- Weak Network:Faulkner's Transpacific Reparations
Two kinds of reading: one strong and one weak, one damaging the world, and the other trying to make amends, Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick argues in her now-classic essay. The strong theory she has in mind is what Paul Ricoeur calls a "hermeneutics of suspicion" and what she herself calls "paranoid reading."1 Such readings see the phenomena of the world as symptoms, requiring unmasking and demystifying. To make this postulate as muscular as possible, effective at all locales and all times, another postulate—something like an "up-and-down-globality"—is also necessary. Anything that weakens this duo is not to be credited here, not to be taken at face value. Since this is the case, and since the discounting has been going on for some time, the gut responses at play now in literary studies are winnowed down to this single, powerful, and powerfully negative one, a case of "affective inhibition," Rita Felski says.2 For Sedgwick, it is tantamount to the loss of biodiversity, the overwhelming ability of one dominant gene to eliminate all others, leaving us with a "shallow gene pool" that seriously undermines our "ability to respond to environmental (i.e. political) change" ("Paranoid Reading," 144).
To reverse this loss, Sedgwick's "reparative" reading has no choice but to be "additive and accretive." It has to do a different kind of evidentiary bookkeeping, making the discounted once again count. Taking the world not as an impregnable mask but as a torn web with gaping holes—the result of missed cues and failed connections—it proceeds with the repairs, and often with not much supervision, prompted more by rumblings from the ground up than edicts from the top down. It sees weak mastery as a small price to pay for the job at hand. Rather than stripping [End Page 587] things away, reparative reading wants to add layers of mediation. It "wants to assemble and confer plenitude on an object that will then have resources to offer to an inchoate self" ("Paranoid Reading," 149). And, toward that end, it is willing to err on the side of the tangential and inconclusive, bringing more to the table than strictly necessary, canvassing more than would clinch the case, giving up the time-honored satisfaction of the compact punch line for the uncertain benefit of crowdsourced input, distributed agency, and less-than-resounding verdicts.
Writing in 2003, Sedgwick did not use the concept of "network" to think about reparative reading as additive in this crowdsourced sense. In this article, I'd like to do so, opening this up as a methodological debate in literary history, a debate between two investigative procedures and two attendant outcomes: mitigating circumstances versus sovereign deed, ongoing contextualization versus terminal verdict. One cuts through the evidence and delivers a clean, finalized, individualized sentence, while the other thickens the plot and prolongs the mediating process, thanks to a multiplayer and multivariable input network. Taking the former as a strongly institutionalized norm, and the latter as a weakly experimental alternative, I'd like to make a case for it as a form of reparation that is improvised rather than planned, plural rather than singular, its scope and efficacy still to be tested, but with consequences already discernible.
Bruno Latour's actor-network theory is especially helpful here, as a template and as a foil. Latour distinguishes between two ways of networking, practiced by intermediaries and by mediators—the former, passive vehicles, rubber stamps that transmit existing decisions without altering them; and the latter, actively intervening forces that dynamically alter the relation between input and output in any social aggregate.3 I'd like to draw on but also modify this paradigm to think about a kind of network considerably weaker than what Latour has in mind, input-bearing to some extent, but most of all input-accepting. Such a network traces literary history as a long-running, loosely mediated, and multicentric field: a reparative process still incomplete, extending from an uncoordinated past to an unpredictable future. Rather than giving the last word either to dominant institutions, or to individual texts as sovereign products of single...