I found the aspect of this topic in the ever inspirational genius of Aristotle, in the text without which the theory of literature cannot be imagined. Even Aristotle in his The Poetics opens the possibility of reading the text through the key of the erotic, so the idea of the text observed as a body, although an attainment of the theoretic thought of our time, is initiated in this capital text of our civilisation that we will always return to as to an anticipating nucleus for many theoretic ideas.
The aspect I start with is found in the 4th chapter of The Poetics in the part of the text where we read the four starting points significant for my further elaboration of the topic:
“… imitation is inherent to people since their child’s age; what differs them from other living beings is that they are most inclined to imitation, that they gain their first cognition through imitation, and that (1) all people enjoy imitating. A proof of this is what occurs while looking at works of art: for even those objects and creatures that we disgust at when they are in a natural state, for instance (2) the forms of the most repugnant animals and dead men, their pictures, when conveyed very faithfully are looked at with pleasure. The reason for that lies in the fact that (3) cognition is pleasant not only to philosophers but to other people as well, the difference being that the latter participate in this (enjoying) for a short time. Therefore people look at pictures with pleasure, because by looking they start gaining knowledge of and contemplating about what everything represents, as if they recall: “so that is the one”, because (4) if a man has not seen it before, the work will not trigger pleasure as imitation, but only due to the crafty creation, the colour, or due to some other similar reason.”1F
– The attitude that all people enjoy in the imitation with the verb (imitate) is the true distinction of the intrinsic instinct that all living beings possess, who integrate themselves in the world of the adults of their kind, right with imitation. This means that mimesis, by means of which art recreates nature, is also an instinct. However, this instinct is not universal, only a small number of people feel it and are gifted with it. It means that apart from the quantitative criterion relevant for the study of life, in this case we can include the qualitative, selective criterion since the instinct for creating art is distinctive within the framework of the human kind, which, as comparable to the divinity of the Creator of nature, can be elevated even higher in the hierarchy of creatures in general. May we here make a reverse comparison, starting from our Christian culture, with the conclusion that the ethic commentary of the God from the Old Testament, after each of the days in which one of the parts of the Universe was created (And saw that it was good), speaks of the same enjoying in creating art? (Nevertheless, we should take into consideration the thesis of part of Aristotle’s interpreters who seem to locate enjoying in art in the aspect of reception).
– The attitude that the forms of the most horrendous animals and dead men, their pictures, when rendered very authentically, are seen with pleasure, makes difference between the aesthetic act and its object and prompts Aristotle’s successors’ idea of beautifying natural ugliness with art.
– The attitude that cognition is pleasant introduces the aesthetically irrelevant but existing fact that art also has other functions that cannot be ignored in the reception.
– The attitude that the work will not bring about pleasure as imitation, but only due to the astute creation, or the colour, or due to some other similar reason, according to me, corresponds to the attitude from The Rhetoric (141 No 10) that also the identification of for example, the metaphor or the comparison, results in pleasure (pleasure due to competence, due to entering the code), but this position furthermore points out the distinction, the interior stratification, the hierarchy of those who consume art.
In the translation of The Poetics into Macedonian, Mihajlo Petrushevski chose the lexemes pleasure, pleasant, in order to express the effects of imitation and mimesis. In comparison with other translations, it is noticeable that all translators prefer lexemes that can be read as erotically allusive – for the nature of language, but apparently also for the imputation of knowledge that reader’s fantasy makes.
If Aristotle’s positions are vigilantly deliberated, it will be noticed that both through the imitation of the acts by means of which we integrate into the world of our biologic kind and through mimesis in art, we react with pleasure in identification. But if identification is a universal prerequisite for pleasure, it is itself conditioned by the degree of knowledge about the world and art.
The pleasure from identification of nature/the world is more universal. For its realisation, the general human experience of living is sufficient, which on the other hand, is not universal, but very individual and determined by the cultural and historical context. The same principle – pleasure from identification, this time of the text’s matrix, identification of the metatext, identification of the features of the genre to which the text belongs – functions in literature as well. Despite the danger of simplification, we can claim that realistic code in narrative literature is the most identifiable for the mediocre reader, and that every discrepancy of the text in respect of the realistic code, the other non-narrative genres, the text-lyrics – demand knowledge plus, demand different kinds of knowledge, other kinds of competence of the reader.
In that sense we derive the similarity between eroticism and reading, following the line of the relationship between senses and mind. “Eroticism is always a cognitive act,” said Jan Kott in his lucid essay on eroticism, and continues: ”In that erotic cognition, body undergoes section, and senses verify with one another. As if the look becomes provided with certain functions of touch, and touch with some functions of the look. Eroticism is a permanent calling of touch by the look, and of the look by touch. As though the existence of the erotic partner is continuously questioned and continuously asks for proofs.”2F
In this statement by Kott, we recognise Aristotle’s idea of pleasantness of cognition, but it should be more important for us that Kott “transfers” synesthesia from the sphere of literature into the sphere of the carnal.
Eroticism and reading are communication acts, and both of them are specific regarding the verbal communication, where every interlocutor functions in a corrective manner in the relation with the other, reacts to the utterance of the other. In eroticism, the verbal two-way communication is reduced, rudimentary and unarticulated, onomatopoeic – but it exists! In the communication two-way act: author-text, text-reader, communication is not actively two-way. Writing and reading as constitutive parts of this communication act can be compared with the reproductive sexual act (which does not necessarily have to eliminate pleasure, but which is often a hard realisation of instinct, i.e. in literature: of the gift that the talented one is “burdened with”) and with eroticism that inevitably implies pleasure (once, according to affinity, the appropriate interlocutor in the wish has been chosen).
The relation author-text communicates with Kott’s statement about eroticism: “The partner does not really exist, he is created, he is a materialised erotic fantasy. Like in masturbation. He is created through our own sexual ego. Nevertheless, erotic fantasy never creates a complete situation or a complete personality. The erotic partner from fancies and from desires is created or given only in fragments. Like a broken statue whose parts are found or looked at one after another. These are separate objects: the torso, hands, legs, head, stomach.”3F
The making of a text (aspect of the author) is seduction as well, mimicry and travestism, too, a game whose master is the writer and who by giving birth to the text, kills himself resurrecting in the narrator or in the lyric subject who must not resemble him. A hide-and-seek game. A hide-and-seek in which author’s narcissism only changes, yes, into the clothes of the opposite sex. Mimicry about one’s own body and own being, about the ego which seemingly concealed within the parts (the torso, hands, legs, head, stomach, said Kott), conceitedly boasts of being a master of the whole. In some other time and place, but with a tremendous illusion of synchronism, the reader watches the above-mentioned game as a voyeur. In the act of reading, the role of senses in respect of writing turn over: “the rude” tactility of writing, the violence over the text, over the whiteness (of the paper, the screen) is compensated by the gentle tactility of caressing the paper and by emphasising the sense of eyesight through reading. In both parts of this communication act with the text, it is reason that is essential. In it there is created the admirable chemistry of reflection of imagination that moves the hand/hands in the physical manifestation of the spiritual in writing. In it, a similar chemistry triggers fantasy, which by giving you the creeps it physically verifies through the reflexive reaction of reader’s senses.
The uncertainty in “the understanding” of the message is the common sema of the erotic intercourse and reading. Similar to erotic partners, who can never for sure know how much they understood the other and how much they were understood by the other, the text with its meanings on the surface is a true puzzle with polyvalence in the sense. Yes, there are keys for figuring-out, but remember how right Woody Allen was, when, ironising the blunt conceitedness of the character-intellectual whom Mac Luan self-confidently interprets in his film, he negates him by personally instigating the real Mac Luan to tell him in his face that the understanding of his theses by that self-confident university lecturer – is not true!
With its potential capacity to realise one of the many bodies for the writer and with its fixedness on the reader, the text really fulfills the function of a sexy-doll which is defined by the creator, but then transformed by the customer-lover-reader according to his fantasy and knowledge. The beauty of conquering the text is in the fact that through reading, the following Kott’s thought is applicable: “The partner again flees. He does not allow to be lastingly reduced to body. This is probably the reason for the defeat of every passion, and perhaps for the constant loss when we are dealing with the phenomenon called love.”4F
Reading, too, is concerned with love. With an immense energy in love by means of which only in mind, the entire body will be assembled for an instant, and then with an infinite tenderness it will plunge, go deep into the layers of the text. With the same delight, the text is written, planted in the whiteness of nothingness, which is the reason why the author and the reader look at each other as in a mirror, in the same self-pleasure. The knowledge that they know of themselves is self-contented and sufficient to them, and let themselves be seduced by the thought that they have conquered the text. Yet, this is not possible.
For the text is unattainable. Regardless of the author’s and the reader’s sex, regardless of the mimicry of the narrator and the lyric subject, due to the relation between the author and the reader towards it, with the same love and same wish to conquer and possess it, they encounter its fathomless depths, and therefore it cannot be conquered…
Since the gender of the text is actually feminine.
The text is she.
Translated by: Kristina Zimbakova
1. Chapter 4, Poethics. Skopje 1979, pp. 22-23.
2. Jan Kot: Kavez traži pticu. Niš 1983, стр. 19
3. Jan Kot: Kavez traži pticu. Niš 1983, стр. 16
4. Jan Kot: Kavez traži pticu. Niš 1983, стр. 20