Notational, No. 2

So many turns you sigh, the linguistic turn, the political, the ethical and so on et cetera, enough to make you turn in your grave, prematurely, you think, no need for another, especially not a literary turn, you have to be joking. You always considered the phrase ‘linguistic turn’ to be a sort of joke, a somewhat comical but also delusory gesture apparently intended to refer to a new attentiveness to the importance of language in thinking, in philosophy and culture more generally, as if there were something before the turn, as if it thus confirmed that there were writings (Shakespeare’s, for example) that weren’t turned and already turning from the beginning, and as if the words ‘linguistic turn’ could be written, read, spoken or thought about without any need to register or try to reckon with the metalinguistic logic thereby inscribed.

♦ Nicholas Royle, Veering: A Theory of Literature

The post-structuralists animated this provocative kind of movement in language so vividly; but you can’t avoid the joke, not really, especially now that it has been articulated so eloquently, so persuasively, so repeatedly. The idea that there was a kind of writing before the straightness of language was called into question, before any evident kink was discerned in the central structure of what we consider legible—that there was somewhere, sometime, a literature free of inherent instability—comes off as more and more absurd the more the premise is examined. The need to address the “turn” becomes evident. We move from our trajectories mid-stoke. We do veer. If universal translation was possible from print to mind, from text to template, it would be an anodyne accomplishment fit for endless application—if we could clean up the mystery of transmission, so much suffering and confusion could be erased, but we would live with so much less in the outcome. I commit to exploiting the turn because I feel like there is some resolution to my restlessness in proliferating the field. These very real complications that deny a direct conduit from the undisclosed to the enunciated keep me from losing faith in the entire human project.

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