Something i am sure i posted some time back this week, but a little refresher can be useful. It's from Lightning Tree and looks at some of Jaques Derrida's ideas and how they relate to modern day storytelling and actually the notion of initiation itself. I value the ideas and how it rubs up against the near impossibility of claiming a purely oral tradition in the west when our speech is now already so influenced by writing - and how that rub is actually very creative, very interesting.
I'm in London tomorrow night - at TONGUE FU, at rich mix, 35-47 Bethnal Green rd, 7.30 to 11pm. Telling a big story, Come down and find out what it is! Alongside some the wonderful Malika Booker and Tim Claire. These are high end evenings in terms of quality performers, so do keep checking out their events. Ok, better start packing. Johnny Bloor turns up at first light for the long drive - a day in Foyles bookshop on the Charing Cross road sipping frappabrandychino's in the esoteric section i think, then onto the misty east end. Hope to see you there!
I want to deepen this idea of a crossroads, by how it relates both to initiatory practice and the relationship between speech and literature. It would be useful to get a sense of where the ideas in this book place themselves, situated both in oral myth-telling and the page. The philosopher Jaques Derrida maintained that for over 3,000 years of Western philosophy, philosophers have claimed logocentrism–that the voice is the center, from Plato to Aristotle, to Rosseau, Hegel and Husseri. So languages are made to be spoken. Writing serves only as a support to speech. This idea would regard speech as exterior to thought, and writing as exterior to speech. There is a clear and distinct sense of hierarchy—a regression from mind to voice to letter.
From the perspective of logocentrism, presence is implicit in the communication of speech, but for writing, absence is the defining characteristic. So with speech, the listener and speaker are both present in time, and present to the succession of words from the mouth. The image of letters on a page, wrapped in an envelope, and sent to a distant figure, illustrates the concept of absence.
So writing becomes marginalized, quite opposed to Derrida’s notion that the development of modern language actually derives from an interplay of speech and writing, therefore one cannot claim primacy over the other.
Like keen-eye Trickster, Derrida also disrupts this old oppositional thinking by locating what he calls “undecidables.” Specifically concepts or words that cannot be brought into a binary logic. They unsettle. A phrase like Pharmakon, which means both poison and remedy. An “undecidable” within the context of a wilderness rite- of-passage would be contact with a spirit—rarely conforming to a hegemonic form—something neither male or female, a disruption to normality. Indeterminacy–it indicates no precision, clarity, or easy definition. Initiatory process indicates that it is only in the surrender to this difficult awareness that any real vision can ultimately arise (hence the severing from certainty that takes place). Initiation places you in the slippery crucible of paradox. With time this evolves, and insights emerge, but not without the profound drop into this contrary Underworld. You are neither Village or Forest, but some other, subtle thing. The world turned upside down. It’s a hard thing to talk about.
This book’s position is one of intense interplay, a shuttling between. Speech is occurring within the writing and writing is
occurring within the speech. Many insights have come from telling a story orally, which is in turn influenced by years at the desk. What arrives seems to have a liminal touch, a betwixt and between. For the book to work within what Derrida—and Heidegger before him—refers to as “the metaphysics of presence” (the old position), the crossroads motif cannot exist, no matter how nebulous. Inter- estingly, the logocentric is a position many oral storytellers would support, being central to their craft. I disagree. Where I do speak up is in the call for the spontaneous within an oral telling, the wild Intelligence that arrives in the moment—but that does not belittle writing or its influence, just a script used inappropriately.
Like Trickster, Derrida is not interested in eradicating what came before, but in helping to engender some new constellation. He also draws from the past—writing about literary texts— while using such a contrary linguistic style it appears that the sentences are breaking down and reconfiguring in front of your eyes.
By working with host texts, Derrida actually requires the oppositions of past literature to find the instabilities that open the ground of uncertainty. Think again of Trickster: “The god of the roads (trickster) needs the more settled territories before his traveling means very much. If everyone travels, the result is not the apotheosis of trickster but another form of his demise,” explains Lewis Hyde.19 This is an ancient ritual arrangement, the trammelling of boundaries to ensure that vitality tickles the status quo and life continues to grow. Trickster is nothing without something to rub up against.
As Derrida shakes the foundations of both structuralism and phenomenology, there is a loyalty to some wild spirit of
investigation that is both troubling and refreshing. As an old oak collapses, at the same moment a green shoot leaps from the earth. Speech and writing always hold the energies of history, influence, and repetition among them. Derrida is in the business of hints and diffusion, traditional attributes of the Underworld journey, rather than brightly lit sound bites. Still, when the young initiates are led from the village, they are blindfolded, spun round, turned up side down–they are now in submission to a fiercer dynamic. This is all in the nature of rupture. Derrida is being true to his work.
Copyright White Cloud Press 2011