TT: Imagining Language is such a unique project, and it occupies this odd place in my imagination, as a foundation of so many possible bodies of knowledge. Part of the thrill is simply accessing these figures such as Edna Sarah Beardsley and Benjamin Paul Blood, who seem to point to previously unsanctioned systems for using language. When contacting various people to get approval for doing this supplement, or to inquire about possible leads, without fail, each person responded enthusiastically upon mention of Imagining Language. What's your sense to the reaction the book has received?  As an editor, did you have a specific intentions as to how the anthology could be utilized?


JR: Although Imagining Language received grant support from the Social Science and Humanities Council of Canada, and was enthusiastically embraced by MIT Press, I honestly can't say what we expected in the way of reader response. It was a whacky project, really; an artichoke of eclecticism held together mainly by sheer profusion. It was instructive, to me, when a reviewer characterized it as a carnival. I hadn't actually thought of it that way, but it fits. Of course, a carnival only works if there's structural integrity to the different attractions, and at that particular editorial level I knew we'd done our job. The variety of the material meant that the nature of editorial labor was continually changing. For the extract from Judge Schreber's memoirs, for example, I carefully prepared an abridgement of the whole text, which was an incredible experience. Steve spent a while with the book by Alfred Kallir, contemplating similar strategies of holistic reduction, and ended up choosing a single letter (B) as a suitable extract. Because the nature of these editorial tasks varied according to the source material, it seemed to refract possibilities off each text in a prismatic way; and that registered most beguilingly in the assembly process. The five parts with their various subsections were really generated by the material; but the closer we got to finalizing it the more hectic it became. It was as if texts were revenants seeking proper burial, or petitioners out of Kafka attempting in vain to have their case files reviewed. If you think of the “Sound Effects” section, for instance, and then look at the table of contents, the anthology buzzes with alternate possibilities. I think what made it all come together in the end was the fifth section, “Matter and Atom,” anchored by the “Clinamen” conclusion. And here's one of the little enigmatic things about collaboration: we didn't hit upon clinamen as a solution until after we both spoke at the large symposium for Robin Blaser out in Vancouver in 1995 where, serendipitously, the clinamen concept was a major feature of our talks. We'd been on parallel tracks the whole time without even knowing it, mulling over “clinamen” without ever thinking of it in relation to the anthology. We were lucky to have that conference, since it revealed a much needed editorial solution—applying which, the whole structure of Imagining Language seemed to quiver into place.

This has been a roundabout way of answering your question, Tony. But it affords the best purchase I can offer on prospective uses of the anthology. It's prismatic by organization, and the sheer number of items overall is just enough so that the whole thing creates the apparition of a steady flow of atoms drizzling through the void in Lucretius' sense, in which the clinamen as serendipitous swerve inaugurating deviant destinies comes into play. You could call it an autopoetic structure, an immense cross-referencing playpen, a fractal arbitration of glee.

 

 

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