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Leonardo’s Paradigm: Madison Morrison and the Post-Cultural

Chapter 1. From Comparative Cultural Studies to Post-literary Study: Gilles Deleuze and Central-European Thought

«Axiome: le synthetisme est la grande loi de l'ontologie»
(Gustave Flaubert, 1855)

During recent decades the philosophical disciplines have been besieged by multicultural studies, art and literature likewise by new theoretical challenges, and science/technology by avant-garde artistic experiments, which have cannibalized their procedures. Many thinkers seem to have been convinced that art has become inseparable from technology and information. A phenomenon of hybridization has appeared, producing cultural mutation. The result has been the formulation of a trans-aesthetic paradigm called, in the literary realm, “post-literature” along with a post-literary theory and criticism.

The concept of post-literature defines metamorphoses and tensions in the world of contemporary creativity, the co-existence, even merging of fields that heretofore exhibited autonomous profiles, to wit: philosophy, art and science/technology. This trend has become more noticeable in the era of “virtual reality,” where it is characterized by various non-classifiable texts by such writers as Deleuze, Barth, Beckett, Derrida, Pynchon, Barthes, Zukovsky and latterly by the American Madison Morrison.

MM. a contributor to this phenomenon, is an amazing conceptual character working within the new/old cultural paradigm, new because many of his creative energies are directed at augmenting the new post-literary trend, old because the cultural paradigm was first conceptualized by a figure from the Italian Renaissance, Leonardo da Vinci, whose work provides another model whereby we may grasp the oeuvre of Madison Morrison.

The most fabulous performance of post-literature and its theoreticians might be to put together, in a free and uncontrolled coexistence, all the artistic, literary, philosophical and scientific/technological works of Leonardo and bring them into relationship with contemporary practice. Madison Morrison reminds us that the frontiers between artistic and non-artistic mediums are no longer well-drawn. His prose writing especially is rather inseparable from technology and information (the lap-top is his daily tool, his web site a new frontier for the promulgation of his work). Likewise, in substance, philosophy and psychology, science and technology, even politics, as with Leonardo are inseparable interinvolved with the work. As with the Leonardo canon, image, figure and concept have assumed a post-literary status. We shall return to this triad in due course.

The term post-literature, which has already achieved a considerable currency elsewhere, has not yet been embraced by Romanians, though it was echoed by Serban Foarta in 1991, albeit in another context and with other connotations(1). As with any new concept, its name itself is less important than what it may suggest, its hidden essence. In the absence of a theoretical framework, the force of the new paradigm is felt through independent achievements around the world, all against a background of heated discussion regarding the “crisis of literature,” well summarized by Adrian Marino in a recent book. “Surrendering literal literature,” he writes, “becomes in many critical-theoretical circles the major trend. The whole [literalist] tradition of literature is both undermined and contested. The crisis of the idea of literature reaches in a way an essential moment,” one not yet well elaborated in critical terms(2).

The scientist, the philosopher and the artist are each interested in knowing more about the universe (by which, according to Ernest H. Hutte, is meant the “communication universe”); in their search they meet on intersecting roads. Occasionally literature anticipates significant scientific events. Occasionally it serves philosophy but occasionally anticipates or defines it as well. The new multivalent logic, in which the three disciplines interact, opens perspectives essential to new literary and artistic creation.

“Kinetic organizations,” temporary projects by teams dedicated to interdisciplinary work, often emerge. Industries specializing in the manufacture of objects are being rendered secondary by the various communication industries, which create striking psychological phenomena in post-industrial societies, as many critics have noticed.

Gathering the Three Chaoids

In his late works, Gilles Deleuze, fascinated by the dissolution of the ego, linguistic pragmatism and “les machines désirantes” (“desire machines”) imagined by his friend, Felix Guattari, tried to found an ontology of multiplicity and a metaphysics of event, both of which might be considered aspects of post-literature. Their keywords were image, figure and concept (all important in the theory of post-literature). This occurred in a period marked by vivid debate regarding the need to shift emphasis from gnosiology (in modern art) to ontology (in postmodern art). In the book written by the two close friends, Qu'est-ce que la philosophie? we read as follows: “Briefly chaos has three daughters depending on the plane it crosses: these are Chaoids — art, science and philosophy — as thought or creative patterns. The Chaoids are the realities born in the planes that cross chaos.”(3) Therefore we may consider post-literature as a gathering of the three Chaoids, though the authors do not forget to mention that the three planes and their components seem to be irreducible (the immanence plane of philosophy, the composition plane of art, and the reference or functions plane of science). They believe that “the three modes of thinking cross, interlace — but without synthesis or identification.”

Deleuze and Guattari discuss the possible interferences between them: “A first type of interference appears when a philosopher tries to create the concept of a sensation or the concept of a function (for example the concept specific to Riemannian space or to irrational numbers), or when a scientist, like Fechner, tries to create functions of sensation, or theories of color, or updates virtual concepts in mathematics”; or when an artist succeeds in the creation of pure sensations of concepts or functions, as with various forms of abstract art, or as with Paul Klee. In all such situations the rule is that the interfering discipline must use its own resources.” They even foreshadow a new paradigm, asserting that there are three types of interference: extrinsic, intrinsic, and non-localized. Extrinsic interference occurs when any discipline remains fixed in its own plane and uses its own elements (this is the case of various texts signed by Deleuze or by both Deleuze and Guattari). Intrinsic interference is manifested when concepts and conceptual characters “seem to appear out of their immanence plane in order to slip into another plane between functions and partial outlooks, or between sensations and aesthetic figures.” Non-localized interference makes possible communication between genres through components easily alienated from themselves, their planes being related to a common chaos into which the mind falls.

If we accept the concept of post-literature (in the absence of a more suitable term), the gathering of the three Chaoids could happen in a place called an “assembling node” (text, movie, installation, exhibition hall, literary journal, Internet site, etc.). In such an assembling node, the signs of some events, sensations and states of things may be abandoned to a spontaneous communication and free, uncontrolled coexistence — a communion of three Chaoids. The assembling node may be closed (the three Chaoids communicating only amongst themselves) or open (the three Chaoids communicating both amongst themselves as well as with the universe).

A sample of post-literature to be found in the virtual galaxy may be self-evident. Leila Rae gained a Master of Arts in English in 1997 with the project of a virtual magazine stimulated by a Deleuzian concept — RHIZOME. She gathered at the same site (the assembling node) the images of art works, philosophical essays, literary and scientific texts. Rae defined a concept as “versioning” (“the ability to create and manage different versions of the same document”) and recommended that we begin to “read” the rhizomatic magazine anywhere. On the screen there are many links; behind them we find, in an aleatory order, the spectral buds of rhizome: images of art works and supermodels, photos, short stories, autobiographical texts, postal cards, journalistic news reports, stories for children, quoted passages from the works of Leila Rae's preferred authors (Deleuze, Derrida, Barthes, Iser), ecological calls, etc., and of course, the necessary feed-back for “readers”(4).

Steven Totosy de Zepetnek also prefers a systematic and empirical approach, with a stress on methodology. One of his favorite concepts, “in-between,” may be used by theorists of post-literature. Its different components are in fact situated “in-between,” each being both “in” the genre that it proceeds from but at the same time “between” genres, on account of a de-territorialization that permits cohabitation and interference. Deleuze and Guattari seemed to be persuaded in their work Qu'est-ce que la philosophie? that empiricism is a strong maker of concepts. Steven Conner(5) writes of the “illicit brotherhood between spheres which could be separated,” and Scott Lash takes a further theoretical step along this post-literary road, when he refers to “de-differentiation of the distinct spheres of art and deliberate exploration of existing things — so striking in Fried's opinion — in the space between different forms of art rather than inside their secure body.”(6)

Stephen Pfohl anticipates the new paradigm when he speaks of “the forced delimited fields of philosophy, literature, linguistics, history, economy, feminist study, psycho-analysis, iconic or interpretative arts and even theoretical physics.”(7)

A Language Closed to Inner Speech

Howard Fox agrees that postmodernism allows an immense number of points of access, of infinite interpretative reactions. Such a thing is available especially to post-literature. Many critics by now have illuminated the difference between postmodernism and post-literature. Postmodernism is not a new aesthetic paradigm, rather a radical (as many theorists assert) or critical dialogue with past styles within the same art genre. It is not programmatically interested in interdisciplinary dialogue or in a unified or integrative vision (often utopian) of the distinct spheres of art and knowledge. In most cases postmodernism, which also belongs to the old culture of resentment, as Nietzsche would say, is an aesthetical cul de sac.

In recent Romanian literature, such is evident in Mircea Cartarescu's experience of "The Levant," a non-transmissible model. The parodied replay of different styles from the past of a literature could become a ridiculous and mocking work, made by many authors, or even one, when produced by a continuous effort like this. Post-literature is a concept easy to imagine in a period characterized by an aesthetics of complexity. It is not postmodernism but a complex and actual face of literature after literature, compelled to pass on from linguistic rhetoric to image rhetoric and disciplinary creation. Like Modernism, postmodernism continues to be fascinated by the discursive. Post-literature is a culture of multiple contingencies, mainly non-discursive.

We may ask if the attempt to publicize the three Chaoids could be useful to an attempt to surpass the culture of resentment. Maybe yes, though a more important role is granted to chance, a catalyst of plasticity and metamorphosis, and the substitution of confrontation between interfering disciplines by dialogue and cohabitation among them, the corporalization of thought, the diminution of reactive forces on account of a synthesis effort, shifting from text to context, etc. The significant role offered by concept to the latest cultural paradigm may contribute to the proliferation of some “conceptual characters” in order to impose it.

We need not choose between theory and literature but instead may de-territorialize both so as to retie an assembling knot or combine the two on the territory that earlier belonged to either one or the other. If theorists have asserted that up to now we have had two canons, the Plato-Kant metaphysical canon or the literary ironist canon, from now on we can speak of a post-literary canon (consisting, say, of metaphysical ironists). Richard Rorty remarked earlier that the German philosopher Martin Heidegger was tormented by the problem of finding a way “to combine irony with theory.”(8) Geoffrey Hartman and J. Hillis Miller plead for interchangeability between literature and criticism, and Gina Puică is more radical yet (in “The force of the concept, I”): “It's enough to listen very attentively today to the general atmosphere [l'air du temps], to be convinced that in the present world the movement of ideas concerning art tends to replace in some cases even the art.”(9) Andrei Codrescu, a distinguished Romanian writer who lives in USA, appears to thrive in this post-literary atmosphere: “My religion,” he says, “is Creolisation, Hybridization, Miscegenation, Immigration, Genre-Busting, Trespassing, Border-Crossing, Identity-Shifting, Mask-Making and Syncretism.”(10) His personal inclination may be considered a useful characterization of post-literature, and it illustrates the effect of Deleuze's thought on the evolution of a new cultural paradigm, at least insofar as Codrescu finds it helpful to himself. Perhaps the creation of works of post-literature requires such Deleuzian conceptualization.

From Comparative Cultural Studies to Post-literature

It is not very difficult to detect multiple similarities between contemporary trends in comparative studies (as practiced even in Central Europe) and Deleuze's writing of "post-philosophy" (a term provided by Richard Rorty). The French philosopher is a "contemporary of the future," who succeeds in transcending both comparative literature (in his studies of Proust, Kafka, Melville, Carroll, Lawrence, Beckett, etc.) and philosophy through a personal écriture in which may be seen links between different domains of knowledge and the arts. Deleuze's method as well as the new trend in contemporary comparative studies is based on the same strategy: to look for singularities in various fields of thought and art, then to find intimate connections between them and impose new visions and concepts. I consider that such a new empiricism, with a focus on holism and with a stress on creativity rather than on interpretation, could open a way from comparative literature and comparative cultural studies to a framework for post-literary study. Moreover, literature, in which creativity is governed by rules, is slowly being replaced by a rule-changing post-literature (a “rule-changing creativity” — Noam Chomsky). Fragmentary wholes. Radical deviances. Friable compositions.

In post-literature the sentence ceases to be the “image of reality” (Wittgenstein); it is reality itself. A sort of stained-glass window language, which is opaque to reality, but interposes its own aesthetic “reality.”

We assist in the displacement from text (left in a secondary position) to the image, from discursive to non-discursive “language.” Post-literature aims at a language closed to inner speech — a cohabitation of images, a montage or collage of discursive and non-discursive terms or artifacts of language.

All these vectors coincide with the principles of the non-separability and wholeness of complexity science. David Bohm thinks language has become permeated by a divisive principle; though reality flows continuously, thought is discontinuous. He recommends that scientists replace partition analysis with a description of interdependencies. In post-literature, knowledge of the world (specific to Modernism) is substituted for by knowledge of the interaction between worlds and their way of being. Post-literature is an ironist canon of multiple contingencies, which tends toward a unification of culture, based on poetics and an art that enhance moral sensibility, concerned with culture focused on philosophy and science/technology.

In the triad artist, art object and public, attention now centers on the special experience of the public in the presence of the artistic project. Instead of art or literature's mimesis of the real, in post-literature we experience "the real which imitates art" (Brett Yviet).

Virtual Textualism

The aesthetic-matrix field of post-literature nourishes the atmosphere of the epoch considered by Virgil Nemoianu as post-modern, post-colonialist, post-industrial and post- Christian. A society in which “community was replaced by communication,” pure information creation surpasses manufactured objects; televisual and virtual presence overshadow the printed text; relations between people and perhaps human nature itself are modified; tensions occur, “a parodic game with history”; and, finally, regarding religious life — the mystical, spiritual component grows more important than the theological/dogmatic component.(11)

Literature is dominated by scriptural textualism and post-literature by the media, or virtual textualism. The second proposes “a displacement of the narrative stress to the means and proceedings of cybernetic art: virtual images, 3-D simulations, [fractal] images, inter-active games, etc.”(12) As Ion Manolescu asserts in the same study, in the case of virtual textualism we may no longer refer to the reader, but rather to a reader/onlooker, and “the fascination, exercised by media textualism on the reader/onlooker, results from the annulment of the borders between desire and reality: the image dictatorship abolishes any scriptural convention transforming reading into a seduction act and visual hypnosis; between the graphic sign and its acoustic image a fault appears in which, guided by the Freudian principle of pleasure, we penetrate more and more deeply.”(13)

One of the most important theorists of virtual reality, Michael Heim, the author of extraordinary books such as The Metaphysics of Virtual Reality and Virtual Realism warns us about the impact of “machine language” on human beings and literature: "[T]he truth of the matter might well be that the language machine takes language into its management and thus masters the essence of the human being [...] Literature, too, changes as the written word migrates to electronic text. On computers literature presents an unlimited cross-reference system for all symbol creations.”(14) This American philosopher/critic believes that hypertext, inter-textuality and infomania favor non-linear and associative style — the jump, intuition, synthesis — and erode our capacity for understanding the means.

Another well-known American, Jascha Kessler, noticed after 50 years of teaching modern literature and creative writing that his students of the new generation are “hardly less intelligent, less informed or worse prepared for understanding language than they used to be. The contrary is perhaps true; they are cleverer, more experienced and much better informed about the nature of the world and the varieties of human experience than they used to be.”(15) Kessler remarks in the same essay that the aesthetical experience regarding objects created by human beings for contemplation has been altered “in ways that challenge poetry and even the other arts.”

Many art projects expounded by Michael Heim in his book Virtual Realism may be integrated into the concept of post-literature. Out of the common is the OSMOSE group in Montreal, coordinated by Char Davies and supported by SoftImage (Microsoft). The other members of the team are the graphic artist George Mauro, the specialist in soft/virtual reality, John Harrison, the musician Rick Bidlack and the design and sound processing expert, Dorota Blaszczak. “OSMOSE is an immersive virtual space exploring the interrelation between exterior Nature and interior Self. The work explores the potential of immersive virtual space as a medium for visual/aural expression and the kinaesthetic experience of philosophical ideas. In biology osmosis is a process involving passage from one side of a membrane to another. Osmosis as a metaphorical means to transcend difference through mutual absorption, the dissolution of the boundary between inner and outer, the intermingling of self and world, the longing for the Other,” assert the members of the group.(16) Some literary or non-literary texts, virtual landscapes and a strange music are intermingled in such a way that the readers/spectators “become re-sensitized to their own being” (Charles Davies, idem, 165).

Philosophical meditation, art, literature and science/technology, all the components of post-literature, may be found in the works made by the interdisciplinary team OSMOSE.

From one day to the next the phenomenon amplifies itself, and the assertion becomes more evident that these are no isolated people interested in dream and virtuality as in the Romantic age, but a whole community that's shifting in the middle of the dream, of virtual reality. There is always the risk of a “mixtum compositum.” That is why disputes are bitter. Monica Spiridon argues that “a traffic of concepts and methods with two directions of circulation manifests itself — the risky, the bizarre.”(17) With such a new paradigm, not called post-literature and not delimited to post-modernism as with the previously-cited authors, Spiridon is firmly convinced that “in the name of pluralism the result is the super-simplification of literature, theory and art as well as science by fixing them in a monolithic, exclusivist and non-profitable cultural framework” (idem).

Unaffected by such divergent opinions, groups like OSMOSE will multiply in the future and will become an alternative to traditional literary/artistic disciplines. (They will not disappear, but their audience will be drastically reduced in a world dominated by media language.)

Post-literature and Time

Any new cultural canon has a specific relation with time; contrariwise, for Henri Bergson time is synonymous with creation. In recent morphology theories, time as a vehicle of differences, rarified, with different modulations, even becomes the substance of things. Maybe even the generation of natural shapes is a secret confrontation between different forms of time. The relations between spirit and time, energy and time remain yet unknown. It is possible in any aesthetic success that time fuses with spirit, and in the contrary case we can no longer refer to the sweet Bergsonian duration, but instead must speak of a zombie-time and a spectral art.

“If modernity spatialized time then postmodernity re-temporalizes space,” remarks David Harvey. “The solidity of space and of the place in the space is submitted to the de-centered mobility of information and investment.”(18) Post-literature is a rhizomatic literature — art belonging to postmodernity — an epoch of “intensive, telecommunications time” (idem.). The “acceleration of time,” observes Michael Heim in Metaphysics of Virtual Reality,(19) is also an attempt to obtain temporal simultaneity, as in that VISIO DEI mentioned by Leibniz. Perhaps temporal simultaneity is the ideal of some post-literary teams like OSMOSE. THE TIME INSIDE of post-literature seems to be closed to the apocalyptic vision of time expressed by the most compelling post-literary writer of our times, Madison Morrison: “(...) time goes forwards and backwards simultaneously,” he says. “In other words, we live in the future and the past, as well as the present.”(20)

Milan Kundera, in his essay "The Tragedy of Central Europe" (NYRB, 1984), expresses his view that people in Central Europe are defined especially by culture and destiny, not by geography. If we follow his idea, it is easy to assert that Central Europe is a civilization of temporal senses, marked by the impalpable, the immaterial, the unstable, by the inwardness of metaphysics. Time means succession.

Perhaps Western Europe and the USA belong to a civilization of spatial senses, with the stress on wholeness, matter, equilibrium, outwardness and pragmatism. Space is characterized by simultaneity.

One might say western people have the genius of space (virtual reality, without the temporal dimension, which is apparent in the USA) and Central Europeans, the genius of time, although such formulations may not be relevant. The synthesis, “the big law of ontology,” may transform a succession into simultaneity. Probably the time of communion between East and West has come, and the experiments of post-literature are part of a common destiny.

Cited Works

(1) Revista “Orizont,” Timisoara, nr. 43, 1991.

(2) Adrian Marino, “Biografia ideii de literatura,” vol. 6, partea IV, Editura Dacia, Cluj-Napoca, 2000, page 62.

(3) Gilles Deleuze, Felix Guattari, “Ce este filosofia?,” Editura Pandora, T`rgoviste, 1998, traducere de Magdalena Marculescu-Cojocea.

(4) Leila Rae, “One Zero One-a magazine-rhizome,”

(5) Steven Connor, “Cultura postmodern. O introducere `n teoriile contemporane,” Editura Meridiane, Bucuresti, 1999, traducere de Mihaela Oniga, page18.

(6) Scott Lash, “Post-modernism as a Regime for Significations,” “Theory, Culture and Society,” 5:2-3, 1988, page 312.

(7) Stephen Pfohl, “Death at the Parasite Cafe: Social Sciences (Fictions) and the Postmodern,” Basingstoke and London, Macmillan, 1992, page 78.

(8) Richard Rorty, “Contingenta, ironie si solidaritate,” Editura ALL, Bucuresti, 1998, page 222.

(9) Gina Puica, “For]a conceptului I,” “Obiectiv-Arte”, supliment cultural al cotidianului "Obiectiv-Vocea Sucevei," Suceava, 6 martie 2002.

(10) Andrei Codrescu, interviu realizat de Lidia Vianu, 31 ianuarie 2001,

(11) Marcel Cornis-Pope, “Narrative Innovation and Cultural Rewriting in the Cold War Era and After,” Palgrave Press, 2001.

(12) Virgil Nemoianu, “Notes sur l'etat de postmodernite,” “Euresis-cahiers roumains d'etudes litteraires,” nr. 1-2/1, 1995, page 17-19.

(13) Ion Manolescu, “La prose postmoderniste et le textualisme mediatique,” “Euresis-cahiers roumains d'etudes litteraires,” nr. 1-2, 1995, page 197.

(14) Idem, page 200.

(15) Michael Heim, “The Metaphysics of Virtual Reality,” Oxford University Press, 1993, page 9.

(16) Jascha Kessler, “Between Alpha and Omega,” Anthology of the XXIInd World Congress of Poets, Iasi, Romania, October 2002, page 21.

(17) Monica Spiridon, “Post-modernismul: o batalie cu povestiri,” “Observator cultural,” Bucuresti, nr. 129, 2002.

(18) David Harvey, “The Condition of Postmodernity,” 1989, page 317.

(19) Michael Heim, “Virtual Realism,” Oxford University Press, 1998, page 162.

(20) Madison Morrison, “Interview with Manjushree S. Kumar,” in MM: The Sentence Commuted (Norman: Sentence of the Gods Press, 2005)