McKenzie Wark, Dispositions, Salt Publishing, Australia, 2002.
University of Technology, Sydney
What is a home seeking body? What are the aesthetics of migration?
Antennae out, tentacles telescoping space for home. The body extending itself
in space, the body of the family or the group, perhaps.
—McKenzie Wark, Dispositions.
1. What does it mean ‘to be at home,’ or to have a home? that familiar space we inhabit which is comfort and comforting, where we ‘lay our hat’ and ‘where the heart is?. The concept of home is encoded with many meanings that include placement, belonging, location or position. Yet the space one calls home is not universally available for many subjects, nor is it evenly experienced.
2. Home is what we yearn for when we are away, and where we return after a journey. But for some, the displacement of the journey never ends; the search for home is a constant flux of arrival and departures, exits and entries to and from various locations. Home no longer exists as a fixed site of belonging but is transformed into a space which is simultaneously curved and parallel, sometimes crossed by roads and sometimes more intangible, shooting off at high speed down the highway.
3. It is here in this space, between here and there, wedged between the world of words, the city of ‘spoils’ and the city of ‘ruins’ that Mckenzie Wark’s Dispositions explores the dialectic between place and displacement, entries and exits, words and worlds. It is here that the crises of identity comes into focus as the author seeks an identifying relationship with the self and the landscape. This is the space, caught in the web of many voices and citations ‘dwelling in the moment, dwelling in its wound where Wark signals a way of speaking as a mode of performance in the everyday experience of ‘Times Othering’.
The longing, dangerous longing, subtracting an image from time as it tumbles, making a fixed point of it. The longing in that faking for a home. If you can make it here, then you can make it anywhere. It’s not an ambition that is at stake, but a homing instinct. The effort to stick to this smooth surface. In spite of the callusing cold.
4. This dialectic between place and displacement that rises to the surface and speaks of who we are is mapped on a landscape where culture and history are attached with explicit meanings, making the landscape a trope of endless search. ‘The writing of migration. In Australia, so much about arriving, so little leaving,’ writes Wark. ‘Can we be a we in the wider world?’ he asks. ‘What is it like to belong there, beyond the island pouch?’ This sense of ‘knowing’ experienced by the contemporary writer, writes Muecke, not only legitimates his point of view by adding to existing views of the world, ‘but traces a path (which the reader will follow, avidly of course) showing how [he] got to this position and what is at stake’ (Muecke 2002: 125).
I I I I I I
5. The place to which the writer travels has its own objective reality as well as an imaginative reality. But there is also a place from which the writer travels, shuffling between here and there, inside and outside the word and the text. In this space of writing, the voice of the author gives way to a subject ‘who says I, ‘who is individualised on the level of the utterance, but [whose discourse] is composed as a form of bricolage, where various devices are inserted into the text to produce ambiguities in meaning. ‘The art of writing [is] put on the same plane as other codes through which domains are noted and grooved’.
6. By deploying intertextual devices and analogies such as writing to a parallel text, Wark invokes the absent text that hails the ‘redundancy of writing and it’s absorption into other kinds of codes, its disseminating seeds, its probing digits.’ As the author and the narrator, the subject matter and the subject, the metaphor and the trope, Wark’s distance as a critic collides with his ‘interiority’ as the author. In other words, ‘the identity of the author is very much as stake here in terms of the everyday lived experience of the individual. In this case, the identity of the author ‘declares itself as a politic to be viewed, reviewed, contested and above all engaged with’ (Nettlebeck, 1998: 12)
Being separate from the language spoken all around. The space entirely mine. The crush of bodies. Small of other humans all exploiting their capacity for movement. I am a migrant too now. I a vector, not a point.
7. As a ficto-critical text, Dispositions blurs the distinction between the politics of identity and unsettles discursive boundaries between spaces/places, whether actual or digital, real or imagined - the masculine and feminized spaces between Australia and New York City blurring places in time or memory. ‘Nostalgia for space, for when space mattered’…. All the colours caught between.’
I I I I I I
8. When I began reading Dispositions, I found myself running out of words. The text took me to the edge of the city of words, the limits of language, where there were no more words left in the place I found myself. The landscapes began to change colour and the terrain became feral and strange. I found myself precariously at the precipice where language was wedged between academic thought, between the simulated observations of Jean Baudrillard, the cacophony of exiled voices of Edmond Jabes, caught in the contagion of times infinite wonderings and the wild topography of Deleuze and Guatarri. I too found myself creating new texts and contexts for the everyday lived experience of a simulated reality. I too found myself caught in the web of artifice.
I I I I I I
9. Dispositions is about searching for words/worlds; a way of reading that opens up a space where the voices and presence of the Self, silenced by the ruptures of dislocation, can be felt and heard. Its effect, ‘[is the] collapsing of the ‘detached’ and all-knowing subject into the text, so that his (or your) performance as writer includes dealing with the problem all contemporary writers must face,’, says Muecke: the ‘how the hell did I get here?’ (Muecke, 2002: 125) In this sense, Wark moves beyond the limits of western academic discourses hedged in by disciplinary conventions towards the unchartered territory of fictocritical enquiry where writing becomes performance, a meta-discourse ‘in which the strategies if the telling are part of the point of the tale.’ (Gibbs 2004) In other words, to read Dispositions is to leap into the uncharted territory of the Self where ‘one does not write for the other.’
10. Wark uses ficto-critical strategies as a tool of writing and a mode of critical enquiry that enables him to bring together in a non-conventional way a journey through thought and memory with an encounter with the everyday lived experience of Otherness. Part memoir, part fiction, part philosophical inquiry, Dispositions creates a nomadic journey across the space of New York, across the distance of a city, across the space of charted and uncharted territories.
11. Charting categories of conventional thought such as identity, home, memory, belonging and marginality, the text slips between categories of thought and sites of experience. ‘There are borders, customs, passport control somewhere, but sometimes it is barely noticeable. Even the shift from language to language is a smudge rather than a line.’
12. Dispositions makes a persuasive argument while telling an story and Wark utilises a style that bridges and mixes differences textually which could also be symbolic of the fragmentation of the multiple sites occupied by the author; A bricolage of textual construction that can most appropriately be described as surrealist montage.
13. In this way the ‘gaps’ come to represent the sites where language slips or lodges itself between the ‘margins’ of place and subjectivity, while emphasizing the disjunction or rapture between language and place in the constructions of postmodern realities.
There is the body, home to the organs; there is the apartment, home to the body. Skin and mouth, eyes and ears connect and punctuate one to the other. The rhythm meshes one zone to the other, at the entry points and exits. Keeping boundaries in connection.
14. The text operates within the existing categories of autobiographical memoir, realistic and fractured narrative and prose. By moving through time and place through lived spaces and virtual spaces, the text calls attention to the continuities and discontinuities between terms such as nomad and metaphors of travel, displacement and location in the practices and identities constituting Otherness in a postmodern and simulated reality.
15. Dispositions is also concerned with the way that language serves to appropriate or deny the social, political and historical experience of the nomadic subject and sets out to deliberately disrupt notions of ‘history’ and the linear ordering of time. By tampering with, altering, rewriting and realigning dominant narratives of spatial practices, the nomadic subject is no longer silenced, but runs history aground in a new and overwhelming space that annihilates historical time and liberates subjectivity from the destructive dialectics of progress.
16. To enter into language is to enter into a social economy of exchange where needs, demands, desires and longings are negotiated according to a linguistic contract. Keeping this in mind, Wark locates a way of writing that grapples with the fissures between texts, one that relies upon a narrative of competing and contested textualities. In other words, the author deploys subversive strategies by reworking particular myths of worldly landscapes with a view of restructuring realities, not simply by reversing the hierarchical order, but by interrogating the philosophical assumptions on which that order is based.
17. By remoulding language into new uses, by manipulating meanings and mixing discourses, as well as employing short sentences in the form of prose that shift in register; Wark disrupts the grammatical and linguistic structures of the traditional English language through the employment of technical devices, such as the rhythms and syntactical prose that define traditions of orality and overlaps them with the Australian vernacular; in effect, transporting and incorporating its meaning into a new modality.
18. In addition to this, Wark purposely seeks to capture the fissures of space between time by eradicating past, present and future tense in certain areas of the text. The reader is guided with this ‘device,’ and in other areas, purposefully rhyming words to clash with academic linguistic/logical norms. Wark seeks to create a phonetic ebb and flow; a forced assonance or alliteration that fits with the idea of pushing linguistic boundaries and grammar and illustrating the displaced voice in the city of words.
19. Dispositions moves backwards and forwards, occasionally it deliberately gets ‘lost in translation’ and at other times it lodges itself between the borders. Between landscapes. Between homes. Like the nomadic subject who moves between worlds, Wark invokes a ‘metaphoric of the voyage,’, where the text performs the nomadic subjectivity. At the same time, the performance of the text, the way it is written, is crucial in reworking conventional principles of time, space and subjectivity whilst exploding the categories and binaries that structure dominant representations of identity; place, belonging and identity.
20. In this sense, Wark escapes from the multiple assigned markers of identity; gender or genre, nation and narration, Self and Other by working with and beyond them, forcing the reader to think about identities in terms of contingency, interminancy and conflict; of identities on the move rather than static absolutes in culture. To borrow from James Clifford, ‘routes rather than roots’.
21. In this [con]text, Dispositions gives prominence to the concept of identities by focusing on travel, journeys, dispersion, itineraries, homes and the symbolics of landscapes in the context of questions about identity, home and belonging in an ever increasingly globalised world. Wark draws upon representations of place, both real and imagined, through the use of themes with a strong metonymic force. The solitary journey through unfamiliar landscapes, across time and space recreates alienation of vision and the crisis of self-definition which displacement produces. Although Dispositions begins as a journey of displacement in the quest for home other themes emerge such as sexuality and identity, remembering and forgetting that clash in urban scrawls, move into virtual worlds then collide into city scapes.
22. Dispositions is a text about estrangement caused by the ruptures of migration and its effect on subjectivity. The text is a constructed view of the cultural landscape and the values and attitudes that the author/critic encounters. In a sense, the text is about a void, a psychological abyss between cultures. Here, is the ethnographic detail that acts to control the means of communication and authenticate the experience of dislocation that foregrounds this text.
23. Wark writes within the crevices, or the margins of language by transplanting and appropriating textual devices to open up a new space with overlapping spheres, where language is invested with new and unforeseen possibilities. ‘Writing is a question of becoming, always incomplete, always in the midst of being formed’, he says, ‘and goes beyond the matter of any livable or lived experience.’
24. In Dispositions, Wark is in exile, lost in the city of transcultural spaces where he leaves traces of circular wanderings. Each chapter is written in the form of journal entry. At the end of every journal entry is the beginning of another - it is always provisional - there is no introduction, no conclusion, no beginning and no end. Only a code and markers on a GPS tracking device serve to guide the reader along the author’s journey and through his philosophical meanderings and observations. As such, the text intentionally breaks away from conventions of critical and fictional writing to portray the incompleteness of the nomadic journey.
25. Each entry is meant to be experienced as a space and as a movement, as much as, if not rather than, a meaning that explains itself. ‘What is mine is first of all distance; says Wark, I possess only distances.’ In this way, reading Dispositions then becomes a form of wandering (with all the detours and dead ends) through a space without borders or margins, without geographical or narrative contours and through landscapes without fixed landmarks or physical ends.
26. Wark explores ways of conceptualising the division, containment and struggle that are concretised in spatial practices: a ‘portal’ so to speak, where the limits of everyday lived space can be transgressed and yet still incorporates somehow the dimensions of a spatial-temporal setting. In this way, Wark breaks away from the dialectics of space as history or social historicality and interprets space as material and metaphorical, empirical and theorisable, instrumental and strategic.
27. Dispositions is a journey through thought, an expedition that takes the reader on a passage though strange and familiar landscapes, and like the author, who travels from all points of the compass, the reader too encounters a space that is neither here nor there, but a point that merges language and experience.
Dr Vicki Karaminas teaches critical theory and cultural studies in the Design faculty at the University of Technology Sydney. She has published in the field of identity, subjectivity and representation and her research interests lie in the field of post-colonialism, gender and popular culture. Her story "Slide Show" appeared in Borderlands Vol 2 No 3, 2004. Email: Vicki.Karaminas@uts.edu.au
Muecke, S (2002) ‘The Fall: Fictocritical Writing’, in, Walker, B (ed) The Writer’s Reader. A Guide to Writing Fiction and Poetry, Halstead Press, Australia, p125.
Nettlebeck, A (1998) ‘Notes Towards an Introduction’, in, Nettlebeck, A and Kerr, H (eds) The Space Between. Australian Women Writing Fictocriticism, Australia, p 12.
Gibbs, A (2004) ‘Bodies of Words: Feminism and Fictocriticism- explanation and Demonstration’, TEXT, Vol. 1, No 2, http://www.gu.edu.au/school/art/text/oct97/gibbs.htm, Australia, p 1.
© borderlands ejournal 2004