Dé except "a renewed conception of the literary space, enabling new relationships between words through new frames for new movements". Topology offers us an intellectual take on those paradoxical spaces : we will now try to find a model which may welcome all our hypotheses. For if the manipulation of Michel Butor's last book makes it a Gyroscope, what do we transform Only Revolutions into ? Polish writer Zenon Fajfer asked in his essay on Liberature : "Shouldn’t the shape of the cover, shape and direction of the writing, format, colour, the number of pages, words, and even letters be considered by the writer just like any other element of his work, an element requiring as much attention as choosing rhymes and thinking up a plot ?" We see here that MZD put a lot of work into shaping a new kind of epic poem, where form, pages, orientation and rhymes are bound into the same set of rules. But yet again : what is this form ?
Mobilis in Mobile : all along the Möbius band
Only Revolutions is a cyclical system : at the end of Sam's narrative, the reader is invited to go on seamlessly unto Hailey's, turning rather than closing the book. Both the first and the final page take place on a mountain-top. Or rather the mountain-top, a symbolical roof of the world, and highest peak : in some kind of Nietzschean "eternal return", one story foretells the other and/or is preceded by it. Another hint embedded in the text, the first letter of each 8page section, when concatenated, perpetually spells "HAILEY AND SAM AND HAILEY etc..." on Sam’s side and "SAM AND HAILEY AND SAM AND etc..." on Hailey’s .
These eternally recurring stories seem to illustrate some kind of Nietzschean "eternal return", which can be both joyful and inexorable. "What if a demon were to creep after you one day or night, in your loneliest loneness, and say: "This life which you live and have lived, must be lived again by you, and innumerable times more. And mere will be nothing new in it, but every pain and every joy and every thought and every sigh— everything unspeakably small and great in your life—must come again to you, and in the same sequence and series__" Would you not throw your self down and curse the demon who spoke to you thus? Or have you once experienced a tremendous moment, in which you would answer him: "Thou art a god, and never have I heard anything more divine!" [The Gay Science (1882), p. 341 (passage translated in Danto 1965, p. 210).]" Thus, this love story must re-enacted, and the suffering of parting re-lived through, but thus the meeting of those two souls can endlessly happen again. There exists a topological model in which, precisely, one goes from face A to face B seamlessly : the Möbius strip. Its paper patron may have two faces but the object, paradoxically, has only one because of a twist, a turn. The very notion of a love where two consciousnesses hope to melt but remain irreducible is akin to the shape of a Möbius strip where singularity and duality exist on a common plane, ligatured into a very unique relationship. So let us suppose such a patron, with a few more characteristics : there's a two-lane highway, each going opposite way and each lane representing the entire narrative of Sam or Hailey, taking 100 years to cross from page 1 to 360. Let us also thin our patron exactly at midway : this is page 180, a singularity point, where all paths meet.
The Möbius strip has only one face, but driving along that strip we perpetually go from one lane to another, from a one narrative voice to another, staying true to the «Volume 0 :360 : ∞)» mentioned at the beginning of the book. And here we have the topological identity of Only Revolutions : Starting at S1, we may without changing our lane go on to H1 and eventually come back to S1. Any vertical segment on the strip represents the P concordance between SA and HA' : it matches the way the book is printed. The reader, looking at the bottom of the page he’s Reading, is looking at the other lane, turning the book upside-down is changing lane at this precise point. Should one "dig" a hole in the strip at SA he would find himself on SA' (P effect). On the other side, the vertical segment is SA'/HA (P' effect). Build that Möbius strip, play with it : every manipulation brings us closer to an intellectual and physical understanding of how words, events, sequences relate to each other in Only Revolutions. Distance, simultaneity and order take new meaning on a Möbius strip, for this is a strange loop (as Hofstadter would put it). Turning the book around, closing it, reopening it : all those moves echoes topological ones. True, when the book is closed while we turn it, there's something like a free-fall : but on a ring-world, that very road may be able to catch your fall. A Möbius strip usually doesn't have any orientation, but in our model lines follow their narrative, and the singularity point acts like a gravitational pull; you can always relate to it. If
we but add the Chronomosaïc dimension to each timeline, we see these highways roaring through our own world's History. This oriented, inhabited strip may also very well be haunted by another force. The Creep's strange apparition, above all, seems to be favored by the topological characteristics of the Möbius strip. If we picture him on the "road" he only has to jump to another lane to wait for the arrival of the characters. Staying still on a Möbius strip is also a very good way to lay an ambush. As a pin, he would represent the ubiquity of a being standing on both the beginning and the end of a story.
a. Interferences and time-paradoxes. Can we use those geometrical models and mathematical formulas to help us put in perspective some of Only Revolutions’ mysteries ? May be. Take page(s) 135, in both versions the couple stops the car, wanders away from the driving lane and goes for a quickie. After making love, they witness another couple going for it, and they laugh at their clumsiness and animality. p. S/135 : Hiking back we pass TWO LOVERS / struggling upon our paths. Howls, clutches and ouches. / Both of US snicker. Who could those "two lovers" be? There's more than a simple coincidence at work here. «! Hiking back! » to the place where they left their car, they could very well be, in some way, going backward on their Möbius lane : going back to page 131, where they left their vehicle, they do catch themselves in the act. Back on their own track in this spatio-temporal system also means back in time, back in text. But if there is something very clear in the first half of Sam and Hailey's stories, it is the inaptitude of the egoistic narrator to consider a self beyond its own, and thus they may cross their own reflection without even understanding this mirror effect. Taking some steps backward, in this full-thrust-forward of a story, the narrator sees his own immediate past, but it's already gone, estranged. Sam and Hailey live in such a vivid and adolescent present tense that it blinds them to any other temporal dimension. Erotic descriptions in Only Revolutions are both very inventive and lyrical, but our very own eroticism is pornography to the eye of the beholder, thus the terse, merciless observation of Hailey : p. H/135 Jerks, grunts and curses.1
«Ruades, grognements, insanités..»
Moments ago, the narrator was engaged in bliss; now mockery, laughters are the best way to shut alterity out. Eroticism was the lively language of their sexes, but they would not apply it to this other couple : it's the symbol of their defiance against the outer world, and their own blindness. As this text moves forward and backward, we see how malleable time is in Only Revolutions. When we say that they saw "themselves", this could very ambiguous in context, they could also see the other lane's version of themselves, by some kind of transparency of the Möbius strip. Hailey's Sam and Hailey, seeing Sam's Sam and Hailey and vice-versa : this would qualify as an inter-diegetic paradox. b. Skipping stones This notion is better shown when one of the lover suggest to the other a watery game : p. S/140 : - Let'S skip stones At this still-megalomaniacal stage of the narrative (the ego of the narrator waxes into gloom after page 180, but this is another matter), the narrator succeeds in all his throws, excels in
p. S/140 I flick skimming chips across the water east to Chattanooga, south to Baton Rouge. p. S/141 : No hops. Hardly surprising
distance and rebounds, while the other one's stones just splash pitifully into water :but here, something strange happens : the narrator find himself praising the other one's failures : p. S/142 : But here's a surprise : midchuck for another murgeyser thublunk I actually commence celebrating her panache. My hands repeatedly clapping. Fascinating. What is going on here ? Each narrator seems to be responding to a stimulus belonging to the other one's diegesis, in which this failure/success situation is inverted. Does the promiscuity of the two narratives over the "other" face of the Möbius strip come here with some side effects ?
Here, something is revealed, a veil is breached, though the narrator quickly forgets about it, the reader should pause upon it. Perhaps, for a moment, each narrator is under the influence of a story, a universe parallel to theirs : let us remember that this scene is staged by the "River Marsh" (H&S/140), and this water-plane carries along all kinds of interesting notions. Transparency, depth, but also reflexivity. The paradoxical surface of water is a place for illusion and mirages, it may also explain the "transparency" we imagined in our Möbius Strip. At this point, each reality could be the altered reflection of the other, in an ambiguous state where avatars could unwillingly switch place. Thus, briefly, the protagonist becomes the auxiliary, and applauds his hero. There's an uncanny feeling at work, is it the Freudian unheimlichkeit, where the subject suddenly slips away from his usual psychic landmarks ? There's a river, a band, a stream : no symbol does express more universally the going of time, but time here is a substance, a medium, an architexture :
p. S/141 : I am the flux. And all gambols too. p. H/141 : I am the flow. And all the bounces too.
The reader of Only Revolutions is also the one skipping stones, as it matches well the non linear reading he can practices with this book. It reminds me of Montaigne advice to read "à saut et à gambades" (through with jumps and gambols), with a certain degree of freedom in interpretation.
c. The singularity Out of this interference, each narrative remains very distinct in tone, but there one point of the book where they are literally tangent. Two parallel lines are not supposed to meet, but in noneuclidian geometry, they may be subjected to different rules. According to the theory of relativity, gravity can bend light, influence time itself, and thus the two pathways of Sam and Hailey are curved toward a singularity point where the same text is found in each narrative. Where the fonts have the same size, where some kind of equilibrium is reached in this rising and waxing story. It's a common place, a common time, a lovers' dialog, or better : fragments of a amorous speech (Barthes, anyone ?).
The narrative sequence at the heart of the symmetrical network we have exposed actually goes on from pages H&S 177 to 184, but it culminates on the page spread of 180-181 (is it a double page ? a quadruple page ?), the binding center of the book. Here the text is repeated, and sound like that precise moment in Bach's Crab Cannon where the two musician, having started one at the beginning, the other at the end of the musical score, reach at the same time the central note, it is also reminiscent of one of Mozart's mirror-score, that could be placed between two musician. Here two readers can face each other and speak aloud the same page. Mere repetition, in any other work, could be considered lazy, but in Only Revolution the reign of all those symmetrical relationships truly makes it the eye of the storm, where all the stylistic momentum comes to effect. A chamber of echoes, a chamber of mirror where we could stay eternally, exploring the tone and substance of this singularity. And yet that moment is incredibly frail, fragile, as gravitational forces pull each lover away from the other, to perform the end of the tragedy : p. H&S/179 : But who all chases US ? / - Only US - And outlaws US ? / - US. -How ? / -By something wide which feels close. / Open but feels closed. / Lying weirdly / across US. Between US. Where we're / closest, where we touch, where we're one. / Somehow continuing on separately.2 The book itself is balanced, in its substance, its thickness, laying open on a table : turning the page would not be a genuine gesture. It is an erotic dialog, verging on the geometrical, the metaphysical : «- Below there. Lower. Longer now. Slower.» (p. H&S/182). And the crude simplicity of the words «-Now ? - Yes. - Again. -Yes»(p. H&S/183) relate to many possibilities. Language is stripped to its purest form : an «O.» of unspecified duration, onomatopoeia of emotion, peak of orgasm, symbol and circle of totality, wholeness. Here, the English neutrality of the adjective enables this sexual tension : in French or German, we would quickly know which adjective qualifies whom. The green and gold colored o, ever the markers of the speaker's narrative are even mixed up in certain words, and that chromatic proximity makes the dialog even more ambiguous : who
«-Mais qui noUS poursuit ? -Juste noUS. -Et qui NoUS proscrit ? -noUS. - Commment ? - Par une immensité qui se rapproche. Ouverte mais quasi fermée. Gisant bizarrement entre noUS. Là où noUS sommes le plus proche, où l'on se touche, où l'on est un. Et se prolongeant séparement. »
speaks ? «Only US » : in turns, at unison. (p. H&S/179). «That's too easy» (p. H&S/177) : happiness is also tainted with incredulity But it's not a repetition, nor re-iteration we witness there : it's more akin to literary ubiquity. There's US, at last. An eclipse. Those two beings belonging to different timelines do meet in that nest. There, perhaps, Sam's Hailey and Hailey's Sam are simply Hailey and Sam. From why-not to a knot, the couple comes to being and feels the forces that rule its surroundings, that pull, that drive : a history. Ubiquitous text : in and out of time. A poetical universe ruled by a incredible number of restraints gives way suddenly to a weightless state, a locus amoenus. Isn't it that "certain point in spirit where life and death, reality and imagination, the past and the future, the expressible and inexpressible or even up and down all cease to be perceived as contradictory" ? To this definition Andrée Breton added "there would be no point to search for a motive in Surrealist activity, other than in the hope for the determination of such a point". Could topology help us get further ? The will to to build a book, to make an architexture of one's own, the freedom to dream through language and resucitate the epic : for this one may inherit from both the formalists and the surrealists. Only Revolutions' architexture hosts an "échapée belle" and tells of an "amour fou". Danielewski claims this alliance of precision and blur, freedom and restraints, when he speaks about the proteiform aspect of his characters : « Sam and Hailey are every race, every shape, it is impossible to create an image of their particular facial structure and somehow when you read you can see how they are some kind of quantum haze that you approximate mentally » That «quantum haze» asks for an open state of mind, with open choices, like a translator keen on polysemy. A book with two covers & two entry points inserts such an indetermination in a world of books with a single entrance and road : quantum physics teaches us about floating identities, probability clouds and unquantifiable jumps... Being less absolute in our choices and interpretation, acknowledging variations, ubiquity and hosting parallel propositions.
Call it a quantic sensibility, or a sensibilization to our(s) and or(s): a new relationship to wor(l)d(s).
-Noam Assayag, Paris, 2010