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  • Distance@
  • Brian Lennon (bio)

Assuming someone were to concern himself with Democritus; the question always occurs to me, Why not Heraclitus? Or Philo? Or Bacon? Or Descartes—or anyone else, for that matter? And then: Why a philosopher, anyway? Why not a poet, an orator? And: Why must it be a Greek, why not an Englishman, a Turk? Isn’t the past large enough for you to find something that does not make you look so ridiculously arbitrary?

—Friedrich Nietzsche (1995; 1988)

Unlike the historian, the writer remains so closely involved with action that he can never free himself of the temptation to destroy whatever stands between him and his deed, especially the temporal distance that makes him dependent on an earlier past.

—Paul de Man (1983)

Freud’s work is the work of writing, the work of a writer…. From language to skin, pen to hand, there is no gap, no distance, but an essential, organic continuity.

—Lydia Flem (2003)


Time, says Thoreau, is but the stream I go a-fishing in. A technique in cinema is to film actors performing in reverse (walking backward across a room), then to reverse the film, restoring the normal temporal sequence of events. The distortion is a faint and liminal occultism, the slightest disconnect between the way things look and how they ought to look. A hallucination within a simulated movement, a disturbance of the reality in which we suspend our belief, a mystery of technical immanence rather than organic transcendence. Critical distance and disciplinary place might be said to meet like this artificial reality—actors acting backwards—finding its verso in the [End Page 79] naturalized artifice of inverted film: the scholar’s “discovery” retracing itself to the act of re-presentation that is writing, is writing’s translation, and then winching it forward again. In what follows, my argument is that it is fruitless to seek the nextness of new media, and the future of scholarship it carries with it, in anamnesis, in that regress of techne—nostos—physis, to a nature conceived as foil for self-organized cyborganization. No, we might better think it, this nextness, as a kind of remembering forward, not a reduction of future to past or past to future, mutatis mutandis. In what we might call the privilege zone—in order to flag not only the dialers-in but those to whom the system issues a call, a ping, whether they answer or no (and which is not meant to fetishize non-privilege either, to imprison it in some ping-less physis)—the gradual yet massive conversion of analog to digital archive, as well as the next, natively digital production regime and the mise-en-abyme of data migration, all this, in the privilege zone, raises questions of the translation and transposition of media, and of mediatization itself, as well as what seems to inhabit it, to make itself home there, in remote sensing and home storage, the hard drive. The global village, the world imploded in a caul of socialized electricity, is privatized in the home-bubble, a nut or seed-pod of data, the personal-professional archive whose exponential growth in life online, I want to suggest, shunts modernist critical practice (ours) into reverse. In this closure of critical distance, down the longue durée of the library shelf, we see our own work on the “junk-pile of critical history,” “instructive as a hyperbolic interaction of critical desire with the modes of production” of our time (Willmott 1996, 207, xv).1 There is no more necessary perspective than this; for scholarly production, today, no less than less rigorous forms of ubiquitous capture, compulsive diarism, and self-archiving, is an abject embrace of the surveillance state—as much as its self-study, in what we might have to call our “telepathy”: the pathos of (critical) distance, of distance which is always already “at” place.2 [End Page 80]


Distance, place. Two cultures mutually bearing down, like markets—glancingly, as translation’s tangent contacts the home circle: infinitesimal flash of the dependence to which both are doomed. After which—each proceeds, seemingly on its way. If, in these just-past juggernaut days...


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pp. 79-94
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