LIWRE 2011

Lars Mikael Raattamaa ©
IS THERE ANYTHING OUTSIDE THE TEXT? IS THERE ANYTHING OUTSIDE THE AUTHOR?
19.6.2001

 

The first line in Max Frisch book Stiller is famous: "I am not Stiller!" The person we meet in the book try to convince the world - which consists of the prison where he is at the moment: his prosecutor, Rolf, his defender some fellow prisoner and the prison guard, Knobel - that he is a Mr White, an American and not the Swiss sculptor Ludwig Anatol Stiller, who left his wife fled the country after soviet spy scandal. The main character in the book tells all kinds of stories: about being a speleologist, about a fire in Oregon, about a homicide in Jamaica and a volcano eruption in Mexico, but no one - except his prison guard Knobel - believe him. But do we as readers believe him? I would say, at least as long as we continue to read, continue to follow the text, the following is an act of trust.

The proposition for this seminar is "The Writer Beyond Words." And I ask myself: is there a something beyond? What is it then? Who can tell? The Writer? Is the Writer somewhere over the rainbow? If we look under the words - will we then find the Author? Is there anything outside the text?

"There is no outside-the-text" ("Il n'y a pas hors-texte") "There is nothing outside the text" or perhaps rather "There is no outside to text" is one of the phrases by the late Jacques Derrida that made a lot of people angry. Perhaps someone felt trapped into some intellectual discussion where there where no way out. Maybe they got a feeling of a would without promises and dreams. But is there anyway out of this world? As the late country singer George Jones asked? A very easy explanation Derrida once made of his way of think about deconstruction that had a notorious reputation for being difficult and almost incomprehensible was: "One of the definitions of what is called deconstruction would be the effort to take this limitless context into account, to pay the sharpest and broadest attention possible to context, and thus to an incessant movement of recontextualization."

If the first way to draw the contour of Stiller is to retell all the stories he folds out, then the second line is all the people around him: Rolf, his defender, Knobel, the woman who says that she is his wife, Rolf wife who claims that she have been Stillers lover, the old man and woman who says that they are his parents, the men who insure that they have met him in the army or in the Spanish civil war. But what shall we believe? Who shall we trust? Who shall Stiller trust? Max Frisch plays on all of our feelings about trust that we are so dependant of: trust; belief, unbelief, betrayal, reliance, that kind of feeling that Adorno simultaneously calls mimesis and love, the dance. Neither White/Stiller nor his friends does ever claim the authority of tradition, even if some of them are close to it, as a kind of last way out of the process, it is like they knew that without trust tradition is nothing more than an empty commercial slogan. Neither does White/Stiller defend himself as an outsider, he is always inside something. Inside that space that often is called context. Or Trust. It is almost as Derrida said: what the text is able to do is to respatialize. trust is never an easy matter, it is always on the move do we even trust ourselves? Is trust and betrayal twin sisters? In Stiller we read:

Today once again very clear: what one have failed in once life, one can not bury, and as long as I try to do it, I will not leave my betrayal - there's no way to escape. But this is surprising: the others think it goes without saying that I can not make any other life, and therefore, they consider what I take for my life. But it has never been my life! Only in so far as I know there never has been my life, I can take it with me: as my betrayal. That is, one would not even be able to accept their delusion, play a role but that they themselves fall victim to confusion, but it must have a fixed point ... [Stiller]

Everything has a context. Even the context has a context. And the contexts context too. But we always have to recontextualize it, and as long as we trust we will always betray and be betrayed.

If the first line is imagination and the second line is trust there is also a third line. I call it the box. I borrow the word box exactly from Benedict Anderson and the book Imagined Communities, because there the three lines of max Frisch book Stiller comes together. Early in the novel, after just a few pages, the main character, get the note books the pen and the ink he had asked for when he where imprisoned. After that you don't think much of the note books - not until the last pages when the prosecutor Rolf retells the story about when he had found the note books in a box in Stillers last know living space, in a small wooden house close to the Geneva lake. Retells, recontextualize, respatialize.

But as I said I borrow the word box from Benedict Anderson and his recontextualizing of the understanding of the concept Nation. He compares in Imagined Communities the way the Nation have been used, some times conscious but more often unconscious, with the Museum the News paper and the Novel. The Novel does not work in the same way as the old Story about the Hero. The Novel is like a container, where all kinds of tales, imaginations and things can coexist. In that sense the Novel in something very similar to what Ernesto Laclau calls the heteronomic people, the beginning of politics. (But that story have to be told some other time).

These days there have been a very strong backlash, at least in Sweden, against the ongoing investigations on how the text can work without the heroic writer. Authors like Lars Noren and Karl Ove Knausgård have rehabilitated the strong (mainly male) author, the lonely man, the writer as cowboy or outsider. The history tells us that the cult of celebrities starts with the Writer functioning as the Outsider, and a new born fetishism of the book as a commodity pronounced on television and in daily newspaper and magazines. "Now it is no time for language as a process nor for the infinite context of the text without a centre" seems to be the proverb of today. But being afraid of the incomprehensibilities of languages, and the text without a centre, the risk is that we today replace the text by the author. As Max Frisch says:

So, I wonder too: Is it possible to write without having to play a role? You want to be a stranger to yourself. Not in the role, but well into the unconscious decision that I assign myself the role is my reality, my truth. Sometimes I think that you yourself crawling out of the writing, like a snake out of its skin. That is, one can not write oneself, you can just pull off your skin. But who would harbour any interest in this dead skin? The ever recurring question if the reader really can ever read something other than herself out of the written, is superfluous. Writing is not to communicate with readers, not even to communicate with yourself, but to communicating with the ineffable. The clearer you can express yourself, the cleaner seems the incomprehensible, the reality that animates and afflicted the writer. We have the language to be dumb. [Stiller]

It is a demand from the commodity market that require the author to become a new descendant in the line of producers of truth; it is the centralised competing institutions of celebrities that stipulate the function of the author to be the outsider; and it is the order called out that we today need homogeneous nations that require the author to be a hawker of fetishes selling authentic and even more authentic emotions and traditions, advertised as desires and dreams.

Max Frisch tells us about another way, to investigate and continuously produce the world - with words beyond the writer: a world of imagination instead of truth production; a world of heterogeneous peoples joined together by trust (and betrayal) instead of the homogeneity of the outsider, and foremost - in Stiller Max Frisch shows us the importance of how to learn to think inside the box.

Monsters cannot be announced. One cannot say: 'here are our monsters', without immediately turning the monsters into pets..