New Star Blogs

Discarded Epigraphs to IKMQ


New Star Books and LINE­Books are co-host­ing a co-launch for Roger Farr’s two new books com­ing out this year: IKMQ(New Star) and Means (LINE­Books). The launch is Fri­day, Octo­ber 5 at the People’s Co-op Book­store, 1391 Com­mer­cial Dri­ve (8 pm; free admis­sion). In antic­i­pa­tion of the inevitable read­er ques­tion, Roger has writ­ten this blog post for us to explain him­self.

Don’t throw out your old epigraphs: they could be use­ful to your grand­chil­dren, if they still know how to read.”

— Genette, Para­text

I was asked to write this blog entry on what I was up to when I wrote IKMQ, about why I made cer­tain deci­sions, my con­cerns, etc. IKMQ is an unusu­al­ly — at times obses­sive­ly — “meta-” book, and it quite lit­er­al­ly con­tains its own com­men­tary (in “Epimythi­um”, “The­o­ry of Prose”, and “The Rules” for exam­ple). What might be more use­ful then is to say some­thing about what did not end up in it, and why. In this case, that is a fair bit of mate­r­i­al, includ­ing a list of dis­card­ed epigraphs.

Genette argues that there are four main func­tions of an epi­graph. The first is to jus­ti­fy the title of the work, a move made nec­es­sary when the title alludes to or bor­rows from anoth­er text, which was com­mon in the 17th and 18th cen­turies when the epi­graph became com­mon­place. The sec­ond is to offer com­men­tary on the writ­ing that fol­lows. The third is to invoke, via the pres­tige or infamy of the author, a kind of legit­i­ma­cy. The last func­tion is what Genette calls the “epi­graph-effect,” a self-ref­er­en­tial oper­a­tion in which the pas­sage acts as “a sig­nal .. . of cul­ture, a pass­word of intel­lec­tu­al­i­ty .. . With it, [the author] choos­es his peers and thus his place in the pan­theon.” In Van­cou­ver these days, there seems to be anoth­er com­mon use for the epi­graph, which is to estab­lish sol­i­dar­i­ty — affin­i­ty, friend­ship, mutu­al recog­ni­tion — with spe­cif­ic social strug­gles and move­ments. 

At any rate, I can’t say for sure which func­tion the epi­graph to IKMQ serves. Clear­ly it is not the first. Maybe the sec­ond. Here it is, from Wittgenstein’s Cul­ture and Val­ue:

Just as I can­not write verse, so too my abil­i­ty to write prose extends only so far, and no far­ther. There is a quite def­i­nite lim­it to the prose I can write and I can no more over­step that than I can write a poem. This is the nature of my equip­ment; and it is the only equip­ment I have. It’s as though some­one were to say: In this game, I can only attain such and such a degree of per­fec­tion, I can’t go beyond it.

Although I con­sid­ered sev­er­al oth­er pas­sages, I was com­mit­ted to some­thing from Wittgen­stein because my ini­tial inter­est in the short prose form stemmed from the con­cept of the lan­guage-game devel­oped in Philo­soph­i­cal Inves­ti­ga­tions. When I first start­ed read­ing this some­what impos­ing work I found it almost impos­si­ble to under­stand. It didn’t help that I’d once read some­thing by an influ­en­tial Amer­i­can poet who claimed he had devoured PI “like a nov­el.” Not so for me. At some point, I turned to writ­ing the short prose pieces that became IKMQ with the idea that they might serve as instances of the “prim­i­tive” lan­guage-games that Wittgen­stein saw as the best demon­stra­tions of how mean­ing coin­cides with words.

That was in 2004.  Eight years lat­er, on a dif­fer­ent island, I fin­ished (or rather stopped) the project. Only this time, my pur­pose was to reor­ga­nize and revise a selec­tion of the 100+ pieces I had assem­bled over sev­er­al years into a book that was to be some­thing more than a record of my exper­i­ments. I had no inten­tion of dump­ing my note­books on the pub­lic.

There is often a residue, a remain­der, that accom­pa­nies chem­i­cal, organ­ic, or mechan­i­cal process­es. In many ways, IKMQ is pre­cise­ly such a by-prod­uct. This may have some­thing to do with why it returns to scenes of pro­cess­ing, ren­der­ing, dis­till­ing, man­u­fac­tur­ing, har­vest­ing, assem­bling and dis­as­sem­bling, etc., along­side oth­er forms of pro­duc­tion and repro­duc­tion.

Which brings me back to the list of dis­card­ed epigraphs. Here are the ones I seri­ous­ly con­sid­ered but final­ly reject­ed. I offer these, in lieu of a more direct com­men­tary, which can be found in the book itself.

It has been com­plained, with some jus­tice, that I dump my note­books on the pub­lic.
— Ezra Pound

The book is full of life — not like a man, but like an ant-heap.
— Wittgen­stein, Cul­ture and Val­ue

Smith and Brown play chess with no dif­fi­cul­ty. Do they under­stand the game? Well, they play it. And they under­stand the rules in the sense of fol­low­ing them.
— Wittgen­stein, Philo­soph­i­cal Occa­sions

Soci­ol­o­gists are often accused of treat­ing actors like so many pup­pets manip­u­lat­ed by social forces. But it appears that the pup­peteers, much like sopra­nos, pos­sess pret­ty dif­fer­ent ideas about what it is that makes their pup­pets do things.
— Bruno Latour, “Reassem­bling the Social”