Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Manning & the Politics of Touch: Aleatory Reading, Picky Reading

Over at the always interesting Larval Subjects [LS], there was a post that articulated precisely my own reading habits:
One should never read a single book at a time. In the act of reading multiple texts, aleatory encounters between texts are produced like sparks arcing across two separated wires. There is no method here. Where and when such a spark will leap is not subject to calculation or prediction. Rather, such sparks are purely a product of chance. And, of course, it is necessary to add the caveat that it is impossible to read a single book at a time. As Freud famously observed in his allegory of the Roman city, and Bergson in his cone of memory, the past co-exists with the present, such that any act of reading is necessarily saturated with all the previous texts one has encountered. Yet even here the points at which texts touch one another, the point at which virtual texts and actual text touch in singularities, is entirely aleatory and without calculation. It is always an event. Perhaps there must be an Idea, Problem, or Multiplicity at work– in Deleuze’s sense of the word: a problematic field –that presides over the genesis of such relations. The principles of auto-synthesis are murky.
Although I've read parts of Dinshaw's Getting Medieval for years now, I had surprisingly not read the entire text from cover to cover, which I finally did a little more than a week ago. After finishing Dinshaw, I found myself compelled to pull Erin Manning's recent book, Politics of Touch: Sense, Movement, Sovereignty (University of Minnesota, 2007), off my "to read" shelf. Alongside Manning, I am also reading a number of works in medieval queer studies/theory, writings on temporality, and Seth Lerer's A Portable History of English, among other things. What LS calls the "aleatory sparks" that occur when reading multiple books simultaneously, the way different texts "touch in [their] singularities," seems particularly arresting in relation to Dinshaw. Despite the 'murkiness' of the "principles of auto-synthesis," I will attempt in my next post to read Dinshaw alongside and across Manning; to allow these two texts of very different historical moments to reach-toward one another. What makes such an experimental reading so suggestive is not only the obviously shared concern of both authors with a metaphorics of "touch" but also the ways in which Manning uses certain theorists (esp., Deleuze, Derrida, and Nancy) to complicate precisely what such a sensing body does. There are moments when I read Dinshaw's text where, despite my own profound affection for her project--I find Dinshaw utterly arresting in both her prose and her theoretico-political imaginings--I am left feeling empty. Something seems absent from the text, a something that I think Manning begins to help us reach-toward. My next post will formulate these ideas.

But first, I want to be a slightly picky reader. There is, to my theologically trained former self, an error at n13, p. 167. The text as printed reads:
"The Word: (o logoß). Logoß is from legw, an old word in Homer to lay by, to collect, to put words side by side, to speak, to express an opinion. Logoß is common for reason as well as speech. Heraclitus used it for the principle that controls the universe (Oxford English Dictionary)."
The note itself is glossing a discussion of the opening verse of the prologue from John's Gospel: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." The error itself is typographical. Before commenting further, let me say that I find Manning's text to be theoretically astute, and so I offer the following correction in a spirit of charity.

Firstly, the phrase "o logoß" fails to take account of what in Greek are called "breathing marks." These, like accents (which Greek also has), affect pronunciation. In the Greek text, they appear as inverted commas standing either over the minuscules (lower case letters) or next to the uncials (upper case letters) at the beginning of a word. The letters requiring such a mark are: a, e, i, o, u, w, r. These marks are of two types: smooth and rough. Technically, the smooth mark has no real affect on the pronunciation, while the rough signals a required "h" sound at the beginning of the word. This may sound trivial, but there are certain words in Greek that are spelled identically and are only differentiated by a smooth or rough breathing mark. That scenario isn't present in Manning's text; rather, one of the most elementary words in Greek is the definite article "the" which is transliterated as "ho" and not "o."

Secondly, the typography of both the nominal and verbal forms of logos are incoherent. The sigma ( an "s") that ends the nominal form isn't the German letter "ß"; rather, in Greek there are two minuscules for sigma, employed depending on where in the word the letter falls. The most common form is "σ," and occurs in all letter positions except if the sigma concludes the word, at which point the alternative form, "ς," is used. Similarly, in the verbal form the final letter is written "w," when in transliteration it should appear as a long "o," since it is in Greek an omega (ω) and not an omicron (ο). [Note that the Greek alphabet differentiates between long and short vowels for certain letters.] As it stands, typography for the verbal form appears to be some kind of hybrid, neither really a transcription nor a transliteration.

Ok, I know, maybe this is TOO picky. I apologize if this comes off as unwarranted nagging. Thoughts? Am I just being, well, a you know what? .... I will confess that my Greek is fairly rusty, but that I was still able to notice these errors even on a first glance.

1 comment:

Eileen Joy said...

Nic--just a quick note to say that I am very much looking forward to reading your post in which you read Dinshaw across/beside Manning and vice versa. The Manning book sounds like something I would be very much interested in reading [I had never heard of it] and so I await your next post with great interest.