ON HYPER-AUTHORSHIP* Mikhail Epstein

PREAMBLE

The materials on the Japanese poet Araki Yasusada (1903-1972), a survivor of Hiroshima, were published in Grand Street, Conjunctions, Abiko Quartely (Japan), First Intensity, Stand, and The American Poetry Review. Gradually the rumor began circulating that Araki Yasusada did not exist and that the poems were a "hoax" perpetrated by the contemporary Japanese-American author Tosa Motokiyu (who passed away Summer 1996) and/or by the executor of his will the American poet Kent Johnson. See the discussion of this "hoax" issue and its ethical and aesthetical implications in Lingua Franca (November 1996), Countermeasures. A Magazine of Poetry and Ideas , No.5; Boston Review, vol. 22, No. 3, Summer 1997 (1)


1. A LETTER TO A JAPANESE FRIEND

To Tosa Motokiyu

from Mikhail Epstein

February 6, 1996

Dear Tosa Motokiyu:

Thank you for your letter and rich materials that I will certainly go through with great interest. I've been so inspired by some of your suggestions that I don't want to delay my response.

Why couldn't we establish an International Society (or Network) of Transpersonal Authorship? We could invite for membership those people who feel themselves overwhelmed by different (and multiple) authorial personalities that want to be realized through their transpersonal creative endeavors. This writing in the mode of otherness is not just a matter of pseudonym, but rather of hypernym. We don't produce our own works under different names but we produce works different from our own under appropriate names.

This is the crucial issue of contemporary theory and practice of writing. Poststructuralism has pronounced death sentence for the individual author(ship), but does this mean that we are doomed to return to the pre-literary stage of anonymity? One cannot enter twice the same river, and anonymity in its post-authorial, not pre-authorial, implementation will turn into something different from folklore anonymity. What would be, then, a progressive, not retrospective, way out of the crisis of individual authorship? Not anonymity, I believe, but hyper-authorship.

There is so much talk about hypertexts now... But what about hyper-authors? This question has not been even raised. Hyper-authorship is a paradigmatic variety of authors working within one (allegedly one) human entity. Hyper-author relates to an author similarly to how hypertext relates to a text. Hypertext is dispersed among numerous virtual spaces that can be entered in any order, escaping any linear (temporal or causal) coherence. Hyper-authorship is dispersed among several virtual personalities which cannot be reduced to a single "real" personality.

As thinking is always thinking "of," without necessary specification of the object, writing is always "writing by," but this "byness" of writing cannot be reduced to any biological, or historical or psychological subject. In the traditional literary theory, the author is a real individual or a group of individuals, but this is an outmoded way of thinking which can be compared with the conceptual framework of physics before the advent of quantum mechanics. The latter showed that we cannot pinpoint a particle with any specific locaton and time, it is a fuzzy phenomenon, embracing the aspects of discreteness and continuity, a particle as well as a wave. What I am discussing now is precisely the concept of ''fuzzy,'' or "continuum-like" authorship, which is not a discrete personality but rather a wave, going across times, places and personalities. Tosa Motokiyu and Araki Yasusada are some of the observable locations of this hyper-authorial wave which can reach the shores of other epochs, countries, and strange personalities. Hyper-authorship is a virtual authorship in which real personalities become almost illusionary, while fictional personalities become almost real. This "almost" is what allows them to co-exist on a par in the imagination of the readers. Leo Tolstoy said: "In art, the "almost" is everything." This concerns not only the matter of artistic representation, but also the mode of authorization.

The hyper-authorship is a necessary step in the development of the theory of difference in the direction of "self-differentiation." I differ from myself in many ways, and authorship is the sphere where I create numerous "selves" different from my own. What is at stake in the contemporary issue of authorship is not creating new texts but creating new authors. The task of the author is to authorize new authorships, to proliferate authorial personalities. I ask a contemporary writer how many authors has he authored, and if none, the major point is missing.

Previously the author was interesting to a degree his/her personality could illuminate the text and be instrumental in its understanding. This tendency culminated in the widely announced "death of author" by virtue of which text became a self-sufficient and self-enclosed entity. Now I am inclined to think that text is interesting as much as it is manifesting the multiple, infinite possibilities of its authorship. What we should enunciate, perhaps on behalf of several authors, like Tosa Motokiyu, Araki Yasusada, Yakov Abramov, and Ivan Solovyov, is the resurrection of authorship after its death, this time in the wavy, misty, radiant flesh of prolific hyper-authorship, no more coinciding with the mortal animal flesh of a separate biological individual.

We have moved far beyond the concept of biological parenthood which is now recognized as only one of many forms of parenthood. Now let's have done with the reductive concept of authorship as only "biological" authorship limited by the input of the author as a living individual. There are many sorts and degrees of non-biological--psychological, intellectual, inspirational, magical authorship. The question is how to differentiate these numerous authorships related to a single piece of writing, without hierarchical subordination of one to another. In what sense and in what respect Yasusada's pieces are authored by Tosa Motokiyu, and Motokiyu's pieces are authored by Araki Yasusada? This is the adequate way to question the post-individual or transpersonal authorship, not just to ask: who is the real author of this work, Motokiyu or Yasusada?

The theory of difference so far has led to some unsatisfactory results, deadening of differences in oppositions and their fixation in natural origins, such as predetermined ethnic and sexual identities provoking ideological wars among their representatives. The basic contradiction of postmodern theory is between the emphases on (cultural) difference and (racial, ethnic and sexual) identity. Why writing should be just an instrument in the assertion of one's identity, belonging to a set of natural determinants, such as race, ethnicity, gender, and sexual orientation? Writing is a challenge to my identity whence the series of hyper-authors proceed, different from the biological author and from one another. Writing would be the imaginative erasure and transgression of origins rather than their ideological reinstatement. Writing would be a progression of difference in my relationship with myself--and by the same token my increasing involvement and integration with others.

Isn't Yasusada a mark of your difference from yourself, as well as the mark of your "transbiographical" involvement with Hiroshima experience? The next step in the theory of difference will be to foreground what is different from difference itself. Difference, to be what it is, must be increasingly different from itself. The difference between me and non-me is only the first, naive form of difference which in its maturation turns into the difference between me and me and, therefore, grows into the expanded identity of "me and the other," thus giving rise to a new order of integrity, non-totalitarian totality. One way to push difference beyond difference is the multiplication of authorial personalities under the category of hyper-authorship.

There is a principal asymmetry and disproportion between living and writing individuals in the world. It's evident that not all living individuals have inclination and capacity to become authors. This renders quite plausible the complementary statement: not all authors have inclination and capacity to become living individuals. There are many authors who, for some reasons (which need further exploration), have no potential for physical embodiment, as there are many individuals who for some related reasons have no propensity for becoming authors. This implies that some living individuals, who have potential for writing, must shelter or adopt a number of potential authors within their biological individualities. What is pending to be actualized in the writing of one individual is the potentiality of many authors, i.e. those creative individuals who have no need or taste for living, in the same way as many living individuals have no need or taste for writing.

The deficiency of previous theories was to confuse these two aspects of writing, a biological individual and an authorial personality. Poststructuralist theory contributed to the solution of this question only negatively, by denying the attributes of a creative author to a biological individual. What logically follows is that we should also deny the attributes of a biological individual to a creative author. We have to split these naive equations of naturalistic fallacy. But we also have to proceed beyond the limits of this two-fold denial. Now the question has to be solved in a more constructive way, by positing hyper-authorship as the potential for an infinite self-differentiation of an (actual) individual, as well as creative integration of different (virtual) individuals in the process of writing. The deconstruction of authorship opens way to the construction of hyper-authorship.

The basic principle of writing is the excess of signifiers over signifieds. Every single thing can be designated in many ways. This excess of signification generates synonyms, metaphors, paraphrases, parodies, parables, and other figurative and elliptical modes of writing. Furthermore, this principle applies to the over-abundance of interpretations over the text which, again and again, becomes a single signified for proliferating critical discourses. What hasn't yet been discussed is the extension of this principle to the sphere of authorship. The excess of authorial personalities and their unlimited proliferation beyond the scope of an individual writing is the final surplus of the creative signification. The one who was believed to produce the excess now becomes the product of this excess. The respectable and indivisible Mr. Author gives way to the multiplicity of hyper-authors integrating and dividing their visions and efforts.

I believe that in the course of time hyper-authorship will become a conventional device not only in creative, but also in scholarly writing since it becomes impossible for a postmodern intellectual to adhere strictly to one position or one methodology in the matters of his/her profession. The need for the development of new, hypothetical methods of research (and which method is not hypothetical?) will bring about hyper-scholars who would pursue several alternative ways of argumentation mutually exclusive and complementary in the expanded universe of virtual knowledge.

When differences multiply and overlap with each other, we can detect a principally new phenomenon that can be called "interference." This means not only the act of interfering, but, to cite an encyclopedia, a specific "wave phenomenon that results from the mutual effect of two or more waves passing through a given region at the same time, producing reinforcement at some points and neutralization at other points." When hyper-authors pass together through a "given region" of creativity, their individualities are neutralizing and reinforcing each other at different points, the result being very expressive and contrastive picture of the world reminiscent of the patterns of a butterfly's wings colored, incidentally, by the same process of optical interference. Thus, difference progresses to the stage of interference, as the mature form of multidimensional integration-through-differentiation.

Let me share with you one secret. When you confided to me that it was not Yasusada but you who actually wrote his poems, I remained hesitant about the meaning of this statement perceiving it as a possibility for still another round or level of interpretative play between these two probable authorships. What is essential here is not the difference between Motokiyu and Yasusada but their mutual interference. Finally, do we know, following the famous parable of Chuang Tzu, is it Chuang Tzu who sees a butterfly in his dream, or is it a butterfly who dreams of herself being Chuang Tzu? Are you absolutely sure that it's you who invented Yasusada, not the other way round?

Let's leave this divination to critics and literary historians, and let's proceed with the fact that both of these potential authorships are maintained on the level of "hyper", i.e., are mutually transferable without determination of the "origin" which is impossible, as you know, according to the theory of the trace. There is a trace of Yasusada in you, and there is a trace of I. Solovyov in me, but the origins of these traces are lost and irrecoverable, or even never existed. What is important to discuss is the relationship among these traces, not their relation to the "pseudo" origin. What becomes "pseudo" under this new mode of writing is not the name of the fictional author but the identity of the "original" author. Biologically and historically, I am Mikhail Epstein, but as an author, I am a complex relationship of several authorial personalities (some of them remain unknown even to myself), among whom Mikhail Epstein has no authorial privilege on the ground of the simple fact that he has some extra-textual body.

I also can imagine a journal (an annual?) inviting the contributions of transpersonal authors and elaborating the theory of hyper-authorship. The title might be TBA meaning "trans-biological authorship" and at the same time "To Be Announced", an abbreviation for something that has not yet and perhaps never will be determined.

Cordially,

all of us, including Mikhail Epstein


2. A LETTER TO

AN AMERICAN FRIEND(2) To Kent Johnson

from Mikhail Epstein

September 5, 1997

Dear Kent:

Thank you very much for the opportunity to read your correspondence with Akitoshi Nagahata. The following is my attempt of "intervention."

I like a lot the critical arguments Nagahata has presented for his "anti-hoax" stance, but I cannot fully accept them at least for two reasons.

1). The first part of the argument is about how Yasusada's work, in particular, his explicit use of sexual imagery, would have been typical and plausible for a Japanese poet of his generation. Akitoshi Nagahata's response is clearly negative. "Japanese poet who would make reference to "fucking" and "cunts" in such an explicit way in renga is far too unusual. It is extremely difficult to imagine such a Japanese poet."

As a guest from another field, I have nothing to oppose to Nagahata's expertise in Japanese literature, but one simple methodological conjecture. Let's imagine that Marquise de Sade's manuscipts were found recently and sent for expertise to the specialists in 18 c. French literature. The specialists would probably deny these works' authenticity, partly because there was nothing so sexually explicit in the "novel of Enlightenment," and in literature of that period in general (and even later, because explicit eroticism in 20th c. literature was dominated by Sade's influence and inspiration). They would conclude something like this: "There must have been of course narratives that referred to genitals and sexual intercourse in the history of French literature, but they were usually implicit and the expressions were milder" (to cite Nagahata with the sole substitution of "French" for "Japanese").

The point is that the very inference "from typicality to authenticity" seems methodologically suspicious, because what makes outstanding writers outstanding is their untypicality, the break of aesthetic paradigm, the fact that they "stood out." Dostoevsky is far less typical for Russian literature of the 19 c., than dozens of mediocre "critical realists." Thus the discussion of if and how Yasusada was typical for a Japanese poetry of a certain period, very interesting in itself, does not provide arguments in favor of his actual existence or non-existence. None of great authors of the past ever "could be" if the possibility of their existence would be deduced from the generic laws and mainstream stylistic devices of their period. I imagine a series of very well argued academic (parodic) articles that would convince us that Homer, Dante, Rabelais, Shakespeare, de Sade, Dostoevsky, etc. are "hoaxes" because they "could not be" on the assumption of what we know about their time and their contemporaries.

2. Let's assume, nevertheless, that Yasusada "couldn't be" and "never did." What is wrong about free invention of such a hyper-authorial personality? To cite Akitoshi Nagahata: "But the fact remains that the text made the readers expect a true account of the Hiroshima survivor and it betrayed that expectation. The Yasusada material--a fiction in the guise of a truth-claiming writing--thus breached the generic convention in which the authenticity of the author contributes to its truth claim. And I still believe that this generic convention is important... In that virtual reality, one might be able to enjoy becoming someone else, but one cannot accept any more the veracity of a statement which refers to the actual world. Every day can be April Fools' Day. Isn't it scary?"

I agree, it's as scary as all year long of unbreakable convention. The so-called "poetry of witness" already has its 24 hours a day, 365 days a year of comprehensive watch on the American scene. And everywhere else in world literature. Let's look into literary encyclopedias: can you find among thousands of biographic entries at least a dozen devoted to non-existent, physically void authors? (I don't mean pseudonyms which still refer to real personalities under different names). Paradoxically, fiction still lacks those fictional rights and liberties that society can fully embrace and enjoy at least during Halloween and April 1.

According to aesthetic convention (and public consent), there is nothing morally reprehensible about the author who writes in the 1st person: "I killed a man" or "I hate human kind." Why should we be so indignant about the alleged "hidden" author who writes on behalf of another, fictional author: "My wife and daughter died in Hiroshima"? By what measure fictional characters are more aesthetically or morally admissible than fictional authors? Isn't the task of critics to elucidate for the reading public the value of new literary conventions, rather than to deny these conventions on the ground of their novelty?

Finally, I would modestly suggest that the break of convention is exactly what moves literature on--a statement clearly trivial at least since theRussian formal school introduced the notions of "estrangement" and "de-automatization." In this sense, literature is not just kindly allowed to "betray the expectation" of the readers (Akitoshi Nagahata's bitter reproach) but it is exactly what literature is designed and destined for. In my view, Yasusada "hoax," if it is hoax indeed, is the same type of hoax as any literary metaphor, trope, rhetorical figure, fictional character.

Why claiming Motokiyu to be Yasusada is more scandalous than claiming "eyes" to be "stars" ? "Hoax" is an authorial metaphor, the search for a new aesthetic convention, "de-automatization" of our conventional image of an author as a biological and biographical individual."Hoax" is a dysphemism [the opposite of euphemism, a rare, but existing term] for a most generous creative act which reverses the intention of plagiarism: the latter takes another's intellectual property as one's own, the former gives away one's own property as if it belonged to another author. We need now an antidote to this plague of universal plagiarism, this joyously banal and self-confident repetition of somebody else's ideas and images under the postmodernist pretext of inter-textuality. The solution would be not a prohibition on hidden citations, but a creative reversal of citational mode itself, the revolution in inter-textuality, by giving one's own intellectual property to somebody else, by putting in quotation marks one's own utterances.

Cordially,

Mikhail


*This essay was partly published as "Commentary and Hypotheses," in Doubled Flowering: From the Notebooks of Araki Yasusada. Ed. and Trans. by Tosa Motokiyu, Oji Norinaga, and Okura Kyojin. New York: Roof Books, 1997, pp. 134-147. (1) The contents of Boston Review, vol. 22, No. 3, Summer 1997 special section:

LESSONS FROM A HOAX: Responses to the Araki Yasusada Affair

(2). This letter was partly published in "The Yasusada Affair - Ethics or Aesthetics?"╩ The Kent Johnson / Akitoshi Nagahata letters╩, J A C K E T ╩ m a g a z i n e, No. 2.


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