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Friend Zone. On Archipelagic Writing and Slippery Institutions

syg.ma team
photo by plusX

photo by plusX

I’ve picked up writing postcards again despite never getting any back –
because giving is pleasure enough and
because short scenic descriptions are an area in which I
excel.
Some of my finest pieces of writing are
postcards,
and my friends are their
sole proprietors.

In times when the transactional nature of friendships is considered a given, when a progressively large number of interpersonal interactions seem to be subsumed under the umbrella term of emotional labor, it is paradoxically actual work that is needed to disentangle friendships from exchange value.

Becoming actualized — fulfilling a specific purpose, function or duty — is only one possible outcome of potentiality. The other often overlooked alternative is not fulfilling a purpose or failing to do so. This is why friendships can be a precious social formation because they do not need to be socially sanctioned as immediately productive. They can allow themselves to bypass a predetermined goal, to nonchalantly ignore their potential for social capital or upward mobility. Friendships might dwell in the space of indeterminacy, if only for a minute.

That being said, I don’t intend to suggest that the category of friendship is an inherently critical mode of production. On the contrary, taking the constraint of friend-relations seriously in regard to text-making implies shedding light on the institutional context of writing-with friends — its socio-economic constraints, (collective) organization and semiotic practices. Moreover, such an upfront examination of friendship’s specificities can reduce the notion of ego-driven dispositions persistently stuck to a westernized conception of authorship. Félix Guattari chimes in:»I don‘t see a contradiction between institutionalization and creative capacity.«[1]

There’s at least one ladybug in
my room
They made their way months ago, on one of the last mild evenings of the year.
They buzz around my lamp, crawl across my laptop keys during my
bedroom
DJ set
…and peek over my linen sheets as
I’m working on an assignment in bed.

It is fertile to recall that the material reality of friendship will intervene in text-making to a greater degree than any of words-to-come may elucidate. Texts are assembled out of others, leading to what McKenzie Wark calls a literary communism [2], a culture made collectively — even though this is persistently and frequently disavowed in the figure of the Author.

When writing is expected to produce a determined, clearly articulated position, coming from a determined, clearly articulated subject, it violently imposes itself on the slipperiness of language. Just like friendship, a textual concept will always be permeated by indeterminacy. Clinging onto the sovereignty of text presupposes that there is such a thing as a finished writing product. But as I learned from Jaques Derrida’s thought, text is perennially incomplete and continuously subjected to an infinite number of readings. [3] Despite the Author’s intention, texts are disseminated, repurposed, added to and subtracted from — all over again.

Sometimes, weeks go by without an encounter,
then the ladybug pops up again.
I come to view them as a
friendly cohabitant.
What sustenance, I wonder, does my one-room enclave hold for them?

I find out that they’re predators,
feeding off soft-bodied insects.
They‘re a plague,

a friend tells me over the phone,
a particularly bizarre one given the time of year.

photo by plusX

photo by plusX

Shedding of my self-protective spores, physically bound information transpires. Linking ambiguous writing environments, the multitude of befriended text corpora encode messages that mesh yet another signification field of friendship. This is where a process of collective sign-making unfolds between the individual and the group. It counteracts the universalizing axiomatization of companionship as a productive force tied to capital accumulation.

Instead, collective writing continuously iterates the question: what is the minimum set of signifiers needed to keep an institution of friends alive? How can communal life be formalized in a nonreductive framework inseparable from all matter? These questions scrape at porous institutions as sites of learning from the unintended change implicit in the dynamics of togetherness. To embody a traversal institutional practice elicits an incomplete transaction — a social interval — that triggers the unlearning of the anxieties of a sovereign self.

Concerning this material grounding of being, Denise Ferreira da Silva points to the inherent violence of the categories of modernity. Enlightenment thought has established self-determination as the only universally valid subjective position, using it as a yardstick against which all humans are measured. Such a transparent ›I‹ of sovereign selfhood gets associated with determinism, temporality and interiority. It contrasts itself with the divergent perception and spatiality of the peoples deemed not rational and not sufficiently ›developed‹ However, da Silva opposes these colonial modes of being with »the possibility of knowing without modern categories«, contextualizing her stance from a Black radical perspective. Applied to a frame of writing-with friends, I thus aim to affiliate myself with a form of friendship that leads to becoming non-identical with oneself.

Ladybugs in winter,
scabies proliferating despite
heavy regulations on
human touch.

I submerge my body in a sea of scarlet beetles,
waiting for them to devour
the microscopic mites beneath my epidermis.

Every text is a palimpsest, an accrued layering of multiple other texts, written with, against, and also indifferent or even hostile to the writing in the making. Archipelagic textscapes insert themselves into existence and sprout unintended alteration. The constellation of such alien text bodies is the fabric of a textual friendship that seems pointless to express as a number. The same goes for any supposed individual and the others they encounter and react to throughout their lifetime. Nothing in the cosmos disappears. It only changes forms and principle, reassembling, rearranging. Like a faux leather seat itching the skin, my writing is shaped by and simultaneously extends into the physical world.

Time moves differently at 3am.
It stretches out so much that I
know
I’m going to finish this text as long as I manage to stay
awake.

The words I grasp at are hazy,
alertness would undoubtedly bring more
clarity,
but nevertheless, I’m a prolific auteuresse.

04:40, 4500 characters.

My best friend enters the room,
electrocution hair, my scratchy
brown blanket wrapped around
his body like a cape.

photo by plusX

photo by plusX

In »Aliens and Anorexia«, one of the historic figures whose life stories Chris Kraus liberally interweaves with her own, as avid readers and writers so often do, is artist Paul Thek. In encountering his diary, she realizes that »writing can be bad and still be part of something good. ‘Art’ is really ‘artifact.’ Exhibit A, Exhibit B of something else: a person’s whole experience and life.«

I find comfort in this understanding of personal note-taking and text production: written words as a contingent mass of letters that bear witness to my worked-through anxieties, quotidian observations and proto-theoretical thoughts, a body of matter that holds gravity beyond considerations of quality and singular genius. A majority of their heft is gathered when they’re picked up and charged with meaning by others. In that regard, every text is deeply relational.

I like to think that writing proliferates when people congregate in (reading) groups and antagonize, diffract, affirm their modes of existing and knowing, where what those groups attend to is a social endeavour. These proximate cells of comradeship transmit signals of care, friction and declaration. They simultaneously function as utterances and institutions of (mis)attunement.

»I dreamt you had a bad concussion, he mumbles with barely
opened eyes and hugs me tightly, I just wanted to make sure
you’re ok.«

When the sun rises, I slip into bed with him.
40 minutes later, his alarm wakes us both up.


References

[1] Félix Guattari and Suely Rolnik (2008 [1986]), Molecular Revolution in Brazil, trans. Karel Clapshow and Brian Holmes, Los Angeles: Semiotext (e), p. 169.

[2] Anders Dunker (2021). A Rave Just for Friends. Theorist McKenzie Wark thinks we misunderstood the utopian, Nordic Art Review: https://kunstkritikk.com/a-rave-just-for-friends/ [last retrieved 24/06/2021]

[3] Jaques Derrida (1982). Margins of Philosophy, trans. Alan Bass, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, p. 316.

[4] Denise Ferreira da Silva (2014). Toward a Black Feminist Poethics: The Quest (ion) of Blackness. Toward the End of the World, The Black Scholar, Vol. 44, No. 2, San Francisco: Black Scholar Press, p. 84.

[5] Chris Kraus (2000). Aliens & Anorexia, Los Angeles: Semiotext (e), p.77


The essay was first published on PlusX (2021)


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syg.ma team
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