I think this recent spate of conversation on this Annex is finally pushing Urbanities to the elaboration of its purpose: namely, to uncover the underlying structure of the “soft architecture” called “global ecology.” Craig might disagree with me on this point, and the following as well: that this underlying soft-architectural structure is not form, but genotype. And if I understand Craig’s last long post to the Annex (Deleuze with Darío), the material relation genotype/phenotype is not formal. It’s simulacral.
His post gave me pause to re-read Deleuze’s “Plato and the Simulacrum,” such a beautiful little article. Like most everything he wrote, Deleuze seeks to throw everything essential out the window, i.e., anything that can be said to have an essence, and yes I deliberately threw a particular reference out the window in reference to Deleuze, who essentially owned the metaphor absolutely at the end of his life. But this is fodder for another post. As Craig excellently notes, Deleuze rejects the notion of “copy” in the sense of it being traceable back to an original essence; the simulacrum is purely appearance, surface, “image without resemblance.” Copies are secondary to the [imputed] original, but at least they retain a moral, and therefore superior, relation to a “true” reality of essences, or what I would more rightly call a “reality of absolute truths and falsities”:
The catechism, so fully inspired by Platonism, has familiarized us with this notion. God made man in His own image and to resemble Him, but through sin, man lost the resemblance while retaining the image. Having lost a moral existence in order to enter into an aesthetic one, we have become simulacra.
Deleuze’s more immediate target, however, is not the soul, but language and the sign. Once the sign is known to be arbitrary, it makes no sense to think of the sign as a copy of the thing, or the thing a copy of the Word. Deconstruction 101. Or as Deleuze would have it, language is a series of arbitrary signs in which “only differences are alike,” rather than “only that which is alike differs.” He continues:
Here are two readings of the world in that one bids us to think of difference in terms of similarity, or a previous identity, while on the contrary the other invites us to think of similarity or even identity as the product of a basic disparity. The first one [“only that which is alike differs”] is an exact definition of the world as icon. The second [“only differences are alike”], against the first, defines the world of simulacra. It posits the world itself as phantasm.
The phantasmic-simulacral definition of the world is nowhere more apparent than Darío’s “Yo persigo una forma,” in more ways than even Craig lets on in his brief reading of the poem. Darío laments through his sonnet that he will never be able to live in and through the “pure” forms he has so relentlessly pursued as a modern poet. His words are his poems are his life, but these are “only differences [that] are alike.” The lament culminates in a verse that Craig did not cite:
y el cuello del gran cisne que me interroga.
[and the neck of the great swan that interrogates me.]
The great swan should be a symbol of purity, the divine phallus, God-the-Father [Zeus], all that is good and logos… one could extend the list of metaphorical differences that hide in the neck of the swan as pseudo-metonymical likenesses. But here the swan’s neck doubles back down upon the poet – literally. We don’t get the whole swan, just the neck that rises up and curves back down. And the poet leaves this image open in radical questioning, again literally. The swan does not interrogate the poet through words, since obviously swans – even symbolic ones – don’t speak. But the swan nonetheless leaves the question open in language, written language, as a marca de interrogación. The question mark, that written symbol that conveys gesture, indicates a rise in intonation, but that itself does not raise its voice. The question mark, a symbol not of symbols per se, but a punctuation symbol, infinitely reproducible in any common newspaper or blog post. Or book of poetry. The neck of the swan is a question mark, the physical form of an interrogation, differences in tone that are alike in shape.
But this leaves us with another set of simulacra altogether. Darío’s modernismo is worldly, not other-wordly, given how perilously close it resides to the simbolisme of the French poètes maudits enshrined by his beloved Verlaine. Is modernismo thus a mere secondary copy of some more original, more formal, and hence more morally legitimate simbolismo? The reader can only answer affirmatively by inserting his or her own cultural hierarchies, by which a wandering Nicaraguan poet will always arrive to a Parisian dinner-party late (and poorly dressed). Except that Verlaine is no original, just a simulacrum of Baudelaire, who is a simulacrum of something else, which is just as likely a simulacrum of Darío, once we relinquish the hierarchies implicit in the form-content, original-copy relation. What all of these poets share – simultaneously – is their modernity, and what makes them modern is the recognition that all existence is really superficial existence, aesthetic experience. What makes them modern is superficiality and something else: a desire to experience an aesthetic order (“form” or “symbol”) that would “re-connect” differences as likenesses, “re-connect” simulacra to some original.
Deleuze helps us frame the impassibility of the modernist endeavor, therefore. At the center of modern/ist experience there is a void, because simulacra have no originals and therefore cannot be re-connected to them. Poets have long recognized this to be the case, but perhaps it was not until the 19th century that the impassible became impossible. By comparison, Sor Juana always had a void in the center of her aesthetic, which she filled with God. Darío filled the center of his aesthetic with a question mark, ineffable punctuation that only serves to lead us to some subsequent rejoinder. Silence, too, is a rejoinder.
Darío, in spite of his own overt intentions, only leads us back to the world order of the simulacrum based in the impossibility of origin. This means there can be no “Third World” so ordered based on the originality of the “First.” Or in the terminology of Darío’s day, there is no “progress,” and hence no “order” based on “progress.” (Either way, such kinds of international hierarchy only lead to bad policy in the best of circumstances, and can only be maintained by violence in the majority of circumstances.) More to the point of the present conversation, perhaps Darío would have been happier had he not pursued a form. Perhaps the real relation between poet and poem is genotype and phenotype. In the geno/pheno-typical relation, there is no similarity or difference, no before or after, no origin or copy. The phenotype is not a representation of the genotype. Genotype and phenotype certainly do not resemble one another, but are no different for lacking resemblance. There is just translation.
That is, the genotype holds information and the phenotype metabolizes this information, and the metabolic translation at times re-encodes information into the genotype. Such re-encoding is often called “evolution,” but the information nonetheless maintains consistency in movement between genotype and phenotype. Or better still, information subtends the relation between genotype and phenotype, and this information is clearly historical. Information inheres in the genotype and it is inheritable through the phenotype. Yet information itself is no origin and has no origin: perhaps informational origins have yet other origins before them, but such speculations are insignificant to the fact that translation between genotype and phenotype continues unabated.
The genotype/phenotype relation is not formed in time and space or formed by space-time. The genotype-phenotype relation informs the ontological translation of place and history into the material environment.