Patchwork, biography as hypertext

Patchwork, biography as hypertext


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Patchwork, biography as hypertext exploring the problematics of biographical representation after poststructuralism
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vi, 157 leaves : ; 29 cm.
Robitaille, Stephen
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English thesis, Ph.D   ( lcsh )
Dissertations, Academic -- English -- UF   ( lcsh )
bibliography   ( marcgt )
non-fiction   ( marcgt )


Thesis (Ph.D.)--University of Florida, 1998.
Includes bibliographical references (leaves 153-156).
Statement of Responsibility:
by Stephen Robitaille.
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University of Florida
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aleph - 030039558
oclc - 41088996
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First, I would like to thank Professor Gregory Ulmer, who chaired my dissertation

from its original incarnation as a more traditional analysis into the methods of literary

biography to its final form as a truly experimental project. I am indebted both to his counsel

and scholarship, as well as to the many years of emotional support he generously provided. I

also owe a debt of thanks to the other members of the committee, Professors Alistair

Duckworth, Patricia Craddock and John Craig Freeman, who provided both intellectual

stimulation and welcomed infusions of confidence and support. Also, I would like to thank

Professor Paul Stacey, whose support during the writing of my masters thesis at the

University of Hartford was the original stimulus for this study.

To Miriam Patchen I extend a belated appreciation for waiting out the completion of

this study, so many years after the generous interviews, conversation and confidences.

Finally, I would like to extend my loving appreciation to my parents, Jean and Pauline

Robitaille, who introduced me to the love of literature and provided an atmosphere of

unquestionable emotional support. To my grandmother, Yvonne Daniel, I owe the gift of

faith. And I am grateful beyond words to my beloved wife, Julie, without whom this project

would lack both its jouissance and its conclusion.



ACKNOWLEDGMENTS ... ........... ii

ABSTRACT ... ................... v


1 INTRODUCTION .................. ................ ..... 1

Convergences .................................... .. ...... .. 1
Theory ...................................... ..... .. .......... 3
M odels/P atches ........................ .................. ..... 6
M ethodology ........................ ............ .......... ..... 9
Im plications .......... .......... ......................... 13


Iro nies . .. .. .. .. . .......... .. 2 1
Plugging in Patchen .................. ......... ..... ....... 24
The Status of the "Author" and "Subject" Will Be Re-visited and Re-
Positioned in the Electronic .................................... 25
In the Electronic There Are No Origins and No Destinations and, Thus,
"Thesis," "Truth" and the "Real" Are Reconsidered and Repositioned .... 33
The New Electronic Academic Discourse Will Be Non-Totalizing ............. 36
Electronic Discourse Will Introduce Alternative Structures and Organizational
Patterns ...... .... ..... .... .. .... ..... .... 39
The Question of Ideology Must Be Revisited and Reconfigured in the
E electronic ............... ................... ......... .. 46

3 (A)NALOGY: QUILTING AS HOBBY THEORY ..................... 57

Quilts and M ourning ............................................. 62
Chaos Theory and the "Crazy" Text(ile) ............................... 66
From Citizen Kane to Citizen Patchen ................ ..... .......... 73
Other Models for Mystoriobiography ................................... 76
Figures Before the W all ............. ............. ............ 81
More Alternative Approaches ...................................... 83
Passage Through The Wall ................. ................. ..... 87
Assessing Patchworking Elements for Electronic Mystoriobiography .......... 95

4 (T )A R G E T .. ...... .... .......... ....... ......... .... .. ..... ..

Introduction .......... .. ............... ...... 99
Crash Sites ................ .... .......................... 102
C conclusion ................. ........... .. ................. 124

5 THE CATT(t)'S TALE/TAILLE .............. ............. .. 129

Introductory Screens ....... ........ .... .......... 129
Scene/Space One: The Bedroom ....... ........... ............ 130
Scene/Space Two: The Projection Room .......... ......... ... 135
Scene/Space Three: The Newsroom ....... ....... ....... 137
Scene/Space: Four: The Thatcher Memorial Library ...................... 142
Scene/Space Five: The Jazz Tent ............................. .. 143
Other Scenes/Other Spaces .............................. ...... 145
Final Scene/Space: The Cellar as Site of "das Ding" .... ... ...... 146
'das Ding': This Place 'Between Two Deaths' ............................ 149

REFERENCES ..................................................... 154

BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH ................................... ........ .. 158

Abstract of Dissertation to the Graduate School
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy



Stephen Robitaille

December 1998

Chairman: Gregory Ulmer
Major Department: English

The hypertext project, Patchwork, the subject of this study, is the result of a

convergence of critical theory and new modes of electronic media at a point in time when

artists and scholars continue to debate the impact of poststructuralist and postmodern thought

on the humanities. Patchwork is an examination into the problematic of biographical

representation as witnessed in the life and art of multimedia artist and poet, Kenneth Patchen


An examination of the vast array of oftentimes conflicting materials that compose

the Patchen archive reveals a decidedly cubist subject. This study has attempted to

stratagize an alternative, experimental biographical practice capable of re-presenting these

multiple perspectives. The possibility for such an approach was inspired by George Landow's

assertion that hypertext is an ideal laboratory for testing out certain tenants of critical theory.

Following this lead, research toward the development of Patchwork then turned to the

writings of Gregory Ulmer on applied grammatology and heuretics, which provided the

process of inventio which came to inform the aesthetics and design principles for the hypertext


Employing Ulmer's heuretic of the CATT(t), the various stages and chapters of this

study serve as a manifesto for a new form of academic writing. Utilizing Ulmer's heuretical

concepts of hobby theory, mystery and the "popcycle," Patchwork, in turn, takes the form of

an electronic patchwork quilt in which the embedded material of both the biographer and

biographical subject are "stitched" into a remake, or detournment, of Citizen Kane. The

resulting CD-Rom becomes a virtual tour of Kane's "Xandu" here reconceptualized at Citizen


This attempt to experiment with an alternative, poststructuralist mystoriobiography

employs various practices introduced by critical theory which address the very elements of

biographical representation that traditionally problematize such an endeavor. This study

underscores that in the case of a subject such as Kenneth Patchen, whose life and art is fraught

with all sort of deconstructive tendencies, an experimental approach is not only justified, it

becomes, in fact, the more illuminating route to travel.



The hypertext project, Patchwork, which is the subject of this dissertation is the

result of a convergence of critical theory and new modes of electronic media at a point in

time when artists and scholars continue to debate the impact of poststructuralist and

postmodern thought on the humanities. Nearly a decade ago, I began research into the life

and art of multimedia artist and poet, Kenneth Patchen (1926-1972), hoping to produce an

"authoritative" biography of my "subject." Long before that decade had concluded, it

would become fashionable to call into question the very notions of textual "authority" and

a representational, unified "subject."

My own questioning of such fundamental biographical imperatives arose directly

from my first plebeian forays into the realm of biographical research. After later reading

considerable literature on the biographical method, what I discovered was hardly

considered a trade secret: literary biography demanded one be a Jack-of-all-critical-trades

(historian, psychologist, sociologist, just to name a few) and be ultimately fated seldom to

be a master of any. And this at a time when the disciplines, such as those mentioned

above, were each being rendered problematic under the critical eye of poststructuralist


To make a dreadfully long story short, I soon became more consumed with the

problematic of biographical representation than in the writing of a "definitive" Patchen

biography. One of the many ironies inherent in my digression is the fact that Kenneth

Patchen, like numerous other complex individuals and artists, had left behind a minefield

of biographical and artistic conundrums waiting to explode in the smug face of any future

"truth" hound hoping to sniff out the essence of his life and work. I was soon engaged in

the classical struggle, inherent in such research, with how to re-present to my readers, not

simply the facts of a life, but rather, with a replication of the research process itself, with

all its labyrinthine, poststructuralist twists and turns.

While I never feared the warnings of those who predicted that such an approach

would render the biographical "author" dead, or reduce his works to indeterminable

"texts," I did fear the possibility that I would not be able to find a suitable format for

allowing the reader to determine his, or her, own reading of the life and works. And, more

importantly, would I be able to find the suitable format for allowing the reader's personal

engagement, not just with the materials of the text, but with the various problematic of

handling them? It was the emergence of hypertext which served to alleviate such fears.

There are two contemporary theorists whose works themselves have been the site

of significant convergences of post-critical thought, and to whom the Patchwork project is

largely indebted. First came the publication in 1985 of Gregory Ulmer's Applied

Grammatology, which introduced its readers to the "third" or "applied" phase of Jacques

Derrida's grammatology, and in so doing, outlined a new pedagogy for the humanities, and

in particular, a humanities now largely experienced in the era of audiovisual

communications. In his next book, Teletheory, published in 1989, Ulmer invents a genre,

called mystory, for the cognitive structures of the electronic culture.

Contemporaneous with Ulmer's theorizing toward a new electronic pedagogy was

the work of Brown University Professor, George Landow, on the development of a highly

interactive form of electronic text, called hypertext, which correctly proclaims to be the

ideal laboratory for the testing of various essential points of contemporary literary and

semiological theory. The results of this work were published in Hypertext: The

Covergence of Contemporary Critical Theory and Technology in 1992. Of particular

interest to my investigation into the possibilities of biographical representation, for

example, are the ability of hypertext to embody Derrida's idea of "de-centering" and

Barthes's conception of the "readerly" versus the writerlyy" text.

In the balance of this introduction, let me briefly outline key elements of the work

by Ulmer and Landow, and suggest how these elements have shaped the methodology for

constructing Patchwork, an interactive biographical hypertext whose subject is the

problematic of constructing a subject we might call "Kenneth Patchen."


To begin, let us consider what Ulmer found of interest in Derrida that shaped, first,

his development of an "applied grammatology," and more recently, teletheory. Ulmer

points out that: "Writing, as Derrida practices it, is something other than deconstruction,

the latter being a mode of analysis, while the former is a mode of composition" (Applied

Grammatology xi). Identifying in Derrida's work the utilization of "three levels of

communication--images, puns, and discourse," Ulmer finds that what is most important for

his work" is the extent to which Derrida systematically explores the nondiscursive levels--

images and puns, or models and homophones--as an alternative mode of composition and

thought applicable to academic work, or rather, play" (xi). "This writing," Ulmer posits,


"is not a method of analysis or criticism but of invention" (xii). Ulmer then postulates that

this "new compositional model .. reflects a larger program that might be derived from

Derrida's deconstructivee] texts," a program Ulmer labels "grammatology" (xii). What is

significant for the purposes of my hypertextual project is Ulmer's insistence that:

"Grammatology as composition (Writing) is not confined to books and articles, but is

addressed more comprehensively to the needs of multichannel performance--in the

classroom and in video and film as well" (xii).

Thus, grammatology offered the promise of a form of composition that would not

lure me with the same siren sounds of "truth" that doom most biographers to the rocks of

exegetical totalism or "subject" mongering. Rather, a grammatological approach might

allow me the means to invent a pedagogical apparatus that invited the reader of this

electronic text to explore the possibilities of the Patchen archive both as a field of

information and as a means of self-instruction in the possibilities and problematic of

biographical representation.

Such possibilities are elucidated by Ulmer in the Preface to Teletheory, where he

explains that his proposed genre of mystery "takes into account the new discursive and

conceptual ecology interrelating orality, literacy and videocy" (vii). Of particular relevance

to the impact of teletheory, and its specific genre, mystery, on the humanities is the fact

that it "brings into relationship the three levels of common sense--common, explanatory,

and expert--operating in the circulation of culture from "low" to "high" and back

again. ..," thus providing a "translation (or transduction) process researching

equivalencies among the discourses of science, popular culture, everyday life, and private

experience" (vii).


Ulmer's acknowledgment of the impact of his inventio on the humanities, and his

challenge to the discipline, is boldly stated as such:

The failure of the Humanities disciplines to communicate with the public
may be due in part to the fact that what separates specialized humanists from
laymen is not only our conceptual apparatus and the discourses of the academy,
but the very medium in which we work--the printed word. It is time for the
humanities disciplines to establish our cognitive jurisdiction over the
communications revolution. (viii)

The decision to translate my own disciplinary research into the biographical method

in general, and the biographical subject, Kenneth Patchen, in particular, into an electronic

hypertext, was doubly confirmed by Landow's own acknowledgment of Derrida via Ulmer

in the opening chapter to Hypertext. The convergence of Derrida/Ulmer/Landow with

Robitaille/Patchen appears in the form of a parallel between Derrida's deconstructive

enterprise and Patchen's lifelong attempt to explore and expand the possibilities of personal

expression through multimedia art. The following observation by Landow of Derrida may

be said to echo my own experiences with Patchen's work and with Patchen as subject of a

biographical hypertext. Writes Landow:

Derrida's groping for a way to foreground his recognition of the way text
operates in a print medium--he is, after all, the fierce advocate of writing as
against orality--shows the position, possibly the dilemma, of the thinker working
with print who sees its shortcomings but for all his brilliance cannot think
outside this mentalite. (Hypertext 9)

What I am trying to suggest here is that Derrida's "groping" and the subsequent new kinds

of text that he has created are recognized by theorists such as Ulmer and Landow as

providing both the theoretical underpinnings and numerous specific terms, models and

strategies which lend themselves ideally to the composition of hypertext. I would like now

to consider several of these terms, models and strategies and briefly outline how, in the

chapters to follow, they will be utilized in the design and operation of Patchwork. Finally,

I will consider some of the implications for the humanities that the creation of such a

hypertext biography might pose.


A seminal point of convergence, one that both names and legitimizes my

Patchwork project, derives from Derrida, and after him, Ulmer's, employment of the

concept of homonymy, based on the

premise of applied grammatology that the cartouche principle of the signature,
directing the relation of the proper name to common nouns .. may be generalized
to include the process of concept formation--the relation of an abstract term to the
metaphors from which the term is "derived." (Applied Grammatology, 26)

For Derrida, the concept of homonymy allowed for the possibility of creating a text,

Signsponge, generated out of the poet's name, "Frances Ponge," in which, as Ulmer

describes it, "[Derrida] treats Ponge's oeuvre as if it were written in the key of'Ponge,'"

which Ulmer sees as "one way to generalize a rhizomatic relation to the world"

(Teletheory, 160).

Such an approach, suggests Ulmer, allows for the possibility of "celebrating what a

name founds, what may be found in a name" (161). This "signature procedure," more

importantly, "is not the naming of a determinism, but an invention, inventio, whose

purpose is to produce a text" (164). In employing such a procedure, I am following the

rhizomatic possibilities of the signature "Patchen" as it converges homonymically with the

textile metaphors of the "patch" as "patchwork," in both its square (printed), round

(electronic) and hobby (theory) senses. (I'll elaborate on Deleuze and Guatarri's use of

"rhizome" and Ulmer's concept of "theory hobby" in the handbook to follow.) Writing

thus, in what Derrida considers this third modality of the signature, one arrives at what

Ulmer, in his invention ofmystory, refers to as "metaphors or vehicles for a poetics of

invention, a memory system or mnemonics available for thinking about any matter

whatsoever" (165).

What I want to think about, therefore, are the following. For example, what would

a hypertextual biography look like if it functioned not only in the traditional sense, as a

repository of archival information concerning an artist's life and creative practices, as well

as an attempt to reconstruct some semblance of a "self' in the humanist sense of the word,

but rather, to use Ulmer's description of Signsponge, as a "theoretical elaboration of the

poetics of generating the text," a work, in other words, that is "at once the thing and the

model" (Teletheory 156-7). Identifying Derrida's project as otobiography, which "mixes

the modes of critique and fiction," Ulmer, in his incorporation of otobiography to his

genre, mystery, sets out to demonstrate, as in "Derrida at Little Big Horn: A Fragment,"

"the possibility of applying literary devices to the practice of academic discourse" (161).

How then, for example, might I incorporate into my hypertext, a mystorical

"patch" which brings into relation (via multichannel, hypermedia capabilities of this new

electronic medium) such mystorical levels of discourse as the "personal (autobiography),

popular (community stories, oral histories or popular culture), [and] expert (disciplines of

knowledge)" (Teletheorv 209)?

In Patchwork, for example, the personal, or autobiographical level would link,

again by way of homonymy, "Patch/Patchen" with "Robitaille/robe(text-tile) and

"taille"/tailor, thus generating various electronic webs, or rhizomatic linkages between my

familial association with the New England textile industry, exposure to my father's career

as an engraver of other persons' signatures and the translation of this autobiographical

link, with my "minor vita," as Ulmer calls it "(alluding to Deleuze and Guatarri's minor

literature, minor science)," into the present context of electronic biographical

"patchworking" (Strategies 17). Additional autobiographical links would include my first

traumatic awareness of death via electronic transmission of certain images over my

grandmother's television, and the resurfacing of this memory as a recurrent phenomenon in

my problematic relationship with biographical representation in general (i.e., explication as

annihilation) and in my fetishistic relationship with the subject "Kenneth Patchen," in

particular (e.g., Patchen's own preoccupation with death, the disaster of his sister's fatal

accident, his violent art and his own association with the 'death of language and the author'

phenomenon). In trying to understand the relevance of Patchen's "story" to my own

cultural formation, such factors need to be reckoned with, for it is in this mystorical

convergence of disasters that the reader/co-author of my hypertext discovers that

exploring an author's corpus is, in the present instance, to enter an electronic crypt, where

the Freudian theory of melancholia and mourning results, as Derrida suggests of Nietzsche

in Glas, with Nietzsche's unsuccessful mourning, and the deferral of his signature (Derrida,

The Ear of the Other, 56-59).

How, similarly, might the reader/re-creator of this hypertext generate his or her

own mystery in such a fashion as to consider the following relationships and

convergences: a) the archival material available for the construction of "Kenneth Patchen"

as a biographical subject, b) a miming of Patchen's own poetics and avant-garde practices

as a means by which to compose a critical literary biography of his life. Step C would then

combine "a" and "b" with the three levels of discourse inherent in mystery to create an

open ended "Patchwork" conceived of not as a "text of justification," (the biographical

urge to codify a life), but rather, one "of discovery" intended to "help the composer

articulate the ground of invention" (Ulmer, Applied Grammatology, 211).

In positing the link between postructuralist thought and hypertext, Landow cites

the work of a diverse range of theorists whose concepts are embodied in both the design

and application of this new electronic medium. From Barthes's "galaxy of signifiers" to

Foucault's notion that the "'frontiers of a book are never clear-cut,"' the parallels between

computer hypertext and critical theory are many and significant. For the purposes of

Patchwork, it is my intention to create an electronic crazy quilt, where individual

electronic "patches" whose signatures read Derrida, Barthes, Ulmer, Foucault, Lacan,

Kristeva, Deleuze, Guatarri, Robitaille et al. (the Patchwork quilt is, like Borges's

labyrinth, infinite in size) will, in a manner of speaking, be woven into the larger quilt, each

"patch" representing a "reading" into the problematic of transforming the infinite and

chaotic galaxy of signifiers that might signify "Kenneth Patchen," into that which, in the

manner of Lacan's objet petite a, is marked by a "lack" that renders it always something

both more and less than wholecloth.


In linking my project to that of Ulmer's and Landow's theoretical explorations in

hypertext, I wish to further extend an experiment which Ulmer states in his Introduction to

Heuretics "derived from Hayden White's challenge to contemporary historians to reinvent

historiography using the arts and sciences of today as models in the same way that the

nineteenth century historiographers drew upon the models available to them in their

period" (xii). My objective, then, is to reinvent biographical methodology using a model

provided by Ulmer in Heuretics.

Heuretics, which Ulmer defines as "the branch of logic that treats the art of

discovery or invention," has as its goal "not only to reproduce historical inventions" but

"also to invent new poetics" (xii). In introducing his analysis of the "story of invention."

Ulmer cites the significant contributions of major figures whose theories and practice have

shaped a long "tradition of the discourse on method" (8). The list includes among others:

Freud and Marx, Dziga-Vertov and Eisenstein, Wittgenstein and Barthes. Ulmer singles

out for special consideration, "Andre Breton's invention of surrealism as a sample of the

generative approach to writing theory" (5). Given Patchen's role as a central figure in

American surrealist and avant-garde literature and art, I am drawn to Ulmer's extension of

surrealism, and his inquiry into how "might an invention such as surrealism, rooted in a

particular historical and cultural moment, be simulated in the heuretic experiment?" (6).

Robert Ray, crediting Ulmer's influence, provides an excellent series of examples of the

application of surrealist strategies for the purpose of doing theory. These strategies will

inform the creation of Patchwork.

In addressing the question of surrealism's re-simulation in the heuretic experiment,

Ulmer identifies Breton's "The Manifesto of Surrealism" as "belong[ing] to the tradition of

the discursive method." Furthermore, explains Ulmer

A comparison of Breton's manifesto with the various classics of method
reveal that they tend to include a common list of elements, which are
presentable for mnemonic reference by the acronym CATTt (Ulmer,
1991b). The CATTt includes the following operations:
C = Contrast (opposition, inversion, differentiation)
A = Analogy (figuration, displacement)
T = Theory (repetition, literalization)

T = Target (application, purpose)
t = Tale (secondary elaboration, representability) (8)

In Heuretics, Ulmer considers how the above operations are manifested in Plato's

Phaedrus. In summarizing Ulmer's explication ofCATTt in Plato, I will briefly outline, by

analogy, how I will employ the CATTt in the construction of the hypertext, Patchwork.

Indeed, Ulmer's CATTt is to serve as the blueprint for my hypertext project, which has as

its objective testing out this invention (CATTt) on the subject of biography. Thus, each of

the chapters to follow will focus on the five elements of the CATTt.

"The theorist," explains Ulmer, "begins by pushing away from an undesirable

example or prototype, whose features provide an inventory of qualities for an alternative

method" (8). In Plato's case, he "defines his own position in opposition to that of the

Sophists" (8). In Chapter 2, "Contrast," the undesirable example or prototype is the

traditional methodologies employed in the composition of the literary biography with its

attendant qualities of verisimilitude, linearity, teleology, logocentrism and theories of

authorship and subjectivity, to name a few.

In his discussion of analogy, Ulmer (citing Buchler) states: "Method becomes

invention when it relies on analogy and chance" (8). Adds Ulmer, "If methods tend to be

practiced as algorithms, their invention is heuristic ."(9). Plato's analogy for inventing

the dialectic is "between proper rhetoric and medicine" (9). In the case of Patchwork, as

discussed in Chapter 3, "Analogy," the analogy will be between the theory and craft of

quilt-making and the application of critical theory to a hypertext biography.

The "theory" component of the CATTt requires that "the theorist generates] a

new theory based on the authority of another theory whose argument is accepted as literal


rather than a figurative analogy" (9). In each case, according to Ulmer, a "new theory will

include in one register a literal repetition of a prior theory, modified, of course, by its

interaction with the other elements of the CATTt" (9). In Chapter 4 I will import various

elements of post-structuralist theory, particularly as they have informed Ulmer's

grammatalogical extension of critical theory into the realm of electronic media. More

specifically, as mentioned earlier, I wish to experiment with Ulmer's concept of theory

craft as the means to join the theory component (T) with Analogy (A)/Quilt-making and

Tale(t)/hypertext biography.

Since it is the intention of the theorist to have "in mind an area of application that

the new method is designed to address" and since this target "is often identified in terms of

an institution whose needs have motivated the search for the method" (9), I would like to

target the flourishing institution of literary biography, whose received conventions and

traditional methodology have only, of late, begun to be deconstructed and problematized.

As Ulmer summarizes, "Target supplies an inventory out of what is lacking or missing, or

out of the excess of a new situation for which no practices yet exist" (9). Thus, in Chapter

5, "Target," I will speak to that inventory of what would appear to be lacking or missing

in terms of present institutional practices and suggest how, through the incorporation of

mystery, the CATTt's tail/tale (linking homonymically to Robi-taille, French for

tailor/stitcher/text-tile worker) provides out of the excess of this situation, a new practice

of biographical writing and research.

Finally, according to Ulmer's CATTt, "the invention, the new method, must itself

be represented in some genre," ideally, perhaps, in the form of "a dramatization of the

theory of knowledge appropriate for the human subject envisioned by or presumed by) the

Theory" (9). Since, in the case of Plato's dialogues, his "discourse on method did what it

said (was a showing as well as a telling," in Chapter 6 I will perform an experiment that

presents a series of such parallel gestures. I will explore Landow's premise that hypertext

is the ideal laboratory for testing out certain tenets of post-structuralist theory. By

extension, I will employ Ulmer's practice of theory craft and mystery as the means by

which to test out the theory (T) of what becomes of biography when written in this new

discourse and medium.


Many scholars continue to agree with biographer Leon Edel's assertion that

biography "has not yet articulated a 'methodology'" (Edel 4-5). Others, such as Hugh

Brogan, insist that the attempt to construct a ". cubist biography would be impossible,

for it would too patently impose the writer's design on the subject's life" (Brogan 104).

Implicit in the concerns expressed in, say, a review of the year's New York Times' reviews

of biographies, is the implicit notion that were a methodology to be discovered and agreed

upon, it would fulfill what Brogan asserts is the "aim at accuracy of detail and

completeness of outline," and would avoid at all costs "the ingenuities of deconstructing

critics" (104, 110).

What those of us who have begun to explore the possibilities of collaborative

writing have discovered, and there is much here for literary biographers to consider, is

that, to quote Barthes's S/Z: "this 'I' which approaches the text is already itself a plurality

of other texts, of codes which are infinite (Barthes 10). In thus conceptualizing the

Patchwork hypertext as an electronic quilt, whose nodes of intersection recast our notion

of'self as, in Jean-Francois Lyotard's terms, "a fabric of relations that is now more

complex and mobile than ever before" (15), abandoned is the central executive authority

whose signature "author-izes" a reading of the "subject."

In short, one of the major implications of this study is to respond to the assertion

that a non-traditional, post-structuralist hypertext literary biography must be, by virtue of

its definition, devoid of "meaning" and incapable of bringing the reader into some

significant and relevant awareness of both the literary "subject" and the means by which

that "subject" might, in fact, be "constructed." In addition, this project explores the

possibility that such new methodologies, operating as a generative, rather than merely

analytical and hermeneutic, force are, thus, capable of producing "readings" of a life and a

body of literature which, albeit untethered from the leash of an author-izing agent, thesis

or theme, are, nonetheless, rich in their conveyance of the scents (if not "sense") and

traces (if not "truths") of the literary "subject."

Even as I write these introductory remarks, an article in this month's Harper's

(June 1996) by Paul Roberts entitled "Virtual Grub Street" is mounting the same critical

attack on hypertext as a medium as Brogan has made against the potentialities of a

"cubist" or deconstructive biography. I welcome the timely appearance of this article as it

makes the sort of no-holds-barred critique the implications of which the Patchwork project

is intended to address. Appearing as it does in a widely read and respected magazine,

Roberts's article will no doubt confirm the suspicions and fears shared by many who see

critical theory's sinister affinity with hypertext as a further assault on literacy and

knowledge. Thus, 1 would like to quote at length from Roberts's article and suggest, in

advance, how the Patchwork handbook to follow will take into consideration his various


In what amounts to the confessions of a guilt-ridden and over-paid free-lance

writer of "info-nuggets" and "pap" for CD-ROM companies, Roberts begins by concluding

that: "Brevity and blandness: these are the elements of the next literary style" (71).

Regrettably, it would seem, Roberts has yet to encounter some of the evocatively poetic

hypertexts represented say by the Eastgate catalog of writers, to mention one obvious

source. As to the charge of brevity, Roberts makes it clear that his measure is that which

he, in quotes, refers to as "normal" writing, in which "the writer uses the paragraph as a

bridge between specific points" (75). The problem, which remains surprisingly out of

Roberts's view throughout his critique, is that his assignments have been largely info-based

encyclopedic CD-ROMS which, by design, are caption oriented, and do not ask of the

composer to invent new syntactical and rhetorical strategies in which each page, or "link,"

can be imaginatively juxtaposed with other pages to constitute, not the "expendability"

Roberts laments, but a plurality of readings resulting from a plentitude of perspectives and

a logic which seems to leave Roberts out in the cold.

A key paragraph in Roberts's article links the pitfalls of hypertext to academe,

critical theory, and the writers of avant-garde literature. Since it serves as a sort of

compendium of the sources I will cite as positive influences on the creative use of this new

medium, I cite it in full:

Nonlinearity might seem like little more than channel surfing, but its proponents--
ranging from wealthy software gurus to tenured English professors--champion it
as an authentic yet functional postmodern form, a critical break from the age-old,
rigidly linear format of the printed page. Nonlinearity, we're told, redistributes
narrative power to readers. It undermines the tyranny of the Author. Its branching
"intertextuality" is a much closer match to the brain's own networks. Indeed,
advocates believe that the nonlinear text, or hypertext, literature can at last give
full expression to the kinds of unconventional discursive impulses that folks like
Joyce and Barthes were forced to convey via the grotesquely obsolete linear

format. For that matter, non-linearity provides a kind of running critique of the
linear format, laying open the myth that "stories" can be told only one way, in only
one direction, and toward only one conclusion: toward "closure." With
nonlinearity, as with thought itself, there is no closure, only additional links. Thus
nonlinearity, to its proponents, is the beginning of a new, more honest and
complex literature--and, perhaps, the beginning of the end of an old one. "The
printed book seems destined to move to the margin of our literate culture,"
writes Jay David Bolter, a Georgia Tech professor of communication and one of
the more articulate exponents of electronic texts. "Print will no longer define the
organization and presentation of knowledge, as it has for the past five centuries."

This paragraph, like the article as whole, is itself deserving of some deconstruction.

For example, "that stories can be told only one way" is not a myth, nor is it an accurate

reading of the historical record. As we will observe in a later chapter, there is considerable

precedent for nonlinearity and lack of closure in the print tradition, the midrash of

rabbinical exegesis serving as just one prime example. More fundamentally, while the

human inclination for narrative closure is indeed a persistent one, its ubiquitousness is

matched only by the equally human urge to defy borders, to resist interpretation, to recoil

against too easy a sounding of one's "story," as does Hamlet in this most proto-typical of

self-deconstructing texts. Consider Borges, with his labyrinthine narratives, as further

evidence that a period does not sign the close of a narrative, however linear its path may

seem to be.

Neither Joyce nor Barthes, despite their "unconventional discursive impulses," can

be credited with the limitations Roberts claims are inherent in the style of CD-ROM

composition. The worlds they have created and the delight their texts have brought to

legions of readers, recommend their work as models for writers of hypertext.

I am particularly delighted by one of Roberts's most revealing statements, one that

concludes, ironically enough, with a textile metaphor, thus "linking" hypertextually and by

way of negative example, Roberts's hypertextual endeavors to my own. He begins by

underscoring the virtue and intellectual vigor of his preferred writing practice with the

apparently mindless and conspicuously feminine ("knitting") craft of hypertext:

Conventional, linear writing can be a gruesome task. Beyond the lame pay and the
feast-or-famine job cycle, the pounding of disparate facts and feelings into a tightly
structured narrative is like digging a ditch across a concrete parking lot. By
contrast, squirting out blurbs is a cakewalk, a lower-order process managed, I'm
sure, by the same lobe that handles heart rate and knitting. (75)

Roberts's statement, aside from the sour grapes and occupational anxiety

associated with his having harnessed his literacy skills to shifting paradigms, is replete with

damning evidence of the very sort of unified, complexity reducing, singularly plotted

narrative toward which literary biographers occasionally set forth and from whose siren-

sounded waters few return unhaunted and deconstructed. Indeed, should the biographer

set his or herself a "conventional, linear" path, the going will indeed be "gruesome,"

though this hardly serves as a valorization of the chosen path. One wonders how the facts

(not to, mention the reader) suffer at the hands of so much "pounding." As to the

metaphor of "digging a ditch across a concrete parking lot," I am reminded of a Zen koan

which raises the puzzle: how to extricate a rare, last of its species bird who has grown too

large to be removed from the Ming-quality vase into which it had earlier been placed? The

answer: "Poofl It's out!" In other words, to research the record of conundrums which the

subjects of literary biography, via their behaviors and artistic work, have left behind, not to

mention those conundrums imposed apriori by the ideological bent of the biographer, is to

watch so many birds be placed in so many vases, thus setting into play the necessary

violence, the "pounding" of the interpretive pick-ax.

As regards Roberts's "knitting" reference, the parallel he would appear to be

drawing is that between the sadly commercialized and mundane encyclopedic CD-ROM

assemblages represented by the dreary sample entries he provides on marine science facts

and, say, knitting in its most basic, wool-mitten manifestation. Circumstances have not

permitted Roberts to become the Melville of cyberspace, and 'suppressed of voice' he is

reduced to a "blurbmeister," unable to create his "extended symphonic rhythms" (75).

Knitting, however, when employed in the craft of quilt-making, is no "lower order

process" but a craft, as we shall see below, with a rich signifying tradition and a

significant body of theoretical discussion. Quilt-making's multimedia content employs a

diverse range of text and visually based literacies and, like hypertext, is storied in nonlinear

"patches" that are often linked associationally with little emphasis on a narrative thread or


Roberts fear of the lack of control extends beyond his subject matter to that which

he can exert over his readers. "I realize," he writes, "I can't make my "linear" readers read

what I write in the order that I write it." Sadly, he is forced to admit: "Linear readers skim.

They jump ahead, looking for interesting parts, then refer back for context--behaving, in

some respects, like the multimedia user." One can hear exasperations of the parental

rebuke directed at potential (mis)behaving readers. Such lack of trust is magnified in the

closing lines of the paragraph:

But the nonlinear interactive process undeniably accelerates this haphazardness.
The nexus of creativity is shifted from the writer to either the producers, who lay
out the text links, or the readers, who make use of those links. (77)


Several issues are suggested by this passage. First, were Roberts the producer here, could

he envision a reconfiguration of the subject matter (i.e. links) that would allow him to

utilize the unique attributes of this medium in a creative and expressive way? Second,

might Roberts allow for the development of a poetics that invites reader response, which,

while not determined by a controlling narrative or thesis, nonetheless generates reader

interaction, intrigue and interpretive impulses?

Feminists have argued with considerable force of proof and conviction that such

rage for control is a masculine trait. Further evidence presents itself in the New York

Times Book Review (June 9, 1996), where Molly Haskell writes in praise of Barbara

Grizzuti Harrison's An Accidental Autobiography. In contrast to Roberts's anxiety over

the "haphazard" element in composition, Molly Haskell cites as praiseworthy

compositional strategies based on nonlinear pathways to communication and knowledge.

Writes Haskell, "This pattern of recurrence and repetition, this sense of memory as a

Heraclitean river in which each step is both familiar and new, is the guiding principle for

Barbara Gurizzuti Harrision ." (9). Drawing specific attention to Harrison's use of

nonhierarchicalal'" associations of memory," Haskell describes the author's inclusion of a

"vast number of subjects .. in chapters arranged alphabetically," a strategy similar,

perhaps intentionally so, to that employed by Roland Barthes in his own autobiography,

Roland Barthes. Since Barthes's work serves as one of the models for Patchwork that I

will discuss below, I read with interest Haskell's congenial response to Harrison's text:

This strategy rejects straightforward developmental biography for something akin
to the more relaxed tone of the personal essay, but without even the topical or
thematic unity that genre usually has--and to which Ms. Harrison, a past master, is
no stranger. The nearest literary convention would be the commonplace book, or
what she describes as a scrapbook with "different photographs of the same

emotional memories." In fact, her book is like a collage or a mosaic: clusters of
language portraits so richly detailed, and palpable with color, fabric and texture,
that they are closer to the visual arts than to conventional prose narrative. (9)

One does, indeed, envision such a text as a CD-ROM, In the hands of another

writer and hypertext artist such as Michael Joyce, such biographical material would be so

configured as I will discuss below. Hypertext, conceived of as an electronic patchwork

quilt, as a text(of)tile(s), is a mosaic or collage of multimedia material whose patches are

juxtaposed into patterns suggested by the memories storied in the patchwork-materials in

concert with unique responses and "readings" of these materials by the quilt-

maker/hypertext reader into whose hands these materials land.

Should you one day find yourself weaving your way through however many

"patches" then constitute my Patchwork quilt, my hope is that you will discover for

yourself, in the archive's endless dissemination of words, paintings, recordings, interviews,

interpretations, reviews, assaults, castigations, deconstructions, and mysteries, some node

of intersection, or to paraphrase Robert Coover, "the allure of the blank spaces of [my]

fabulous network" (Landow 105). And having arrived, as only whoever you think you are

could have arrived, you will discover the eerie sensation, the biographer's nightmare, as

feverishly declared in Patchen's Journal of Albion Moonlight: "You have read many books.

This book is reading you" (202).


The alphabet is euphoric: no more anguish of "schema"," no more rhetoric
of "development," no more twisted logic, no more dissertations!
-Roland Barthes in Roland Barthes

Strength lies in improvisation. All the decisive blows are struck left-handed.
-Walter Benjamin in "One Way Street"

The question must be: What are the equivalents at the level of institutional
practices and personal behavior of the convergence of electronic technologies?
-Gregory Ulmer in "One Video Theory"


We begin our journey to the CATTt's (t)ale, the hypertext quilting of a post-

structuralist anti-biography of Kenneth Patchen with a consideration of those elements of

traditional literary discourse against which this project is to be contrasted. In Chapter 5 we

will (T)arget literary biography principally as that institutional practice which our

experiment in hobby theory is attempting re-create.

While the resulting Patchwork antibiography will be ahistorical in a Foucautean

sense, there is indeed a history to the emergence of hypertext and to its status, in

Landow's terms, as the ideal laboratory for testing out certain formulations of post-

structuralist literary theory. As we will discuss throughout and witness in the resulting

(t)ale or de-monstration, Patchwork, the life and art of Kenneth Patchen provides, by way

of homophony and the play of the signature effect, an analogy to the problematic of

historiography, biography and representation, which have emerged out of the history of

communication from the oral tradition to what Ong refers to as the present period of

secondary orality or the post-literate, electronic age.

We will examine certain "effects" of Patchen's writing practice that include a

significant compendium of issues raised by the emergence of new discourses now taking

shape in cyberspace via hypertext and CD-Rom computer generated technologies.

Implicated here are the relationship between these technologies and post-structuralist

theories that have influenced and shaped them and that may be further extended and

explored by virtue of their invention.

A central irony that frames this enterprise lies at the heart of the mystorical thread

that links my auto-biography to that ofPatchen's bio-graphy. As we will later note,

Patchen's anti-novelistic prose, his explorations in concrete poetry, poetry-jazz,

experimental type and graphology, and collaborations with John Cage and other avant-

garde artists, embodied as an artistic corpus the very sorts of deconstructive practices

which marked the scars, wounds, gaps and fissures that plagued his physical body and

psyche for most of his life. These deconstructive elements return, like the Freudian

repressed, or the Lacanian objet petit a, as that which haunts my present attempt to re-

present this art and life.

Additional ironies abound. Patchen's anti-art, with its carnivalesque collaging of

hybrid discourses, and its schizoid meeting of ideological and social practices, resulted in

mixed and oftentimes conflicted reviews. And his long-standing impulse not to be

"named" (despite, paradoxically, the ubiquitous presence of his trademark signature), or to

be categorized as "Beat" or "proletarian," or any other such typology, as well as his

general disdain for the academic critical enterprise of literary interpretation, has virtually

erased his name from the literary register and the indexes of contemporary anthologies.

Nonetheless, as I will both argue and hope to de-monstrate in Patchwork, that which is

represented by a 'virtually' endless chain of signification, by the floating signifier of

"Kenneth Patchen" as woven in multiple patchwork variations at the site of a "great

quilting," as Nietszche's site of "multiple exits and entrances," constitutes the "living-on"

of the subject in a manner fitting the boundless nature of the consciousnesses that are

patched together in his name.

And yet the reality of Patchen's legacy continues to haunt my present work in the

form of the devalued currency which the name "Kenneth Patchen" represents to academic

research and publishing. I pursue an interest in a marginalized subject and 1 desire to do

so, following Derrida in Signsponge, in the key of Patchen, which is to say, represent the

play of Patchen's signature in the form of a new academic writing that links the effects of

his signature to the deconstructive elements potentialized in hypertext and multimedia.

We proceed, then, left-handedly toward the CATTt's tale by first reviewing

Landow's claim for hypertext as a laboratory for an experiment such as Patchwork.

Having established the basis for legitimizing hypertext as a valid and useful inventio for an

alternative academic discourse, I will extend the argument specifically to literary

biography-as-hypertext in Chapter 5 ("Target"). In the two bridge chapters, we will

examine the importation of quilting as the hobby theory of choice for our experiment

(Chapter 3, "Analogy") and the extension of the 'quilt' metaphor into the realm of

electronic 'quilting', or hypertexting (Chapter 4, "Theory").

Plugging in Patchen

What the Patchwork project represents is an argument by way of de-monstration

for a new form of academic writing. The groundwork for this project has its roots,

rhizometrically speaking, in the past and in the future. Indeed, we might suggest that this

endeavor marks a return from the future anticipated by the past.

The problems of biographical representation which I began to consider in the early

stages of my research on the life and art of Kenneth Patchen included a vast compendium

of issues which have long plagued those disciplines and discourses which attempt to deal

with such notions as "representation," "fact," "truth," "origin," "subject," "author," and the

like. Historiography, anthropology, linguistics and literary theory, not to mention the

sciences themselves, have all been scrutinized and re-considered in light of the shifting

paradigms and new technologies of this century. It should come as no surprise, therefore,

that biographical method should be similarly interrogated and that institutional discourses

in literary biography should not likewise be re-considered and potentially re-configured.

While later chapters will consider the impact directly upon literary biography

theory and practice, what I would like to review in this chapter are some of the essential

concepts listed above ("representation," "fact," etc.) and how these concepts might be

taken up and re-positioned in a post-alphabetic, electronically based literacy. In short,

what aspects of my work on the Kenneth Patchen "archive" and its translation into a post-

structuralist multimedia biography are most directly impacted by critical theory" And how

might what Ulmer and others refer to as electronic thinking, or "videocy," the cognitive

domain of Ong's period of "secondary orality," inform the shaping of this new academic

discourse. If, as Landow suggests in Hypertext, multimedia and computer based texts are

the ideal lab for testing out certain aspects of critical theory, how, uniquely, might the

generative powers embodied homonymically in the subject "Patchen," provide a tutor

corpus (I use this term to reference both the literary and physical bodies of my "subject")

for such a study?

The manifesto to emerge from this chapter is thus constructed as a series of

contrasts to traditional academic discourse as practiced in the dissertation, the gate-

keeping discourse, if you will, for the profession. I wish to highlight specifically those

elements of this discourse which are relevant to Kenneth Patchen, my "subject" (the term

itself an issue here), and to consider how these elements are impacted by the importation

of this "subject" into the realm of the electronic.

The Status of the "Author" and "Subject"
Will Be Re-visited and Re-Positioned in the Electronic

The details of Kenneth Patchen's art and life are an exemplar, if you will, of a long

record of discussion concerning the nature of the subject in relationship to writing that

dates back to antiquity My interest in Patchen, virtually from my first encounter with his

work, the anti-novel, The Journal of Albion Moonlight (1941 ), stemmed from the meta-

levels of his hybrid discourse, what in Bahktinean terms would be its carnivalesque or

dialogic qualities and in a Deleuzean sense, the schizoid nature of its narrative. "You have

read many books," Albion tells us at one point in the randomly structured journal, "But

this book is reading you" (xxx). While I can appreciate the levels at which this comment

might have been directed toward his readers (or, as I will later argue, himself), the

ramifications of such a line in terms of a signifying "play" of meaning both in his work and

life are significant, I believe, beyond even the conscious intention of its scriptor.


If one adds to the self-consciousness of such lines, other qualities of the text, such

as the use of parallel discourses printed in the margins of the book, the constant shifting of

genre in the novel from Albion's tale, to journal entries, direct address to the reader,

concrete poetry and the use of visual images as an element of the text's graphical structure

and mnemonics, one begins to appreciate how this work, like others in the Patchen

oeuvre, are linked both to the emergence of the book out of a pre-alphabetic tradition and

to the return of the illuminated text as an electronic hypertext and multimedia.

What is essential to the premise of the Patchwork project is the critical linking of

such aesthetic issues as the appearance and structure of the work with the formation of the

"self," the "subject-who-writes," of the "author." The scattering effect of Patchen's

Moonlight has implications not just for the schizoid narrator, but also for he who signs the

book, the biographical Kenneth Patchen, as well as he who signs the book in his name, the

reader of the text. That was the message in the bottle that surfaced in the fomenting

waters of this biographer's dreams and ruminations. Just how is it that the 'floating

signifier, "Kenneth Patchen," inscribed as a ludic play of multimedia impressions,

typographies, drawings, jazz poems, etc., not to mention, from the biographer's

perspective, the free-play of associations witnessed in his nonfiction writings and the

proliferation of his image as a pop icon--contributes to the determination of meaning one

might attach to the writer's name or signature?

In his letter dated February 5, 1930, written during his freshman year at the

Andrew Micklejohn Experimental College to Isabel Stein, a former member of his high

school poetry club, Patchen muses on the arbitrary nature of the alphabet and toys with

the notion of randomly reassigning the designation of these signs. Having failed to cross a

"t," Patchen begins a reverie in which he decides, "I will use my own letters," and

substitutes hieroglyphic like signs as an alternative code of communication All the while,

Patchen has been juxtaposing a parallel reverie in which he questions the status of the

"snow" outside his window: "If you know what that means ["that" referring to his

hieroglyphics] you could explain to me why it must snow on the ground today in order to

have the ground covered with snow while the ground was covered with snow yesterday

and it did not snow." The snow imagery here is reminiscent of the snowy flight into

solipsism in Conrad Aiken's "Silent Snow, Secret Snow." Patchen closes by suggesting to

Isabel: "Perhaps some day I will make a study of snow."

As I will later explore in the mystorical patch of the Patchwork quilt, Patchen's

"snow" may be linked by way of the mnemonic system of Patchwork with the snow scene

in Citizen Kane, in which snow functions as a moment of erasure for our twin subjects,

Patchen/Kane. Earlier evidence for Patchen's anxiety about a life committed to language as

a means of escaping a depressed youth can be found in his October 4, 1929, letter to

Isabel in which he speculates with some fear and trepidation at the implications of

dedicating himself to the possible self-destructive, or self-deconstructive, task of

depending on language as the means by which to express, indeed, to create a less pained

self He informs Isabel that

Because of illness I did not start to school until 1 was eight years old and it was
while I was sick that I had things read to me. I lived in an imaginary world and I
believe sometimes that I never really left that world. ("Letters")

Aware of critical nature of his decision, Patchen writes, "But say I shut out

everything in my life but the pursuit of creative poetry and in the end find that it does not

satisfy me then I'd feel that I had ruined my life for a silly whim As we will explore by

way of the inter-textual weave of Patchwork, Patchen's concerns were well-founded, as

indeed, there would be no borders between the "inside/outside" of his physical/literary

corpus. The moment of prophecy arrives in the same letter, when Patchen reveals: "There

is and has been something lacking in my life and I can't place it, I hate sentimental things

and modern poetry seems to be nothing else and I'm at a loss."

That Patchen would establish himself as a writer of some of the mid-century's most

popular love poems, while winning similar acclaim for his dark, surrealist anti-novels and

absurdist prose, may be viewed less as a point of irony, but rather, as an expression of the

carnivalesque, schizoid nature of a multifaceted subject-in-language, a "self' more written

upon than written whose scattered patches we will "assemble edit" and re-edit via the

apparatus of our biographical hypertext.

These early letters, with their strange markings, their phantasms of snow and

shadow, their prescient foreshadowings of a haunting lack which no manner of expression

could suture, could make whole, these "dead letters" are the ghost in our machine. Indeed,

I would make the claim they are the ghost which our hypertext lab (if Landow and others

are correct) is best suited to negatively re-present by way of the de-centered, fragmented,

non-totalizing, disseminating qualities of the medium. In fact, "medium" here might be said

to operate in its more "occult" "left-handed" fashion as that which marks a "lack," the

"traces" of a subject conceived of as that which we invent as much out of desire, as out of

a need to logically explain.

These letters are an heraldic moment in the poet's lifelong series of etchings on the

mind's wall. I believe they reenact at the personal level what Havelock and Ong have

charted in their writings as that critical passing from mythology to philosophy, from an


oral to a written culture. As Ulmer reminds us of this moment, the texts ofJacque Derrida

"similarly already reflect an internalization of the electronic media, thus marking what is

already at stake in the debate surrounding the closure of Western metaphysics" (Ulmer,

Applied 303). While, according to Ulmer, Derrida's program "represents a deliberate

choice to accept the new paradigm," in Patchen's case, I would argue the choice was less

willed, less intentional, but certainly no less productive of a 'body' of work that is at once

deconstructive, marginalized and pre-electronic.

And central to this program is the issue of the "signature" as a prominent feature of

Patchen's art, the effects of which "signature" are to be related to the notion of the

displaced or dis-remembered 'self, particularly as the 'self or 'subject' might be displaced in

the electronic paradigm.

The self as "an invention of Socratic vocabulary" becomes "textualized" by Plato

and thus there emerges the "personality" of the person using the language, and this

language, suggests Havelock, becomes "that level of theoretical discourse denoted by

logos (Havelock, 1964). It is at this critical moment, argues Havelock that "a cleavage

opened up, between theoretical discourse and the rhythmic narrative of oralism: the

philosopher against the poets" (114). The conclusions which Havelock draws from this

critical moment are central to the formation of my manifesto. Havelock writes,

The linguistic symptoms of this radical shift away from oralism, which has ever
since underlain all European consciousness, occurred in a proliferation of terms,
notions, and thoughts and thinking, for knowledge and knowing, for
understanding, investigating, research, inquiry. (115)

The "symptoms" may be said to be largely felt in traditional academic discourse. It

may also be said to characterize the life and work of Kenneth Patchen, seen as a valiant

explorer into the realm of this cleavage, and as a "potentiality," or doubly victimized

"subject" of a research method (i.e., literary biography) itself contaminated by these very


Our strategy for acknowledging the "linguistic symptoms" to which Havelock

refers, for avoiding an academic apparatus that according to Derrida "consists of a mouth

speaking--lecturing--an ear listening, in a literal way, a hand writing--the cultural machine

of note-taking," is to change the apparatus (Ulmer, Teletheory, 160). Ulmer's contribution

here is to propose extending "the intellectual senses--hearing and sight, knowledge from a

distance--by means of audio-visual technologies" (Ulmer, Applied, 160). Ulmer cites

Derrida's practice of otobiography, a "mixing of the modes of critique and fiction," as

"demonstrating the possibility of applying literary devices to the practice of academic

discourse" (160). Citing Derrida's Signsponge, a text "in which [Derrida] treats Ponge's

oeuvre as if it were generated in the key of Ponge," Ulmer explains how such an

experiment "includes one way to generalize a rhizomatic relation of the text to the world"

(160). The existence of a "Patchen Homepage" on the web, consisting in July 1998 of

some 110 links, or "threads" to use the textile metaphor associated with our hobby theory,

suggests that the Patchwork quilters are already at work, the web already expanding

rhizomatically in cyberspace. What will it mean to try and find "Patchen" in this endless

chain ofsignifiers? What will it mean to "quilt" biographically with these "patches," in this

space, collaboratively?

What Derrida finds in Ponge's discovery of the "science" of the signature is a

production that celebrates "what a name founds, what may be found in a name" (161)

Such a discovery leads Derrida to the conclusion that simply affixing a signature to the

end of a book does not constitute a "signing." The proper name "survives, lives-on," by

virtue of a "transformation from singular reference to general concept." It is the proper

name's "aleatoriness," its randomness and iterability, that interests Derrida. The proper

name "becomes meaning once again, of limited range, once it is invested with semantic

content. It starts to reenter the framework of a general science that governs the effects of

the alea" (118,120). In our case, the proper name "Patchen" renters through the

framework of the hypertext quilt, a Derridean sifter of endlessly disseminating material.

The mystorical thread here links, via puncept, Derrida's alea, which he finds "in the wing

(aile) of "Hegel" to Robit-aille, two who may be said to have refused to sign. While Ponge

singles out Hegel as a philosopher who refuses to sign, Ulmer, in Teletheory, suggests "he

may stand in for academic writing as well" (163 T). What remains consistent throughout

the employment of Derrida's signature procedure "is not the naming of a determinism, but

an invention, inventio, whose purpose is to produce a text" (164).

Ulmer concludes his discussion on this subject with a paragraph that so

comprehensively and succinctly summarizes the protocol for the Patchwork project that I

cite it in full:

The places of memory in mystery, appropriating the signature, are organized into
an alternative way to gather materials into a set--a sweep through the encyclopedia
following the rhizome of the proper name as inventio. The signature may be a
direct transposition of the proper name into a common noun (antonomasia), or it
may be indirect, marked by a rhythm, a cadence, a fragmented image, a partial
scene, a phrase, that repeats in the discourse, relating words to things and resulting
in an intelligible collection. The story resulting from this series of juxtapositions
constitutes a writing machine. The things generated in the third modality of the
signature, that is, represent the model, the metaphors or vehicles for a poetics of
invention, a memory system or mnemonics available for thinking about any matter
whatsoever. The signature helps find the images of wide scope that make up the
imagination (the image-repertoire) of the subject of knowledge, to be used in
further research. (Teletheory 165)


What Ulmer presents here is an invention for conducting and composing research in

hypertext using the logic of the electronic. In the case of Patchwork, the proper noun

"Patchen" is transposed into the common noun "patch" or "patching," terms shared by

both the craft of patchwork quilting and the electronic "patch" of editing. Other

connotations become available to the biographical/mystorical enterprise such as to "patch"

a tear or rip in a garment, or to cover with a patch, either to conceal or mend. "Robitaille"

is similarly linked, "rob(e)" suggesting the possibility of a "garment" or a "thief', and

"taille," a reference to "tailor," to one who works with text(ile) materials, to a tax

(collector?) Or, possibly, the reference might be to "tale" or "tail," reminding the

biographer, thus, to cover his tail/tale, check his flanks, to be aware of a tale that is text-

ualized, composed of many threads, "patched" from seemingly unrelated materials. I will

discuss the relevance of the textile metaphor at length in Chapter Three ("Analogy") as it

relates to quilting as hobby theory.

Ulmer's observation that the signature procedure, and the "models," "metaphors,"

and "vehicles" author-ized by this procedure constitute a "poetics," and that the resulting

"collection" of items, signs, and materials that cluster in the subject's name are

"intelligible," is a claim which I hope to confirm in Patchwork. Hypertext, whether in the

context of CD-Rom multimedia or a Homepage on the WWW, does not have to be

vacuous, the empty set that Roberts decries in his confessional article. Those who come to

the "Patchwork quilt" and follow its threads, will, I believe, reflect upon the implications

of the "patches" in their various juxtapositions, patterns and ludic associations, thus

extending the possibilities of literary biography beyond the mere archiving of facts in a

linear progression along a singular narrative and teleological path. Here they are more

likely to encounter the delirium, the madness that haunts a life, any life, and to enter the

blissence, the carnilvalesque and schizoid nature of "realty" in which the "truth" of the life

becomes less important than workings of desire, ofjouissance, of "living-on" in a

cyberspacee beyond borders, in the "between" of the folds of a fabric of traces.

In the Electronic There Are No Origins and No Destinations and, Thus,
"Thesis," "Truth" and the "Real" Are Reconsidered and Repositioned

The new academic discourse based on electronic logic is to be contrasted with a

more traditional system of exclusion whose "will to truth," argues Foucault, "rests on an

institutional support: it is both reinforced and renewed by whole strata of practices, such

as pedagogy, of course; and the system of books, libraries, learned societies in the past and

laboratories now" (55 Y). How do I escape the snares of this 'willed truth, the "obscenity

of questioning" which, as Slavoj Zizek notes, "lays open, exposes, denudes its

addressee invades his sphere of intimacy" (179). It is a fear, as I will illustrate in my

examination of the methodology and problematic of literary biography (Chapter 5,

Target) with which every biographer, every author of a thesis-bound dissertation, must


Zizek, in his study on The Sublime Obiect of Ideology, turns to Lacan for a

response to this issue. In his summary of Lacanian thinking, Zizek writes of this "'object in

subject' which causes the presumptive knowledge" that, indeed, in Lacanian terms, "the

Real cannot be inscribed, but we can inscribe this impossibility itself, we can locate its

place: a traumatic place which causes a series of failures" (172). In terms of our translation

of this understanding into the realm of the electronic, a "web" site which serves both as a

Derridean 'sifter' of disseminating traces and of the Lacanian Real, we should, suggests

Zizek, be able to "encircle the void place of the subject through the failure of his

symbolization, because the subject is nothing but the failure point of the process of his

symbolic representation" (173).

In his commentary, Zizek draws a distinction between the Foucaultian notion of

the subject "conceived as an effect of a fundamentally non-subjective process" and on

Foucault's informed analysis of the "different modes by which individuals assume their

subject-positions" and Lacan's notion of the subject. In the Lacanian perspective, explains


.. if we subtract all the richness of the different modes of subjectivity, all the
fullness of experience present in the way individuals are "living" their subject
positions, what remains is an empty place which was filled out with this richness,
this original void, this lack of symbolic structure, is the subject, the subject of the
signifier. (175)

What is critical for the purpose of "quilting" a Patchen Patchwork is an

appreciation that "any surplus of signification masks a fundamental lack" (175). As we try

to re-construct our subject out of the numerous and diverse materials left in the wake of

our subject's passing into and through our shared constellation of'floating signifiers, a

constellation of material with which we are now signing in his name, we will be reminded

by the logic of our electronic "quilt" that any such signifying practice is a failure and what

inevitably remains is "a lack," a "void opened up by the failure is the subject of the

signifier" (175).

The happy paradox as Zizek sees it, and which is relevant to the "productive"

nature of our enterprise, is "how this negative, disruptive power, menacing our identity, is

simultaneously a positive condition of it" (176). Zizek provides as an example of the

'negative of the negative, that of the Jew "experienced as the embodiment of negativity, as

the force disrupting stable social identity ..." (176). But the 'truth' of anti-Semitism,"

explains Zizek,

is, of course, that the very identity of our position is structured through a negative
relationship to this traumatic figure of the Jew. Without reference to the Jew who
is corroding the social fabric, the social fabric itself would be dissolved. In other
words, all my positive consistency is a kind of "reaction formation" to a certain
antagonistic, traumatic kernel: If I lose this impossible point of reference my very
identity dissolves. (176)

Just who is reading this text, and to whose peril and dissolution? As I shall expand

upon in later chapters, the implications of Zizek's reading of Lacan are critical to the

restructuration of new academic discourse on the 'impossible' subject, Kenneth Patchen,

seen as a de-monstration of the corrosive effect of a social fabric woven in the form of an

electronic quilt. Such a "quilt" will be, by virtue of its unique logic and construction, a text

in which antagonism is always a kind of opening, a hole in the field of the symbolic

Other, a void," writes Zizek, "of an unanswered, unresolved question ..." (177).

In my later examination of various "patches" in the Patchen archive, we will note

how our bio-graphical "subject" shared the status of the Jew, the antagonistic and

problematic Other. In categories ranging from anti-novelist to anti-American, from the

agency of disorder in art to self-deconstructive back patient, attempts to locate the "Real"

nature of Patchen's tortured corpus have resulted in his being delegated to the status of a

Jew wandering in the margins of contemporary art and literature. The truth of the "Real"

which Patchwork attempts both to acknowledge and incorporate as its poetics is the

possibility of a double victimization which a more traditional academic discourse on such a

life would engender. For as Zizek points out: ... as soon as the subject is caught in the

radically external signifying network, he is mortified, dismembered, divided" (173). Were I


to follow the lead of those who have previously attempted to 'formulate' my "subject," like

Eliot's Prufrock "stuck upon a pin," I would nail the same nails into the same "sign" of his


Writes Zizek, "The subject is always fastened, pinned, to a signifier which

represents him for the other, and through this pinning he is loaded with a symbolic

mandate, he is given a place in the subjective network of symbolic relations" (113). Such a

network is the thesis-framed, linear narrative of the traditional literary biography. The

question before us is what happens when that network becomes a CD-Rom hypertext with

a World Wide Web interface, a text without closure or singular author-ship sensitive to

the effects of chaotic "strange attractors" whose seemingly minor and unpredictable inputs

can yield equally unpredictable and often significant outputs?

The New Electronic Academic Discourse Will Be Non-Totalizing

Patchen's open-ended anti-novel, The Journal of Albion Moonlight, 'concludes'

with the lines: "There is no way to end this book. No way to begin" (313). Lacking the

close punctuation of a period, the structure of this text, with its multiple discourses,

beginnings and endings, repeats a pattern found throughout the Patchen corpus, in which

both the art and the physical person of the author resisted totalization, unification. From

the refusal to assume a singular identity in a specific artistic niche (e.g. "Beat poet") or

political (e.g., "Socialist") stance, to the surgery defying attempts to fuse his fissured

spine, every aspect of the "corpus" is marked by lines of fracture and scarification.

In writing of Bahktin's relationship to Joyce, Brandon Kershner suggests: "Bahktin

is not, except in patches (my underline), systematic" (20). In composing Patchwork in the

'key of Patchen, the attempt is to engage the subject by way of de-monstration, by

employing the systematics of electronic logic which is constructed in patches. The

resulting text, like Patchen's Moonlight, has no end and fulfills the Bahktinian promise of

an 'outlaw language' (20). Adds Kershner, ". .. the thrust of [Bahktin's] ideas is generally

to deny the desirability or even the possibility of erecting totalizing systems. For him, there

is no 'last word'" (20).

We find another precedent for such resistance to finality in the tradition of

rabbinical interpretation. In her chapter on "Some Philosophical Aspects of the Rabbinical

Interpretive System" in The Slavers of Moses, Susan Handleman outlines a tradition of the

open, non-totalizing text the practice of Rabbinical interpretation and midrash, to the work

of Barthes and "Reb" Derrida. In so doing, she cites Edward Said's Beginnings in which

Said discusses four "conventions" to be found in Freud's Interpretation of Dreams where

the psychoanalyst "avoided certain specific textual conventions which the classical novel

had employed" (78 Handleman). Handleman employs Said's analysis "as a way of

contrasting Rabbinical concepts of narrative and interpretation with classical notions (78).

Handleman notes of Said's analysis of Freud, that Freud's "non-mimetic

approach .. does not follow linear progression but leads to multiple and endless

interpretations," a characteristic that Handleman finds is also "true of Rabbinical

interpretation" (79). Handleman observes in the "colloquy of voices in the Midrash or

Talmud" that the "interpretive process is collective" and she acknowledges the extension

of this tradition in the work of Barthes and Derrida. She cites the following lines from

Barthes's The Pleasure of the Text, lines that echo those cited earlier from Patchen's

Moonlight. "The text," writes Barthes, "is a fetish object, and this fetish desires me" (23).

"This book is reading you," writes Patchen, a line that haunts the biographer and

implicates the reader in the "production" rather than the "representation" of its meaning.

Again, I cite Handleman's analysis of Barthes, since the language quoted here is so

suggestive of the logic and structures of electronic discourse and of Patchwork :

In Barthes's view, reading should be in the nature of a step-by-step commentary, a
process of "decomposition" of the text, a "systematic use of digression," "a cutting
of the text into contiguous fragments,"manhandling the text, interrupting it": that is
to say, playing with its infinite possibilities. (80)

Such, of course, is Barthes's practice in S/Z, his "decomposition" of Balzac's Sarrasine. It

has also been Derrida's practice, as, for example, in Glas, where the influence of chance

and necessity produced by homophony or homonymy, result in a similarly non-totalizing

paradigm that, as Ulmer suggests, "automatically locates all equivocality" (47 AG).

In its critique of Derrida's deconstructive practice, Ulmer's analysis is attentive to

concepts and terminology which reference the electronic dimension of Derrida's discourse,

and, by way of extension, to the textile metaphor which "patches" Derrida to Patchen to

Robitaille. Derrida's differencee," a "sameness which is not identical" is characterized as a

"movement" that is "virtual," like the "moire effect in op writing" (47 AG). In Glas,

Derrida writes, "Each cited word gives an index card or a grid [grille] which enables you

to survey the text. It is accompanied by a diagram which you ought to be able to verify at

each occurrence" (Glas, 223). Ulmer notes that Derrida names this movement in Glas 'la

navette' (shuttle, referring to the 'to and fro' motion which bears this name in weaving,

sewing, and transportation)" (47). I will discuss in further detail the relationship of

Derrida's language and practice as it relates to Patchwork in Chapter 3 (ANALOGY). In

brief, what interests me here is Derrida's productive employment of the textile metaphor


seen as "the interlacing stitching of sewing" (47). The invention that is thus generated by

the signature "Patchen" informs the design of a new discourse written in the 'key' of his

name, one that takes on the problematic of inside-outside, of totalization, of traditional

academic discourse, representation and the very certainty of one's own name.

Electronic Discourse Will Introduce
Alternative Structures and Organizational Patterns

It has already become apparent that organizational structures associated with print

and the 'square' versus the 'round' book are being replaced by structures informed and

shaped by the logic of emerging computer technologies. This moment has not arrived

without its critics and legitimate grounds for concern. Paul Roberts's expressions of

concern cited in my Introduction, the fear that the navigable structures of hyper-media are

controlling and reductive, are widely felt. Such paths, writes media theorist, David

Rokeby, "range from the latticework of a regular and highly interconnected network, to

the single serial path of a narrative" (138). Metaphors for these paths range from that of

the "map" to the "labyrinth." But the merits of following such hyper-media pathways can

be viewed as both liberating and constraining. As Rokeby warns his readers,

It's a mistake to conclude that by presenting a variety of perspectives, the artist is
being objective and disinterested. Through the selection of the specific points of
view offered, how they are linked together, and the design of the method of
navigation, the artist holds significant power, which is enhanced by this apparent
objectivity. (140)

The challenge, therefore, of Patchwork, an investigation into the problematic of

biographical representation after post-structuralism, is to identify structural models that

incorporate, as part of their invention, something other than the limited and dictatorial

paths from factotum to factotum that characterize most commercial and many

academically based CD-Roms. Such models should not be a mere replication of the

teleologically influenced maps which guide the viewer through an information field

towards certain thesis-centered and authorized "truths."

Rather, we should be identifying those metaphors, models and strategies which

Landow argues are inherently linked to post-structuralist thought and which render hyper-

media an ideal lab for their exploration. This means, frankly, extending invention beyond

that demonstrated by such Landow inspired projects as the Dickens Web, which functions

largely as a open-ended compendium of Dickensonia, and which does not, by way of its

design or poetics, either radically reposition its "subject," or transform its subject into an

agent for the production of a new text written, say, in the "key of Dickens."

I have already referred to a number of such structures that date from antiquity and

of the development of the illuminated texts of medieval tradition. To appreciate the

relationship of these texts to the logic and organization of electronic discourse is to

recognize the centrality of memorial, the power and functioning of memory, in these

textual systems.

In The Book of Memory: A Study of Memory in Medieval Culture (1990), Mary

Carruthers writes that "Memoria meant, at that time, trained memory, educated and

disciplined according to a well developed pedagogy that was part of the elementary

language arts--grammar, logic, and rhetoric" (7). In this discipline material was

"divided into pieces short enough to be recalled in single units and to key them into

some sort of rigid, easily reconstructable order" (7). Carruthers reports that such discipline

depended upon what Hugh of St. Victor, writing in the early twelfth century, identified as

"the mnemonic utility of manuscript page layout and decoration" (9).


Patchen's multimedia art has been variously recognized and praised for celebrating

the spirit and poetics of the "illuminated text," or, to use Patchen's own term, an "art of

engagement." To which I would add, to "engage" the senses in a variety of discourses and

artistic media. From the attention to typographic detail in the early prose and poetry, to

the later "painted poems," concrete poetry, silk-screens, and poetry jazz, whatever one

deemed to be the "subject" of Patchen's discourse, this "subject" found expression in a

multi-form and polyvocal corpus, further evidence, if you will, of Patchen's unbounded

signifying practice.

Writing of the diversity of such a signifying practice in medieval literature,

Carruthers comments,

I want to distinguish very carefully here between pictorial" and "visual." Memories
could be marked by pictorial means; the ancient system described in Rhetorica ad
Herennium was precisely that. But pictures are not the only sorts of objects we can
see. We also see written words and numbers, punctuation marks, and blotches of
color; if we read music, we can see it as the notes on the staff if we play the piano
by ear, we can see music as the position of our fingers. Moreover, we can
manipulate such information in ways that make it possible to bring together or
separate in a variety of ways, to collate, classify, compose, and sort it in order to
create new ideas and deconstruct old ones. (18-19)

Carruther's above description of information "manipulation" and composition

production is strikingly similar to that of hypermedia, and to the poetics and electronic

logic to be utilized in Patchwork. Carruther's research shares with Gregory Ulmer's

"applied grammatology" the understanding that, to quote Carruthers: "All mnemonic

organizational schemes are heuristic in nature. They are retrieval schemes, for the purpose

of inventio or 'finding'"(20).

To employ such an inventio in the context of an electronic post-structuralist

hypermedia biography will be the extended subject of the chapters to follow. It is here, in

this chapter's manifesto for a new electronic academic discourse, that I wish to establish

the historical basis for such a project. And Curruther's commentary, particularly her

opening chapter on "Models for the Memory," assists us in tracing these roots.

Among the other observations she makes relevant to this study are the following.

Memory images, recalling Aristotle's analysis, can function "like an imprint in us [and] can

also cause us to remember 'what is not present'" (23). With regard to the issue of totality

and representation, Carruthers points out that: "Partialness is also a characteristic of

memory" (25). Concerning the role of homophony, she adds, "The earliest Greek memory

test we possess, a pre-Socratic fragment called Dialexis, relies upon a sort of visualized

homophony, in its advice about memorizing for both 'words and things'" (28).

And in a critical passage, Carruthers links the remembering process to that of

computer based technologies "The ancients and their medieval heir," suggests Carruthers,

"thought that each 'bit' of knowledge was remembered in a particular place in the

memory .. ." (28). She adds that

The words tops, and locus used in writings on logic and rhetoric as well as on
mnemonics, refer fundamentally to physical locations in the brain, which are made
accessible by means of an orderly system that functions somewhat like a cross
between the routing systems used by programs to store, retrieve, merge, and
distinguish the information in a computer's memory, and postal addresses or library
shelf-marks. (29)

Until recently there has been no serious attempt to import the logic, rhetoric and

grammar of the electronic into the realm of nonfiction and academic discourses. It has

been the hybrid discourses of Derrida, Foucault and Barthes, for example, that have

inspired tele-theorists such as Gregory Ulmer, in a series of works beginning with Applied

Grammatologv, and more recently in Teletheory and Heuretics, to mine the possibilities of

critical theory as the source for a new poetics for hypermedia. Two of Ulmer's major

inventions, mystory and the CATTt, referred to in my Introduction, serve as structural

agents for Patchwork.

Robert Ray, Ulmer's colleague in the Media Studies Program at the University of

Florida, has recently published The Avant-Garde Finds Andy Hardy (Harvard, 1995), a

work that provides, perhaps, the best and most thorough attempt to redefine and rewrite

academic discourse--in this case, by "reinventing film studies." In declaring that "film

studies is dead," Ray postulates that he is "not," in fact, "against the application of

sophisticated semiotic, ideological and psychoanalytic methods" in academic writing, but,

argues Ray, We know in advance where such analysis will lead, and thus even the most

skilled of such efforts will achieve very little 'information'" (6). Ray's corrective to the

"automatic pilot" of such discourses is "to consider, as an alternative practice, "that branch

of the humanities which, since the nineteenth century, has functioned as the equivalent of

science's pure research: the avant-garde" (10). Citing the examples of Apollinaire, Walter

Benjamin, Bertolt Brecht, Marcel Duchamp, Andre Breton, John Cage and others, Ray

builds upon a rich historical precedent for "evidence of the avant-garde-as-research" (13).

Of equal significance for my study is Ray's linkage of the avant-garde-as-research

to the work of Jacques Derrida, by way of Eric Havelock, Jack Goody and Walter Ong,

whose works examine the transition from "the alphabetic to 'cinematic' or 'electronic'"

(14). Ray's stated purpose for 'writing' about Andy Hardy is "to provide a means for

bringing film criticism into some sort of relationship with communications technologies

revolutionizing everyday life." Ray emphatically adds, ". far from being useless, the

experimental arts amount to a 'workshop for potential criticism'" (16).

What Ray proposes for film criticism is analogous to that which Patchwork

proposes for biographical criticism as another form of academic discourse.

Acknowledging that "artists don't have to explain what they do," Ray argues that

"although Andy Hardy must at first give way to the theoretical accounts which will re-

present him ... experiments involving the Hardy movies bring him increasingly forward"

(17). This is a significant claim and one I would similarly make for Patchwork. In the latter

case, the materials include those of literary biography as applied to a multimedia artist.

Thus, my experiments, such as testing out Ulmer's "CATTt," (itself an avant-garde

intervention cited by Ray in his own study), involve the application of the avant-garde-as-

research to the full range of the biographical archive: prose, poetry, multimedia art,

correspondence, reviews, scholarship, etc. In so doing, Patchen, the biographical

"subject," is brought forward, not in the traditional sense of "unified" or "Real," but,

rather, as the agency of a production author-ized by the circulation of his signature

through a series of electronic "patches."

Structurally, Ray serves up a range of forms, the fragment, "writing's equivalent of

the photograph," being the most recurrent. Using models of the fragment, such as

Barthes's anecdotal Roland Barthes, and John Cage's experimental (and anecdotal)

lectures, Ray organizes his text in such a fashion, recognizing, as he does, say, with Cage,

that this structure's "determined discontinuity, non-teleological structure, and obvious

strangeness ... represents its subject matter" (22). Patchen's own collaboration with Cage

in the 1942 Columbia Radio Workshop production of Patchen's "The City Wears a Slouch

Hat" provides this project a more immediate legitimization for the importation of Cagian

poetics into the Patchwork design.


Other surrealist interventions with the Andy Hardy material include the reliance on

recombination and juxtaposition, and, after Benjamin, "the flaneur's ... preference for

drifting" (43). From Barthes, Ray imports the use of a fragmented structure in the form of

lexias, "arbitrary blocks" that I will call "patches" in my quilt. These, suggests Ray,

function as "mini-essays ('divigations')" and result in "a new kind of critical writing" (97).

What Ray finds so interesting about, say, Breton's surrealist Manifesto, or

Barthes's S/Z, is "how ill prepared most academics are to deal with departures from the

conventional essay" (98). To demonstrate his point, Ray models Chapter Six, "The

Alphabet," after Roland Barthes, Barthes's auto-biography consisting of a series of

alphabetized fragments. What Ray adopts from Barthes, Barthes, we are told, found in

Netzsch's "aphoristic books" which, Ray observes, are "so perfectly adapted to what Gilles

Deleuze has called 'nomad thought'" and which is structured in the mode of a "digression"


Nomadic thought, of course, "anticipates the nature of cyberspace," and for Ray,

this becomes yet another justification for its importation into film studies. Is this not, Ray

argues by way of illustration, the poetics of Godard's Two Or Three Things I Know About

Her? Such "poetic thinking [which]...regards every object as a potential metaphor" is

familiar to every user of computer software. And yet, laments Ray, "film criticism has been

slow to adopt to this method" (123). Ray, however, is not so reluctant, and thus he

develops his chapter with a series of such digressive entries.

If one conceives, therefore, of a crazy quilt composed in such a fashion, woven of

"patches" of materials circulating nomadically through the cyber-archive, being sifted

through the Derridean dissemination machine, coming under the influence of"strange


attractors," and endlessly recombining into new quilts bearing the signature effect of their

"subject," one begins to imagine how such a textual practice might depart from the

structure of the traditional academic essay.

That such works should be viewed by their critics as lacking structure, as

exhibiting a troublesome disorder, would come as no surprise to this writer, after

examining the record provided by the Patchen archive. For as we will note below, the

archive contains sufficient evidence of the extent to which Patchen's critics either often

dismissed his seemingly disordered art out of hand, or, as in the case of his supporter and

lifelong publisher, James Laughlin, attempted, for the good of some supposed "order," to

rewrite The Journal of Albion Moonlight, Patchen's most deliberately disordered and

acclaimed work.

Thus, before concluding this chapter's manifesto for a new academic writing, let us

examine one further dimension of our alternative discourse, that being the relationship

between structure, disorder and ideology. To write in the "key of Patchen" will necessitate

that we incorporate into the composition of our "quilt," recognition of the manner in

which the "order" claimed for, or demanded of, the works "signed" by the "subject" of a

literary biography are, to quote Machery, "merely an imagined order, projected on to

disorder, the fictive resolution of ideological conflicts, a resolution so precarious that it is

obvious in the very letter of the text where incoherence and incompleteness burst forth"

(Machery 194).

The Question of Ideology Must Be Revisited and Reconfigured in the Electronic

Among the many factors that recommend Kenneth Patchen as a tutor subject for

the purposes of a deconstructive anti-biography are the circumstances that serve as a case


study of what Althusser calls the Ideological State Apparatus (ISA). The influence of the

ISA begins with "an academic or schooling practice which defines both the conditions for

the consumption of literature and the very conditions of its production also" (Balibar 84)

From cradle to grave, Patchen was enmeshed in the workings of the ISA.

Patchen, the noted "poet-of-the-steelworks," was, from his first youthful days of

reading, a regular patron of the Warren, Ohio Library, built, ironically, with funding from

the Carnegie steel empire. It was here that the young writer sought his escape from the

depressing conditions of his steeltown existence, conditions caustically recalled in his

poetic recounting of the soot-covered fate of his "Orange Bear" (Collected Poems 384).

Sequestered in the halls that industry built, Patchen read his Blake and began to view his

slag infested environs through the industrial haze of Blake's "London".

By the time Patchen had reached Cambridge, Massachusetts, as a new poetic voice

in the late 20's, he had already become one of the recognized representatives of American

proletarian verse. At Random House, publisher Bennett Cerf was looking to publish just

such a poet and Patchen was offered his first book contract. That first collection of poems,

Before The Brave (1933), with its symbolic "red" cover, included the poet's most

ideologically conspicuous language, a veritable lexicon of socialist jargon, which the poet

immediately attempted to distance himself from, together with the tags and reputation

associated with being a poster boy for leftist political causes.

We will return to this and other of Patchen's ideologically influenced works in

more detail below. What I wish to note here is why the question of ideology is important

to a post-structuralist biography and how the treatment of the ideological component of

such a biography will be reconfigured and repositioned in an electronic discourse. For

what I wish to avoid here is the hermeneutic trap of trying to "fix" my subject in a given

ideological position or category. Given that Patchen was the victim of such analytical

dissection in life, I do not wish to once again resurrect his corpus, only to further assign

him away to the taxonomies provided by disciplinary authority. And so I search for models

of alternative approaches to this subject of knowledge. Specifically, I search for models

that can be adopted to the structures and logic of an electronic "patchworking"

I will introduce four such theorists and their models here that will later be

amplified and de-monstrated in the chapters below. These models include Althusser's ISA,

Bahktin's notions ofdialogism, polyphony, carnival and ideologemes, Ulmer's teletheory

and its representation in mystory, and Zizek's ideological quilt.

From Althusser's writings in "Freud and Lacan" comes the suggestion "that the

human subject is decentered, constituted by a structure which has no 'center' either, except

in the ideological formulations in which it recognizes itself' (Kershner 188-89).

Surrounded as he was by warring ideological forces trying to lay claim for "Patchen" in

their name, Patchen, like so many other victims of literary biography, has always been at

the mercy of, to use Althusser's term, the "unconscious." Which is to say "unconscious" to

the fact that their conception of the "subject" arrives in the form of "structures" of the

unconscious which are seldom understood as such, but which nevertheless shape their

minds and their attempts to anchor the floating signifier, say "Kenneth Patchen," at some

fixed point along its path of circulation.

As Althusser points out in his essay, "Ideology and the Ideological State

Apparatus," this process works in its "disguised" and "symbolic" form through popular

forms of electronic communications such as radio and television, usually with the effect of

valorizing the dominant ideology in control of these very technologies. Thus, our goal is

to redirect these technologies, to effect a detournment in which the potentials of

deconstruction and dissemination inherent in hypermedia and cyber-discourse, unravel the

weave of our collected "patches" and expose the manner in which their variously

ideological and "structured" meanings may have been "knotted" by other patch-workers

up and down the signifying chain.

Thus, Althusser's understanding of how various repressive apparatus are complicit

in the ideological formation of the subject, and of the linkage of this process to popular

communications technologies, underlies the present study, in that one of the aims of this

experimental anti-biography is to expose, like the undraped Oz, the workings of this

apparatus. In so doing, we will explore the ability of new, computer-based discourses to

demystify ideological content and reveal the workings of the "political unconscious."

The importance of the works ofM.M. Bakhtin for this study derive from his

concepts of diologism and carnilvalization. In importing Bakhtin for this project, I am

following the lead ofR. B. Kershner, whose study, Joyce, Bakhtin, and Popular Literature

(University of North Carolina Press, 1989) has shed considerable light on the use of

popular literature in Joyce's works. While I would not claim for Patchen the significance

and influence which Joyce represents for this century, I would argue that the usefulness of

the theoretical approach provided by Bakhtin, and the similarity of stylistic and ideological

elements in the works of Joyce and Patchen, recommend a Bakhtinian approach to our


Like Joyce, Patchen's prose and poetry exhibits what Kershner, citing Bakhtin,

describes as "a great variety of conflicting variants--languages of officialdom, vernacular,

occupational jargon, technical, literary, and sub-literary, all polyphonically resounding"

(15). Identifying "heteroglossia" as the "condition of our existence," "dialogism," suggests

Kershner, "is the necessary mode of knowledge in such a world, a form of relationship

between or among different languages that, like dialectics, defines a sort of logic" (16).

The logic identified here may be said to be found in electronic, hypertext discourse

and in the collaborative composition potentialized in hypertext and cyberspace. The novel,

and particularly the sort of anti-novel represented by Patchen's The Journal of Albion

Moonlight, fulfills the description of "metagenre" that, explains Kershner, "overtakes (or

'novelizes') such other genre as romantic poetic narrative, because it is dialogical can take

no final shape, but is in a process of continuous metamorphosis" (17). To write, thus, of

Patchen in the 'key of Patchen' would be to import such a poetics--a poetics already

anticipated by, and inherent in, electronic multimedia discourse.

And there is, as suggested earlier, an ideological component to Bakhtin's thought.

In "Marxism and the Philosophy of Images" Bakhtin writes that: "The logic of

consciousness is the logic of ideological communication, of semiotic interaction of a social

group. If we deprive consciousness of its semiotic, ideological content, it would have

absolutely nothing left" (Bakhtin 13). If we take this notion into consideration in the

context of literary biography, particularly that woven as a patchwork of juxtaposed and

polyphonous, fragmentary voices, the resulting text would be less the mirroring of a

univocal or "dominant voice," but rather, as Kershner so ascribes to Bakhtin, "a polyphony

of voices of opposition, voices of local dominance and local opposition, voices inserted at

odd angles to the major debates .. ." (21). In short, a crazy quilt--anti-biography as



If Althusser provides us with a model of the ideological apparatus from which our

post-structuralist biographical subject is to be freed, and Bakhtin a model for the

biographical subject conceived as a dialogic, polyphonous voice speaking in

"ideologemes" from the pages of carnivalesque texts, where might we now turn to situate

such conceptions in an electronically configured logic and discourse? Gregory Ulmer's

development of teletheory, which he refers to as "the application of grammatology to

television in the context of schooling," has led to his invention of the mystory, a "specific

genre ... designed to do the work of schooling and popularization in a way that takes into

account the new discursive and conceptual ecology interrelating orality, literacy and

videocy" (Teletheory, vii). Within mystery, the question of ideology becomes the subject

of both investigation and exposure. Ulmer cites a number of influential sources whose

focus has been "the emotional dimension of comprehension" (109). Ulmer refers to

several theorists whose writings underscore the role of "narrative pleasure" seen as "one

way to locate the pleasure-in-recognition central to the maintenance and persistence of

ideological formation" (106). He points to the work of film theorist Bill Nichols which

explores the diegetic effect of film narrative, an effect that causes us to "see through the

perceptual habit and the image's construction to an already meaningful world (without, in

this case, 'seeing through' the deception that is involved, the actual production of

fabrication of meaning" (Nichols, 1981: 38). Citing Wittgenstein's The Brown Book as a

mystorical model, Ulmer claims the function of mystery as a new form of pedagogy is "to

teach this elusive illusion upon which is based the misrecognition 'that traps us within an

imaginary realm of identity and opposition governed by desire to be what we are not and

to possess what cannot be 'had'"(42). The significance here to an anti-biography-as-

hypertext, is that in contrast to the traditional practice of the biographical essay, with its

dependence on solving the problem of explaining away the "truth" of a "subject" in the

form of an argument, or thesis, the mystery, as Ulmer asserts with a nod to Wittgenstein "

makes thinkable the possibility of a writerly essay that could reason in the absence of

argument and problem" (109).

Such a turn in the direction of a writerlyy" biographical narrative, would constitute

for biography the parallel status of "alternative historiography" which Ulmer claims for

mystery. Calling The Brown Book "a kind of film" and Barthes's use of "poses" in The

Lover's Discourse: Fragments, a "new rhetoric that reflects cinematic thinking," Ulmer

points to the use of the punctum as a "mnemonic technique" whose "sting" is an emotional

response to certain details "expressed in an image" (110). The crucial element here is that

the "referent of this story cannot be denoted, but only connoted" (111). And, thus, in

contrast to the usual mandate to revive the past as it actually was, memory, that moment

of recognition triggered by the sting of the punctum is 'seized', suggests Walter Benjamin

in his "Theses on the Philosophy of History," as it "flashes up at a moment of danger"

(111). What follows in mystery, explains Ulmer, is that this "punctum of emotional

recognition is put to work in the service of invention, bringing to bear on disciplinary

problems the images and stories of autobiography" (1 11).

The mystery that shapes Patchwork will be developed at length in Chapter 6:

(t)ale. It is a mystery that links its cosigners, Patchen/Robitaille, both homonymically by

way of the puncept, but also by way of the punctum, and the sting of co-mingled memory.

Indeed, the triggering device is the scene of two catastrophes, two deaths. For Patchen, it

is the return of the repressed memory of his beloved sister's untimely death when struck by

an automobile. For Robitaille, it is haunting memory of his first recollected exposure to

death, in the form of a televised skit on NBC's Today program, in which host Dave

Garraway is "seemingly" flattened by a steam roller on the streets of New York. The

amplification effect of these memories, the perpetual sting of their punctum, becomes one

of the threads woven through the fabric of the Patchwork quilt. As Ulmer describes this

process: "Mystory attempts to be the genre of transmission, which comes into proper

perspective in relating catastrophic time to the time of invention" (112). The "patches" of

my quilt, like Barthes's "poses" or album "snapshots," become the juxtaposed fragments by

which the crafter of the quilt directs his attention not at the object of knowledge, but at the

"subject," the anti-biographer whose "double inscription," in Lacanian terms, allows the

quilter to take into his account his own desire, the erotic pleasure he takes-- Barthes's

fetishistic lover "mutilating" his beloved. My desire for "knowledge" of Patchen is not

unassociated with my own fantasy life, and in this sense the act of quilting becomes the

scene of a transference, an element usually repressed in academic literary biography but

made manifest in the mnemonic autoportrait that is mystery.

As our bridge to Chapter Three, "(A)nalogy," which will examine the parallels

between the theory and craft of patchwork quilting and "quilting" as a metaphor for doing

theory, let us consider the last of our models for re-positioning ideolovg in the electronic:

Slavoj Zizek's analysis of the "The Ideological 'Quilt'" in The Sublime Object of Ideology

(Verso, 1989).

Zizek begins his discussion of the "ideological 'quilt'" with a question of

considerable interest to this study: "What creates and sustains the identity of a given

ideological field beyond all possible variations of its positive content?" Zizek turns to

Lacan for the answer to this "crucial" question, stating,

The multitude of "floating signifiers," of proto-ideological elements, is structured
into a unified field through the intervention of a certain nodall point' (the Lacanian
point de capiton) which 'quilts' them, stops their sliding and fixes their meaning.

As an illustration of the "non-bound, non-tied elements" of such an ideological

space, Zizek considers the subject of ecologism which is not determined in advance but

can be variously posited as "conservative," "socialist," "state-oriented," etc., depending on

the "totalization" performed by the "quilting" of these otherwise "free-floating ...

ideological elements" (87). As we will become apparent in the chapters to follow, the

Patchen archive is replete with examples of'nodal points, points de capiton, which have

totalized the various "floating signifiers" clustering around the Patchen "signature." The

resulting series of equivalencess" include: Communist, Socialist, anti-capitalist, anti-war

activist, nihilist, Beat, romantic, environmentalist, pop surrealist, and the list goes on.

But as Zizek points out, such an enchainmentt is possible only on condition that a

certain signifier--the Lacanian 'One'-'quilts' the whole field, and, by embodying it,

effectuates its identity" (88). Zizek finds the prescription for being able to "formulate the

determining role of a certain particular domain without falling into a trap of essentialism"

in the "anti-descriptivism" of Saul Kripke. (89) Kripke's theory is suggested of Patchen's

youthful experiment with deconstructing the alphabet mentioned earlier. The fate of

identity is implicated in the act of naming, a realization that haunted Patchen, even as it

now haunts his biographer.

Zizek begins with an "elementary" question: "How do names refer to the objects

they denote?" The "descriptivist" answer is that:

every word is, in the first place, the bearer of a certain meaning--that is, it
means a cluster of descriptive features ("table" means an object of a certain shape,
serving certain purposes) and subsequently refers to objects in reality in so far as
they possess properties designated by the cluster of descriptions. (89)

One is reminded here of the B.C. cartoon in which one character asks the other why the

large, trunked object before them is called an "elephant." To which the other responds:

"Because it looks like an elephant!"

The anti-descriptivist answer, as Zizek states it, is,

that a word is connected to an object or a set of objects through an act of "primal
baptism," and the link maintains itself even if the cluster of descriptive features
which initially determined the meaning of the word changes completely. (90)

That the above can be as true for proper nouns, as for common, is clearly illustrated in

Patchen's inability to untie himself, for example, from the knot, the nodal point of

"Communist" long after abandoning the descriptive features of the appellation.

Patchen, indeed any potential subject of literary biography, can be a victim of what

Zizek refers to as "the dogmatic stupidity proper to a signifier as such, the stupidity which

assumes the shape of a tautology: a name refers to an object because the object is called

that"--a point comically rendered in the B.C. strip.

The impact of this "tautology" on Patchen, or on any such subject, can be more

tragic than comic. Zizek's example of the case of the "Jew" serves to emphasize this point.

In this instance "'Jew' appears as a signifier connoting a cluster of supposedly effective

properties (intriguing spirit ...)" but through a process of inversion the subject becomes

"greedy ... because they are Jews" (96). Zizek suggests the following Lacanian gloss for

this insidious phenomenon:

The points de capiton is the point through which the subject is 'sewn' to the
signifier, and at the same time the point which interpolates individual into subject
by addressing it with the call of a certain master signifier ('Communism', 'God',
'Freedom', America')--in a word--it is the point of the subjectivation of the
signifier's chain" (101).

I will go into greater detail below as to the precise manner in which Lacanian

analysis relates to the composition of the Patchwork "quilt." For the moment, it is

sufficient to recall Zizek's observation that: "The subject is always formulated, pinned, to a

signifier which represents him for the other, and through the pinning he is loaded with a

symbolic mandate, he is given a place in the intersubjective network of symbolic relations"

(113). The Patchen archive may, thus, be conceived retrospectively and futuristically as

such a network wired electronically. Novelist Russell Hoban, in correspondence with this

writer, referred to this phenomenon as a sort of "circuitry of the world mind" (Hoban).

This network is perceived experientially as the rapidly growing series of "links" summoned

by the WWW browsers--a network that invites the Patchen fantasist to enter, in Zizek's

words, "an imaginary scenario filling out the void, the opening of the desire of the Other"

(114). Let us imagine ourselves then, as invitees to the craft of quilting. What does the

rich tradition of this craft tell us about the possibility of critical theory and post-

structuralist biographical discourse?


The second stage of the CATTt is that of(A)nalogy, intended to represent

formation and displacement. Patchwork de-monstrates the (A)nalogy of the CATT(t) by

incorporating as part of its inventio the use of Ulmer's hobby theory. As a tool for the

implementation of heuretics ("a brand of logic that treats the art of discovery or

invention"), hobby theory or theory craft "popularizes" theory by re-conceiving it as a

craft or hobby. In his "Handbook For A Theory Hobby," Ulmer predicts "that the day will

come when theory will be produced as a craft in the manner of woodworking, gourmet

cooking, photography, or karate" (400). To which I would add: theory in the manner of

patchwork crazy quilting.

In fact, I would extend Landow's argument that hypertext is the ideal laboratory

for conducting experiments in post-structuralist theory, by suggesting that the history of

patchwork crazy quilting as a craft anticipates and de-monstrates by way of analogy, the

theoretical potentialities for hypertext a century in advance. Evidence to support this claim

can be found both in the history of invention relevant to both modes of expression, as well

as in the language employed to explain their methodologies.

Consider what we know about the history and craft of patchwork crazy quilting.

The emergence of the craft is marked, for example, by the quality of its randomness and

accidental nature. According to quilt historian, Delores Hinson, "The earliest quilts, called

crazy quilts, were more a result of accident then of design" (21). Indeed, the genesis of


this craft in the late 1800's during the period of Victorian propriety and decorum, was, like

so many other 'against the grain' practices of this epoch, a deconstructive enterprise.

There is, for example, this excerpt from an article appearing in the May 1883

edition of Godey's Lady's Book, a popular women's magazine:

The raw edges of the scraps were usually, though not always, turned under
and were held in place by a row of fancy hand sewn embroidery stitches. The
scraps could be sewn to the foundation by sewing machine, but in general, this
method was not recommended for fear of adding too many straight lines
angularitieses offending they") to the finished design. (McMorris 10)

Thus, we learn that these crazy "text-iles" were composed of scraps in a manner that

discourages "straight lines" and valorizes randomness. Quilting as craft has been, and

continues to be, largely the work of women, a marginalized group with an historically

limited range of options for personal expression and story-telling. The recent exception of

male "patches" composed for the "AIDS Quilt Project" will be noted below.

So the popularity of this craft coincided with the rise in popularity of other forms

of home-based sewing and textile working. However, when demand for textile materials

exceeded both supply and the financial ability of families to purchase them, the availability

of scrap materials begat the necessity that was mother to invention. Shaped by their

increasing economic and artistic value, the proliferation of these scrap materials resulted in

the emergence of a collaborative form oftext(ile) expression. There began the practice of

circulating a "square of embroidery canvas" among friends. "Each friend of which was to

embroider whatever design she wished," reported a newspaper account. We are told the

paper "playfully" reported: "You will think it a 'crazy' custom indeed" (10).

In her study of Crazy Quilts, Penny McMorris explains that the etymological

relationship of the word "crazy" to quilt-making underscored such uses as "odd, bizarre,


irregular, strange, or unusual" and it was even suggested that "their crazy patchwork may

have originated among the inmates of insane asylums" (10). The seditious implications of

these entries, linking Victorian housewives with asylum inmates, provides yet another

historical parallel between the reception of this mad' compositional practice with the

response to other visual media and more recent electronically based technologies whose

non-linear, wildly collagist aesthetics have been similarly feared and denigrated.

We should also be reminded of the Foucaultian analysis of marginalized and

institutionalized groups, such as the insane, whose attempts to express themselves in an

alternative discourse from a skewed center of social balance served only to reaffirm their

marginalized status and social imprisonment. Similarly, when the victims of slavery in

America, a more recent example of socialized constraint and silence, took up the practice

of quilt-making, their ability to write between the lines, to mark their text(ile) in the stain

of their own blood, became an act of deconstruction, of auto-biography as scarification.

Yet another antecedent to the post-modern moment is the multi-cultural and inter-

textual components of the crazy quilt. A major influence was the Victorian interest in

orientalism. It is believed that the concept for fabric patches may have been inspired by the

broken up, "crazed" pattern, the "cracked-ice" design of Japanese pavement, which

became a motif in Japanese art, ceramics and textile design and was then imported into the

quilt-making craft. (10-11)

Other cultural influences can be seen in the quilting patterns of ancient Egyptian

robes and in the West African practice of weaving patterned strips into a larger fabric, "the

resulting cloth [having] asymmetrical and unpredictable designs" (Wahlman 35). The

improvisational nature of African quilt-making represents another multi-cultural and inter-

textual link between the craft of quilt-making and the application of theory craft to the

Patchwork biography. As Maude Southwell Wahlman points out in Signs and Symbols:

African Images in African-American Quilts, "Some African-American quilts are the visual

equivalent of blues, jazz, or gospel, rich in color and symbolism" (20). Wahlman traces

this improvisational element from its roots in "Kubia raffia cloth and painted Pygmy

textiles" and quotes Arfican quilter Eli Leon as saying, "An improvisational pattern is

always conceptualized as a range of possible structures" (48).

It is precisely these qualities of the crazy patchwork, derived from diverse sources,

that will serve as one of the aesthetic principles for the design of the electronic hyper-

text(ile) Patchwork. In addition to the obvious parallels between the methodologies of

these two quilt-making endeavors, there is also the historical parallels suggested between

the "jazz" elements of the crazy patchwork and Kenneth Patchen's contributions to the

invention ofjazz-poetry in particular, and to the repeated appearance of improvisation in

his use of various media, such as Patchen's theater work with John Cage.

Indeed, it may be demonstrated that the avant-garde movement in modern art, and

its specific expression in the Dada movement, was itself pre-figured in the Victorian crazy

patchwork period. In a section of her study on quilts entitled, "Everything Gets a Little

Crazy," McMorris reports that the popularity of the "crazy effect" and the randomness

associated with the patchwork craze resulted in the dissemination of this signifying system

to a diverse range of compositional modes from "crazy gardens" to the social practice of

"crazy teas". As described in The Ladies' World magazine in 1890, "Crazy quilts, pillows,

etc., are going swiftly 'out, but crazy teas are a new and pleasant diversion" (23). The

crazy tea was a Dada-like happening from the creation of mis-matched, collagist

invitations, to the Alice-In-Wonderland decor of upside down pictures on the wall,

peculiarly shaped furniture placed in random, functionally inappropriate locations,

including the serving of a crazy menu of "baked beans covered with currant jelly,

cornbread and cheese frosted with chocolate icing, tarts stuffed with chow-chow, and, to

quench the resulting thirst, hot, salted lemonade" (23). Even the conversation was Dada-

like, a Victorian jabberwockyy" with the "crazy" participants "being stopped and

redirected to a new topic every five minutes, at the sound of a bell rung by the hostess"


There appear here numerous qualities we might associate with the emergence of

electronic composition and the social practices that have begun to form around such

mediums of communication and expression as CD-Rom and the World Wide Web. Indeed,

some of these qualities might be likely to upset the likes of Roberts and other writers

accustomed to more linear and discursive styles of composing. Like their Victorian

precursors, young surfers and scriptors on the Internet seem to share a delight in delivery

of information in small "patches" of"bite"-sized information whose brevity and

unpredictably juxtaposed order allows both for the elements of surprise and delight.

If the traditional novel, a genre central to the Victorian era, is to today compete

with new forms, such as the hypertext fiction now emerging on-line, one might argue that

the un-bounding of the square text, and the joy inherent in loosening the constraining

threads of such text(iles), was inherent from its inception. And, indeed, the crazy

patchwork, like its electronic successor, has been received with considerable anxiety and

negative criticism. I had earlier related Robert's lament and his critique of the CD-

Rom/hypertext discourse. Some of the initial anti-crazy quilt sentiment was directed at

their lack of order and symmetry. Camps formed around the more traditional use of

repeated patterns and symbolic motifs, iterated from panel to panel and those who

championed the orientalized aesthetic of the crazy quilt.

But a good deal of the ridicule directed at the crazy quilt "mania," as it was

described by some, focused on the unhealthy strain on eyes and nerves and the fear that

such a hobby as this might result in some permanent form of either blindness, insanity, or

both. In addition, critics labeled the fancyworkk" associated with crazy patchwork as a

"time waster" and its practitioners were admonished to "fold up your Fancy work" and

"come out and have a chat or something that means business ."(25). There are clear and

interesting parallels here between the public reception and concerns raised by this textual

practice and those which have greeted more recent electronic modes of communication

such as television and computer related technologies

Quilts and Mourning

Not all crazy quilt patterns were as easily susceptible to the charges of triviality

and meaninglessness. The creation of the creation of the crazy quilt was sometimes

occasioned by the death of a beloved. Such "mourning quilts," as they came to be known,

were often "patched" together out of the pieces, the fabrics of a life. A deceased daughter

might be represented by patches of fabric from her dresses. In one instance a widow was

reported to have taken "her mourning coat, opened it up at the seams, and made a

mourning quilt with a central coffin shape to tell the story of her life with her husband"

(87). The very choice of the crazy patchwork, as opposed to, say, a more symmetrical or

ordered form, was an aesthetic motivated by an emotion. McMorris relates that "The kind

of embroidery, which was at times even and regular, and at other times wildly erratic,

came to express the quiltmaker's changing moods" (87).

Dolores A Hinson, writing in the Quilting Manual, points out that "nineteenth-

century Americans were obsessed with death" and that the quilt became a means by which

to signify the veritably unsignifiable signified that is "death." Hinson remarks,

Cemeteries spanned the chasm between bereaved families and their dead.
So too, did the posthumous portraits, photographs and hair ornaments treasured
by the survivors. And so did quilts. When families were broken by death, women
used these tactile, homey comforters to preserve ties to their deceased loved ones.

Hinson cites the example of Elizabeth Mitchell of Lewis County, Kentucky, whose quilt

"portrays the family plot" and whose "appliqued coffins within it and along the outer

borders of the quilt are labeled with family names." Adds Hinson, "Mitchell moved these

coffins from the world of the living, represented by the border, into the cemetery [or

central portion of the quilt] as her relatives died" (11).

This tradition of the mourning quilt has been monumentally revived in the form of

the AIDS Memorial Quilt, described by its founders as "the largest on-going community

arts project in the world" (WWW). The inspiration of Cleve Jones in 1987, the AIDS Quilt

has expanded beyond 32,000 patches ["panels"], each prepared by individual

"panelmakers" to the specific dimension of "3 feet by 6 feet the size of the human

grave" (1). The Quilt's Homepage, which arguably serves as a model for, as well as a

theoretical de-monstration of, many of the dimensions of the Patchwork project, has taken

the collaborative net-working of this formerly text(ile) composition into the realm of

electronic patchworking and mystorical hypertext. One speculates that had the World


Wide Web existed at the time of Jones's moment ofinventio, the AIDS Quilt would have

originated in the virtual form to which it has more recently been transformed.

The instructions provided for the AIDS Quilt Homepage invites consideration of

the craft of quilting as a working analog for quiltmaking as a means to do theory.

Implicated in this practice is the pervasive influence of the signature effect, the potential

play of signification set into motion by the "tens of thousands of people whose names are

sewn into the fabric" (1). Panel makers are invited to employ "a little imagination" in the

process of their inventio, and to submit their "patches" to the electronic "gallery" of Quilt

panels. As a form of mystory, panelmakers are asked to "tell their stories," composed of

materials chosen from a wide register of sources: personal history, popular culture,

ideology, to name a few.

Even the "how to" section of the AIDS Quilt Homepage instructions parallels

elements of Ulmer's notions of theory craft. For example, potential panel makers are

informed they "don't have to be an artist or a sewing expert," a point consistent with

Ulmer's support for the amateur status of theory crafters. Regarding the structional design

of the Quilt, we are told the text(ile) will be "folded and unfolded many times," thus

linking Derrida's invaginatingg fold," with its metaphorical reference to "catastrophe" seen

as a discontinuity or instability in a system.

Ulmer's analysis of Derrida's use of invagination is particularly useful in our

understanding of electronic patchworking as a deconstructive enterprise. In observing the

"folding back" of the signifier on itself, Ulmer comments that: "Repetition by itself can

provide the effects of invagination," a point Derrida de-monstrates in "Living On:


Borderlines" regarding a text by Blanchot" (Applied Grammatology 104). Observes Ulmer:

Iterability, the sheer possibility of quotation, of repeating, creates the
catastrophic fold in any text, giving it the structure of a Klein bottle (in topology,
a single surface "with no inside, outside, or edges .. recalling the pots with holes
knocked in the bottom found in tombs. ." (105)

The funereal association of the folded, iterated text, "a deconstruction," posits Ulmer, "of

the notion of language as a 'container' for ideas" (105), provides a compelling analogy to

the many-folded AIDS Quilt, as it at once a place of mourning "signed" in a series of

repeating quotations whose signified, shall we say, "death," no text(ile) can, in fact,


In what may be, perhaps, one of the few deconstructive readings of the AIDS

Quilt, Daniel Harris's "Making Kitsch From AIDS" (Harper's, July, 1994), argues 'against

the grain' in challenging the claim of the QUILT to re-present it's subject, "death," as

anything other than "political knickknack" (55). The AIDS Quilt, according to Harris, has

been so "thoroughly sentimentalized" that any signifier associated with the text(ile)

becomes an "allegorical emblem of the kitschification of AIDS" (56). Harris provides a

counter-reading to the memorial value of the AIDS Quilt Project by suggesting that the

adoption of a memorial "patchwork of cloth that can be visited like a grave site or a war

memorial" links the text as "a nostalgic folk art" to the "longing for a legendary small town

America," thus suppressing, by way of "substitution ... the iconography of the Christian

Church" which has attempted to shape our reception of the signified to which the signifier

"AIDS" has been linked.

In a passage which links the potency of the AIDS Quilt as a signifying system to

Zizek's concept of the "Ideological Quilt" discussed earlier, Harris attributes to the Quilt


the status of "the sublime expression of AIDS kitsch." Reconceived as Zizek's "ideological

quilt," rather than being structured through some unified field, consistent with the

ideological status assigned to it by its founders and promoters, Harris's critique

demonstrates how others, such as himself, can also "quilt" the floating signifiers through

other significations, such as "kitsch," for example, or in semiotic association with

corporations whose logos may function as a "point de capiton," a nodall point"-- as yet

another in an endless series of equivalenciess."

One of the objectives of Patchwork, of conducting biographical research in the

context of a mystorical hypertext, is to observe the patterns of trajectory which may

emerge from fields of association, the nomadic migrations of floating signifiers, set into

motion by the Patchwork crazy quilt. Beginning with the heuretically inspired generators

of my own mystorical "patches" and continuing outward with the randomly generated

"patches" of those who "sign-on" to the Patchwork hypertext, one can speculate that the

forces of certain "strange attractors" may form, to use the fractally inspired metaphors of

Chaos Theory, potential patterns of order within seeming disorder, certain "readings" on

the life and art of Kenneth Patchen that, while unpredictable and uncontrollable by

Patchwork's "author," may, nonetheless, fall into certain "nodally" bounded regions along

the illimitable signifying chain.

Chaos Theory and the "Crazy" Text(ile)

In Chapter Three of her study, Chaos Bound (Cornell University Press, 1990),

entitled "The Necessary Gap: Chaos as Self in The Education of Henry Adams," N.

Katherine Hayles argues as to how "chaos is as already present within a complex dynamic

of revelation and concealment" and, employing a series of textile metaphors, proceeds to

analyze how, for example, "a suture within the text joins Adams's past and present selves"

(64-65). Borrowing upon concepts derived from chaos theory, Hayles provides a cogent

re-reading of The Education, the implications of which seem applicable to the

deconstruction of traditional biographical methodology and, thus, to the development of

an alternative biography conceived in the form of a hypertext crazy quilt.

Informed by an authorial 'self who initially works "from a conception of the

universe as unity, linearity, and fixed truths," the text inevitably displays a 'rupture, the

'gap' through which emerges "the world as it actually exists--an anarchistic multiverse of

chaos, complexity, and relativism" (62). For Hayles, "The Education seems to be an

exemplary account of one man's initiation into the technological and social contexts that

form the cultural background for the later emergence of the sciences of complexity" (62).

Indeed, The Education may be conceived as a tutor text for the application of crazy

quilting as theory craft. The situation faced by Adams in the construction of his

autobiographical text replicates in many ways Kenneth Patchen's deconstructive textual

practices, practices which return, like the repressed, to haunt the construction of a Patchen

biography. Adams, like Patchen and the similarly schizoid 'self who 'authors' this study,

are inevitably hounded by the possibility "that some authorial self lingers beyond the reach

oftextuality" and that what might constitute the 'meaning' of a life, of a "'real self," may

"manifest itself within the text as an absence, rupture, or gap," a gesture which, thus,

"further complicates the linear flow of the narrative and punctuates the accretion of the

inscripted self, rendering its evolution discontinuous or indeterminate" (64-65).

As with Kenneth Patchen, the "subject" of Patchwork, the life and its textual

representation are marked by certain discontinuities, and the mystorical quilter of


Patchwork will experience a fate not unlike that of Adams's narrator, one of whose "most

characteristic activities is suturing, trying to stitch together a past and a present that have

been torn apart and can be fitted together only with difficulty" (70).

As subjects of both biography and autobiography, Patchen and Adams exist as

swirling forces of turbulence whose shifting sets of signifying practices respond to the

strange attractors, and rendering patterns that when quilted into a narrative fabric, exhibit

"a fold that conceals or a tear that reveals" and, suggests Hayles of Adams, "through this

gap chaos pours" (73).


(T)heory, the third leg of the CATTt, as it relates to literary biography, is a muddy

issue, and the record, scattered as it is, suggests that the absence of any unified

biographical theory points to its inherent deconstructive tendencies. Noted practitioners

such as Leon Edel have observed, "There exists, I am sorry to say, no criticism of

biography worthy of the name" (10). Anthony Freidson, in his introduction to New

Directions In Biography, comments on a certain "fuzziness in the critical theory of

biography" and cites Edel's assertion that biography "has not yet articulated a

'methodology'" and has "'suffered through three centuries from a lack of definition, a laxity

of method"' (xxi).

Which is not to say that authors of literary biography have not attempted to define

their genre, and to establish certain idealized, if not unattainable goals. The problematic

announce themselves in definitions such as that of William Zinnzer that make a claim for

"the simulation in words, of a man's life, from all that is known about that man" (Zinnser

42). Definitions in a literary tradition of'life-writing' that dates back to James Boswell's

Life of Johnson, reveal an emphasis on verisimilitude, as underscored in Boswell's letter to

Bishop Percy, in which Boswell promises to "accompany Johnson in his progress, and, as

it were, see each scene as it happened." Yet, as contemporary biographers such as Philip

Ziegler have pointed out, ". .. Boswell's 'Johnson' could never be more than magnificently

incomplete, a subjective portrait viewed exclusively from a single point of view" (Ziegler

34). Adds Ziegler, "Boswell's advantages were also crippling disabilities, he did not so

much evade the pitfalls that await the contemporary biographer as avoid them or even

incorporate them within the landscape of his study" (34). Other critics are more harsh and

succinct, suggesting, as does David Gates, for example, that Boswell, "the archetypal

literary biographer, was a great gossip and a bum critic" (81).

Somewhere between the famous, ground-breaking work of Boswell, and the

impressionistic sketches ofLyton Stratchey's Eminent Victorians, to the more reductive,

fact-oriented biographies of more recent vintage, lies the illusive goal of the "pure

biography." In contrast to Paul Murray Kendall's contradictory claims for biography as

"the craft-science-art of the impossible" there is the more self-assured, though no less

questionable definition of Sir Harold Nicholson in The Development of English

Biography, as summarized by Zinnser, "that 'pure' biography comes into being when the

author, eschewing all extraneous purposes, writes the life of a man for its own sake, and

though adhering to truth, attempts to compose that life as a work of art" (13).

Zinnser is forced to ask of Nicholson, however, whether "even the 'purest' of

biographies is not moved by the commemorative urge? that he harbors, even if

unconsciously, no didactic impulse?" (13). To which I would add, How about


Suffice it to say, the terminology employed by these various attempts to define

literary biography raise as many questions as they attempt to resolve. Even when the

enterprise is largely focused on the assemblage of facts, the problem of 'truth' telling and

verisimilitude are not resolved. For pure epistemological fuzziness, one could do no better

than the following attempt by Zinnser to demystify the bedrock of fact in biographical


Fact is cold stone, an inarticulate thing, dumb until something happens to it; and
there is no use the biographer waiting for spontaneous combustion or miraculous
alchemy. Fact must be rubbed up in the mind, placed in magnetic juxtaposition
with other facts, until it begins to glow, to give off that radiance we call meaning.
Fact is a biographer's only friend, and worst enemy. (17)

Yes, well beware the biographical subject whose fate lies in this alchemist's hands. Or the

reader who must rely on the above mentioned process devoid of its deconstruction by,

shall we say, those damnable operations of interrogation posed by critical theory. Indeed,

the options, observes David Gates in a 1992 Newsweek review of contemporary

biography, are lamentable:

On the supply side we've got an academic world in which criticism has been
shanghaied by post-structuralist and p.c. crazies, leaving biography as a vehicle for
rational literary discourse. On the demand side, we've got upscale college students,
conditioned by culture's obsession with celebrity gossip, who'd rather read about
writers than their actual writings. (80)

But Boswell's own proclivity toward gossip (mentioned above) notwithstanding,

the fate of literary biography, as will hopefully be suggested in the closing chapters of this

study on biography-as-hypertext, may lie in the hands of no single camp of readers, writers

or critics. But this is the case to be made in later chapters of this study. What remains

illustrative in terms of this chapter's consideration of the current status of theory as it

applies to biographical method, may be ascertained in a survey of articles and reviews,

many of which appear regularly in periodicals such as the New York Times Book

Review, that provide a chorus of voices representing readers, writers and critics of

contemporary biography.


It is important to note that the language employed by the non-academic reviews of

scholarly literary biographies is replete with references suggestive of the very textual

elements which have become the points of inquiry by critical theorists. A reference to

Richard B. Sewall's biography of Emily Dickinson quotes the biographer's observation that

Dickinson was "a figure upon whose biography no narrative structure could be imposed

that is not to a degree arbitrary or fictitious" (Frank 7). In an article entitled, "Faulkner

proves too slippery for Karl," Los Angeles Times reviewer, Molly Giles, writes of the

"two Bills" which Karl discovered in his research and that "simple duality was a piece of

cake for someone as complex as Faulkner" (Giles 9). For Karl, according to this reviewer,

Faulkner remains "infinitely, triumphantly, mysterious" ( 9 ).

In a sidebar to a July 19, 1987 review of his biography, Hemingway, author,

Kenneth S. Lynn, acknowledges that while he "felt that seven-eighths of him were below

the surface," he was able to get to that "invisible" element "by means of biography--by

placing his stories within the context of his life" (Lynn 3). The path to this "truth" is to be

found, declares Lynn, in "the interplay between fiction and personality" (3) Such a thesis,

it might be argued, opens up the possibility for the post-structuralist interplay oftextuality,

one in which the borders suggested by Lynn's binary opposition are decidedly blurred,

problematized, and in which, in a Lacanian sense, the unconscious (of the subject) is

structured like a language

Occasionally one will come upon claims that bring new meaning to the word

"definitive," as applied to the literary biography. Frank Rich's review of William Wright's,

Lillian Hellman, suggests that Wright "possesses an essentialist tribute that more

passionate writers who neither loved nor reviled his subject do not: he really is an

objective observer" (Rich 1). Wright, according to Rich, "has no hidden agenda," is the

real article, the creator of the 'pure' biography. Yet throughout the review we come upon

references to Wright's support of "assertions of Hemingway's third wife" and of his

"revealing more complexities, however unflattering, than Hellman herself ever exhibited

for scrutiny" (38). In addition, we are told that while "Mr. Wright has psychological

theories about Hellman the woman who emerges from the book is far too independent

a character to fit any neat definition" (39). Our reviewer notes in his conclusion that the

final word of Wright's "tantalizingly unfinished woman" is "enigma" and that, "Lillian

Hellman, no little fox, continues to out run anyone who might attempt to cage her" (39).

One wonders, then, what constitutes the "objective" status of a biography that

accepts (and thus rejects) certain psychological theories, interpretations, data, over

others, and which eventually tries to seek cover under the sign of "enigma"? The

representation of the endless pursuit of the biographical "subject," of trying to anchor the

"floating signifier" represented by the signature of such a subject, linked as it is by a

seemingly endless chain of signification in the form of "facts" somehow associated with

the subject's appellation, has seen one of its most inventive, and illustrative, pop cultural

depictions in Orson Welles's film classic, Citizen Kane.

From Citizen Kane to Citizen Patchen

Welles' film is, curiously enough, based on a screenplay which bears its own weight

in authorial speculation in the form of unresolved questions concurring the particular

contributions of Welles and his screenwriting partner, Herman Mankiewicz. And then

there are, of course, the often noted parallels between Welles's own biography and that of

the newspaper magnate, William Randolph Hearst, upon whom the thinly veiled meta-

biography of Kane is established.

From the opening sequence to the last, the film is framed by shots depicting the

monumental initial "K" that both invites the viewer/interpreter to pursue a chain of

biographical signifiers associated with the name, "Kane," while simultaneously blocking

off such access (the "K" adorns the imposing fence that surrounds Kane's "Xanadu").

What one indeed enters here is the memory system of the film, which, like the Lacanian

unconscious, is indeed structured like a language.

After a series of voyeuristic lap dissolves, we enter the impossible space (the word

is whispered, it registers only at the level of film's memory system) from which is heard

Kane's dying word, "Rosebud." The word is uttered in conjunction with the dropping of

Kane's fetish object, a Lacanian objet petite a, a glass ball paperweight, which, in the

memory system of the film, we will later note, contains, metonymically, a snowy winter

scene that links, in the film's chain of signification, death-desire-mother-first wife-sled-

Rosebud. This list is, of course, incomplete, as the film's final depiction of Kane's

mausoleum-like cellar of dead-signifiers suggests. For the semiotic joke upon which the

film is so cleverly, if not unconsciously, based is that precisely to follow the bouncing ball,

to try and piece together a unified image from the splintered vision initially perceived

through the shards of the disseminated fetish object in the death scene and later recalled in

the infinite regression of Kane's image as it passes between two mirrors, is to fall prey to

logocentrism, to the belief that representation can be policed by language. That both our

cinematic, and purportedly real-life, subjects (Kane/Hearst) are in the newspaper business,

that they attempt to seek power through control of language, and that they, themselves,

become the subject of investigation by members of their own "truth-seeking" reporters,

only adds to the cosmic nature of the joke.

I discuss Kane at length here because, first, the film, I believe, truly speaks to the

problematic of biographical representation that concern the Patchwork project, and

secondly, because I will be incorporating the film as an element of the mystorical approach

to hypertext-biography to be illustrated in Chapter 6, the CATTt's (t)ale. Here, Citizen

Kane, functioning as an element of the mystery's "pop cycle," to coin a related Ulmerian

term, becomes Citizen Patchen and Robitaille shares the position of the film's investigative

reporter, who, like the troubled biographer Robitaille, is confronted by a cubist subject

(Kenneth Patchen) about whom swirl conflicting interpretations of both the life and the


At one point in the film the reporter is taken to the "Thatcher Memorial Library,"

a crypt-like Borgesian labyrinth of'words, words, words, which presumably holds the

definitive explanation ofKane's life. Like the magical word that unlocks the divine in the

Borges library, so too does the Thatcher collection promise the semiotic link between the

signifier, "Rosebud," and the "truth" of he whose utterance haunts our biographical


I use the word "haunt" here purposefully, as the question of haunting, as it relates

to language, the (death of) the subject, and literary biography, is a theme that recurs in

recent experimental biographies, such as Jacqueline Rose's The Haunting of Sylvia Plath

(more about which I will say below), as well as my own forthcoming mystoriobiography,



Of course, the Thatcher Memorial Library provides no good leads for the reporter,

and in the film's concluding scene, against the backdrop of the dust-covered hoard of

Kane's collective objet petite a's, the reporter admits, in response to a query regarding the

elusive "Rosebud," that, "Perhaps, a life can't be summarized in a single word." While this

may mark the end of the reporter's biographical chase, the memory system of the film

continues with the panning eye of the camera as it alights, finally, on a child's sled bearing

the name, "Rosebud." While the semiotic joke here might seem to be aimed at the

reporter, who didn't quite connect the dots that link, say, "Rosebud"-sled-paperweight-

winter scene-childhood-removal from mother, it is really the viewer who is targeted here.

It is the viewer/reader/interpreter, teased along by the film's memory system, who is lulled

into the false sense of security that seemingly, and conclusively, links "Rosebud" to a given

object, whose presence, while promising the missing link to a seemingly endless and

incomplete semiotic chain of associations, actually marks an absence, an endless

dissemination of free-floating signifiers. Such is the import of the concluding shots of the

sled, which, once fed to the furnace fire, becomes just so much smoke, dust, ashes, as the

camera exits from whence it came, our final gaze resting on the forbidding gate, the

resistant signature, marked by the sign of"K."

Other Models for Mystoriobiography

Citizen Kane's exploration of the signature effect, and its deliberate blurring of the

distinctions between fact and fiction, whether consciously intended or not, may be seen as

the cinematic equivalent of similar demonstrations in postmodern fiction. The relationship

of these experiments to biography is clearly and succinctly summarized by Justin Kaplan in

his article, "In Pursuit of the Ultimate Fiction," where he writes,


In the most reductive terms, what's a novel but a biography, partial or full-scale, of
people who exist first in the writer's imagination and later in the reader's? Both
kinds of storytelling may be species of one genus, prose fiction, and the melding
or confounding of the two a familiar postmodernist phenomenon: the breaking
down of genre, the elevation of puzzle, paradox, mystification and Borgesian
sleights of hand. (24)

In his review, Kaplan cites such diverse examples as Norman Mailer's Executioners

Song and E.L. Doctorow's Ragtime, each of which, according to Kaplan, "treat verifiable

events as if they were "texts" to be "deconstructed" (24). In words that echo those of

Kane's reporter-cum-biographer, Kaplan suggests that: "Even biography's accustomed

hunt for a prime mover, a core personality--Walt Whitman calls it 'theMemyself--may be

like chasing Bigfoot" (24).

I am intrigued by the use of metaphorical language that begins to cluster around

this notion of the biographical subject, as it is this very play of language which serves,

particularly in its homonymic variations, as the foundation for my heuretically inspired

hypertext, Patchwork. Gathered in the rather wide net that I cast in search of such

examples, were references from Melville's apparitional "white whale" and similarly

spectre-like, "Bartleby," to Julian Barne's Flaubert's Parrot. Of the latter, Justin Kaplan

observes the following:

Geoffrey Braithwaite, the narrator of Julian Barnes's book, is a doctor and a
widower (there are other parallels with Charles Bovary) obsessed with the life of
Flaubert, but at the same time profoundly skeptical, even derisive, about the
ultimate value of any biography. Like a net, he says, biography can be described as
a "collection of holes tied together with a string." (25)

For the purposes of Patchwork, I would like to appropriate the "net" metaphor,

and its metaphorical and heuretic relationship to the Inter-net, to a problematizing

biographical text conceived as a series of electronic "patches" or hypertext "links," each of


which is tied together by a "string" woven by the various reader/browser/quilters. no given

resulting pattern of which may ever be said to be (w)holecloth.

In my readings for this chapter I come upon a related metaphor, a reference to

Pierre Bourdieu's concept of a "field" in Didier Eribon's "Preface" to his biography of

Michel Foucault. Eribon appropriates Bourdieu's concept to describe an "intersection" of

"theoretical, institutional, and political spacess" that constitute his "intellectual project"

(xii). I note that Eribon concludes the paragraph by noting that his text is also composed

of "several cultural registers," one of which, a reference to the Ecole Normale Superieure

on the Rue d'Ulm, curiously, provides a homophonic link to "Ulmer," whose own writings

on mystery in Teletheory link to a drawing provided by Jacques Derrida for the design of

a "folie" in the Parc dela Villette that is based on a metaphor informing a passage in Plato's

Timaeus. This metaphor is that of"the chora as crible, sieve or sift" (240). This sieve,

whose function Derrida characterizes as an "interpretive and selective filter which will

have permitted a reading and sifting of the three sites and the three embeddings," may be

seen, in its electronic sense, to parallel the functions of the "grid" provided by the

intersection of recombinatory patchworkings of my hypertext biography (241). For Ulmer,

Derrida's "sieve," or "mesh," I prefer the latter term for its allusion to the text(ile), leads

mystorically to "a description of the gravel plant [where Ulmer's father worked], which is

a three-layered grid for sizing rock" (241). For Robitaille, the rhizomatic flow of

associations links Ulmer, via Derrida, to (Patch)en via Robitaille. But the flow of

associations does not end here. As it turns out, Robitaille's and Ulmer's textual maps

intersect precisely at the "rue d'Ulm," in my case, via the reading of Eribon's Preface, cited

above, and for Ulmer, via "a copy of Feu la cendre from Derrida with "the return address

on the stationery--'45 Rue d'Ulm'" (241). And it is by way of this redoubling of the

mystorical crossroads that Ulmer's reading of Derrida's text brings our present discussion

of biography's deconstructive tendencies back around to my reading of Citizen Kane's

closing sequence, the sled in the furnace, to the place and function of memory in the film,

as well as the function of memory that haunts the biographical quest.

Ulmer is struck by the significance ofDerrida's text, in which he says, "1 now have

the impression that the best paradigm of the trace is not, as some have believed, the track

of a hunt, a marking, a step, and so on, but ashes, that which remains without remaining of

the holocaust, of the burn-all." To which Ulmer responds,

Not senders and receivers, then in a theory of communication, but cinders. In an
idiom referring to the "late," the deceased. A writing without debt that is as good
as a burning. No monument, no Phoenix. The "late" is also the "fire" in the idiom,
the fire that cannot be effaced in the cinders as a trace. It is a word that is in
question, that is to be put in place of memory, in the place of memory, to which we
are to listen; to take the word into the mouth and ears. Fire. Choler. But it could
be any word, any black on white letters. Not icons, but indexes, in this writing. A
text will not resemble what it is about, but be caused by it, the way smoke relates
to fire. (241)

And, we might add, the way a life relates to its anti-biography, to a mystery

written in the key of its infinitely disseminating progenitor. It could be any word.

"Rosebud." "Patchen." 1 am drawn to Ulmer's thesis, and his ongoing interest in what he

has identified here, and in his review of Eric L. Santner's Stranded Objects: Mourning,

Memory, and Film in Postwar Germany, as "the problematic of mourning" (153). As will

be obvious in my mystorical (t)ale or electronic patchwork hypertext to follow (Chapter

6), my own relationship to Kenneth Patchen, revolves, in no small part, around various

mystorical associations having to do with certain shared traumatic experiences of loss and

the resulting problematic of incomplete mourning.

As we will note, Patchen's pre-war loss of his sister, Kathleen, becomes the

haunting lens through which he views the horrors of World War Two. The textual

interplay of these events in his fiction, poetry, drawings and social interactions, reveals the

continuity of what Ulmer refers to as a "discourse of mourning" present in Patchen's early

correspondence, a discourse that reveals the author's prescient awareness that his entry

into a life of language held no promise of escape from melancholy, mourning, a radical

sense of a Lacanian "lack."

In his review, Ulmer identifies a problem central both to "institutions of letters"

and "the contaminated legacy of [Paul] de Man himself," precisely "how to break out of

the defensive circle of binary logic (identification or condemnation) in order to integrate

his [de Man's] work within a usable past" (154). Such is the dilemma which surfaces in the

handling of the Patchen archive. One can, like Henry Miller, in his essay on Patchen, "Man

of Anger, Man of Light," acknowledge the subject's schizoid potentialities, rather than fall

prey, as did most of Patchen's acquaintances, reviewers, scholars, et al., to the more

reductive claims of angry negativist or romantic angel. Aware of the tendency of critics,

publishers and readers to claim for him an association with a specific political and/or

artistic camp, Patchen virtually assured his departure down the black hole of literary

anonymity by refusing to be 'formulated' and 'pinned, to borrow the Prufrockian metaphor,

to any given segment of the signifying chain. Few readers of the Patchen signifying system

recognize in the material of his biographical corpus, what Ulmer locates in the writings of

Habermas: "the need for a postconventional identity that could accept fragmentation of

life (of history as a 'pile of wreckage'), and renounce the desire for rootedness that

produced fascism" (154).

What Ulmer finds significant in Sander's discussion of"two elegiac project[s]"--

Edgar Reits's television series, Heimat, and Our Hitler, a film by Hans Jurgen Syberberg--

are the tendencies of each "to repeat the operations of blocked mourning that they set out

to overcome" (154). It is precisely this repetition, this biographical conundrum, which

Patchwork attempts to avoid. And it is through the nomadic, rhizomatic operations of the

mystorical hypertext electronic patchwork, that the "desire for rootedness," endemic in the

traditional literary biography, will be both addressed and short-circuited. My objective in

pursuing this alternative biographical route is precisely that which Ulmer suggests Reitz

and Syberberg are unable to achieve in their work: "to rescue the 'stranded objects' from

the wreckage of history" (154). It is my belief that while Patchen may have been tragically

unaware of the nature or unique accomplishments of his valiant attempt to escape the

destructive forces of a logocentric, Western patriarchal culture, his legacy of

deconstructive art, as will be experientially re-presented in Patchwork, allows for the

possibility, quoting Ulmer's appraisal of Walter Benjamin's "theory for a more effective

mourning," of "a past that did not in fact take place but that remains available as a

possibility, as alternative choices, acts that might have been, as the basis for a renewed

legacy" (154).

Figures Before the Wall

I pause for a moment to re-imagine, to re-image, this question of effective

mourning, in the form of a figure sitting before a wall. Indeed, what appears is a series of

such figures receding in infinite regression, like that of Kane caught in an instance between

two mirrors: splintered, schizoid selves. These figures, however, are each seated before a

blank wall. Patchen comes to mind first, in the several accounts of the artist as a young

man placing his chair before a blank wall, staring away from the assembled gathering. A

youthful gesture of stylish defiance, perhaps? A bodily preconfiguration of his later, life-

long back ailments: the perils of exposing his backside (and in this anti-biographer's case,

his taille/tale)? Similarly confronted with the exhausting demands and spiritual limitations

oflogocentrism, Melville signs with "Bartleby," a tale told from a tomb, the writer

reduced to scrivener, copier, who, after a prior life among "dead letters," "prefers not to"

improve upon the perfection of a blank wall.

Or are these figures the embodiment of one who is attempting, in Ulmer's words, a

"'passage through the wall' (the walls of the crypt, or of a fort) by finding a medium that

interrupts the confrontation, is part of the choral linguistics needed to write directly with

the Symbolic code" (Heuretics 233)? Hence, Patchen's reach beyond logos, to a writing in

multimedia, with color and pigment, with jazz syncopation, with the body itself Central to

this choral linguistics, as Ulmer demonstrates in his own mystery, "Derrida at Little Big

Horn," is the function of the choral word, which "operates at the micro level of language,

the way writing with the paradigm operates at the level of discourse, and provides the

inventio that gathers differences into a set" (223). Or, as suggested earlier in relation to

Plato's Timaeus, the chora as a "sieve" or "grid," that leads, argues Ulmer, not to

"verification," but rather, to "the choral zone between fate and freedom, an irreducible

zone of luck, chance, risk, and timing ... the region of invention" (240).

Seen in this light, Kane's "Rosebud," or Patchen's "Kathleen," are not the anchors

of meaning that verify, and thus, totalize in a fascistic manner, the subjects associated with

these utterances. Rather, employed heuretically, as choral words, they explore a space

beyond mourning, a space that is generative, not funeral. In such a space the misnomer of


biography as a "life-writing" becomes not the traditional entombment of its subject, but a

writing born out of a life that truly liberates its subject. In such a biography, what is

"authorized" is not an official "reading" under the signature of a singular scholarly

authority, but rather, the authority, always already inherent in the effect of the signature,

to enter into a mystorical interplay between signatures. In short, to enter the electronic

choral space, to join the electronic quilting bee, the Patchwork.

Before turning in Chapter 5, (T)arget, to a more detailed discussion of biography-

as-electronic-mystory, and of the specific elements that will be included in the closing

chapter, the CATT(t)'s (t)ale of crazy, woven "patches" in my electronic quilt, I would

like to consider a few more examples of texts that have acknowledged the deconstructive

tendencies inherent in biographical theory and methodology, and which serve, thus, as

tutor texts in the designing of an alternative biographical practice.

More Alternative Approaches

Two particular examples, which anticipate the visual dimension that a multi-media

hypertext such as Patchwork can provide, involve "auto-biographies," each experimentally

revisiting the meaning of that genre by invoking the image of a photograph as an initial

problematizing element of the text. The first of these models, My Room: The

Autobiography of Louise Brogan, is referred to on the cover as a "Mosaic by Ruth

Limmer." In addition to the visual component, Limmer's introduction describes her choice

of the mosaic aesthetic as the means by which to bring together a patchwork, if you will,

"composed ofjournals, notebook entries, poems .. sentences and paragraphs from her

[Brogan's] criticism, portions of letters, a lecture, answers to questions short stories,

recorded conversations, scraps of paper" (xx). The list reads like the collaged contents of

a CD-Rom without, of course, the added features of multi-media and hypertexted links.

Limmer's "Introduction" is motivated by a "disconcerting photograph of Louise Brogan,

which, when "viewed from a distance" and then "close up," becomes, in Limmer's eyes

"formidable" due to the "multiple readings it projects" (xiv). It is not, of course, an image

she can, or does, re-present to her readers.

In bringing together these materials, Limmer hopes to construct the auto-

biography Brogan never wrote, while admitting neither is it the auto-biography she would

have written. She likens the readers' experience to that of entering a gallery of "self-

portraits" whose "effect should be no more unsettling than an artist's retrospective" (xxi). I

cite the example of Zimmer's mosaic and those to follow below precisely because the

inclusion of the visual element here, and in a multi-media hypertext such as Patchwork,

becomes a crucial register ofundecidability that both problematizes and enriches, in a

Barthesian sense, the play of signification associated with the image-as-signifier.

Among the examples cited by Anthony M. Friedson in his "Foreword" to New

Directions in Biography, is that of Michael Ondaatje, whose experimental, collagist texts,

such as The Auto-biography of Billy-The-Kid, 'loosens' the "barriers of form: genre,

modes, and tones," (xix) that have come to define traditional modes of'life-writing. Like

Limmer's "mosaic," Ondaatje's Billy-The-Kid combines a diverse range of materials:

poems, fictionalized docu-dramatized news accounts of the day, imagined interviews, and

the like. And, in a strikingly similar gesture, Ondaatje opens with a reference to a

photograph, in this case represented on the page by a blank white space framed in a black

border. In the "caption" beneath the blank space, the ironic prose commentary calls

attention to the un-representability of the Kid's image. "I send you a picture of Billy," the


caption begins, addressing an undecidable reader, "made with the Perry shutter as quick as

it can be worked. ..." (5). Obviously not quick enough to capture this image. In lines that

link this caption to that of the inscrutable Kane, Ondaatje's "reporter" speaks of

photographic experiments in which he tries to capture the essence of "bits of snow in the

air" and, with a pun on the "truth" factor of his subject, promises to "send you proofs

sometime" (5). One is reminded of a certain phenomenon of the absence of presence

which Umberto Eco soberingly associated with the signified, "death," for which, observed

Eco, there is no sufficient signifierr." It is Hamlet's "Where's Yorrick" moment from which

Tom Stoppard's character, The Player, so aptly extrapolates that death is best signified

when "someone fails to show up." It is the moment in Citizen Kane, following the

"erasure" of the sled (floating signifier) beneath the falling snow on the occasion of the

young Kane's removal from his mother (a moment of loss, trauma, a "little death"). This

moment is followed later by the flickering blank white screen after the last of the real/reel

documentary images of Kane's life are projected before the reporter/detective/viewers'

eyes. It is Melville's white whale, Bartleby's blank wall, the Wittgenstein realization of the

limitations of the reach of human expression. It is, finally, what moves Sven Bikerts to

dread in Biography and the Dissolving Self: A Note, where the acknowledgment of

contemporary engagement with the biographical subject as an image of media

identification results in a condition where "lives seem to be losing mass and dissolving into

ever more nebulous bunches of pixels" (AGNI, No 40). Since my mystorical engagement

with the Patchen corpus involves the intersection of our lives via the electronic, I am

intrigued by Bikert's fears. Indeed, one of the as yet unresolved questions in my


experiment is precisely the fate of both the biographical subject and the reader/electronic

scriptor of Patchwork. What is potentially lost in this space? And what is gained?

One provocative response to these questions may be found in another iteration of

the "imaginary" quality of the image as presented in the opening passage of Roland

Barthes by Roland Barthes. In his experimental autobiography, Barthes explains that the

photographs included in this 'life-writing' leave him "in a state of disturbing familiarity,"

and that in each case, "I see the fissure in the subject (the very thing about which he can

say nothing)" (4). Later, in Camera Lucida, Barthes would write, "Whatever it grants to

vision and whatever its manner, a photograph is always invisible: it is not that we see" (6).

What we do see, suggests Barthes, and what links Barthes's speculations both to

the other example provided here, as well as to my own mystorical relationship to the

Patchen corpus (I use the cadaverous metaphor purposefully), is the "Spectrum of the

Photograph" (9). Barthes's use of the term "spectrum," he explains, relates it "through its

root .. to spectacle" and "adds to it that rather terrible thing which is there in every

photograph: the return of the dead" (9)

What Barthes has to say later in this chapter about the "portrait-photograph [as] a

close-field of forces" is, I would argue, applicable to the full range of signifiers that come

into play in biographical writing, particularly a multi-media biography such as that

proposed in Patchwork. Thus I quote the passage at length:

Four image-repertoires intersect here, oppose and distort each other. In front of
the lens, I am at the same time: the one I think 1 am, the one I want others to think
I am, the one the photographer thinks I am, and the one he makes use of to exhibit
his art. In other words, a strange action: I do not stop imitating myself, and
because of this, each time I am (or let myself be) photographed, I invariably suffer
from a sensation of inauthenticity, sometimes of imposture (comparable to certain
nightmares). In terms of image-repertoire. The Photograph (the one I intend)


represents that very subtle moment when, to tell the truth, 1 am neither subject nor
object but a subject who feels he is becoming an object: I then experience a micro-
version of death (of parenthesis) : I am truly becoming a specter. The
photographer knows this very well, and himself fears (if only for commercial
reasons) this death in which his gesture will embalm me. (Barthes, Camera Lucida

From Boswell's pre-photographic promise "to show" Johnson as an image

captured verbally in situ, to the contemporary biographical subject photographically

represented in Benjamin's 'age of mechanical reproduction, the "air of a face," in Barthes's

poetic estimation, "is unacknowledged," and the "certainty" which its presence is intended

to assure, results merely in the "arrest of interpretation" (107).

Passage Through The Wall

How then does the biographer escape the fate of thus embalming his subject, of

inducing what we might call this condition of the cardiac arrest of interpretation? Or, in

the case of the electronic computer-based biography, the micro-chip version of death, to

recoin a Barthesian phrase? How, to state the matter, as does Ulmer, in another way, to

"short-circuit the melancholy of guilt linking the Hermeneutic code to the superego"

(Heuretics, 232). To work through this impasse Ulmer turns to choreography via Barthes

and the "antithetical organization of the Symbolic code" (232). Ulmer cites the following

passage from Barthes to "describe the situation of this code," a situation, I would argue,

that similarly describes a template for an electronic crazy quilt:

The two terms of an antithesis are each marked: their difference does not arise out
of a complementary, dialectical movement: the Antithesis is the battle between two
plentitudes set ritually face to face like two fully armed warriors: the Antithesis is
the figure of the given opposition, eternal, eternally recurrent: the figure of the
inexplicable. Every joining of two antithetical terms, every mixture, every
conciliation--in short, every passage through the wall of theAntithesis--thus
constitutes a transgression: to be sure, rhetoric can reinvent a figure designed to
name the transgressive; this figure exists: it is the paradoxism. (Barthes, 1974:27)

The "passage through the wall," which Barthes associates with Antithesis and

which Ulmer likens to "the walls of the crypt, or of the fort" (Ulmer. Heuretics 233),

requires "finding a medium that interrupts the confrontation," a medium Ulmer invents

incorporating a "choral linguistics" that allows him "to write directly with the Symbolic

code"--precisely the heuretic device he employs in his mystery.

The promise of a choral writing in a hypertextual mystery is the promise, to use

Julia Kristeva's analysis of Barthes's work, of "the awakening of subjects" (Kristeva 121).

"This awakening," argues Kristeva, "occurs simultaneously with the putting into play of

the desire for a signifier to symbolize a 'real' that has fallen into the subject's past or is

questionable for society" (121). Kenneth Patchen, in this study, is such a subject.

In the early stages of my conceptualizing this project, one of my goals was to find

a rhetoric and a medium that would allow the reader/viewer/navigator of this

hypertextually quilted patchwork biography to experience the same sense of vertigo that I

had experienced while negotiating the labyrinthine pathways and multiple perspectives that

emerged from the biographical and textual materials that composed the Patchen archive. It

is Barthes who again provides a model for such a re-imagining of biography writ chorally

and "by means of a violent anacoluthon" (Barthes, New Critical Essays 49).

In his analysis of Chateaubriand's Life of Rance, Barthes explains that while

Chateaubriand "meant to be no more than [Rance's] pious biographer," the biographer is

'initiated, by way of "anamesis" and a "passion of memory" that results in an "interlacing"

in which "Chateaubriand must remember for two; whence the intermingling, not of

sentiments (Chateaubriand actually feels little sympathy for Rance), but of memories" (45)

Operating, thus by superimpositionn" as opposed to "projection," Chateaubriand "can do


more here than enter by force, fragmentarily, a life which is not his own" (45). The vertigo

resulting from this forced and fragmentary entrance is elaborated upon by Barthes in terms

that I believe set the stage for Ulmer's development of the mystery and for its potential

incorporation into an alternative biographical practice. Describing a series of parallels in

the lives of Chateaubriand and Rance, Barthes observes that "the Reformer's [Rance's]

thread is broken for the sake of the narrator's sudden reminiscence" (45). Note the textile

metaphor here linking Chateaubriand's textual practice to the electronic gaps and

unpredictable "patches" or webbings inherent in a Patchwork crazy quilt. Adds Barthes,

In this broken recurrence, which is the contrary of assimilation, and consequently,
according to current meaning, of a "creation," there is something unsatisfied, a
strange sort of undertow: the self is unforgettable: without ever absorbing him,
Rance periodically reveals Chateaubraind: never has an author undone himself less;
in this Life there is something hard, made up of splinters, of fragments combined
but not melted down; Chateaubriand does not double Rance, he interrupts him,
thereby prefiguring a literature of the fragment, according to which the inexorably
separated consciousness (that of the author, that of the character) no longer
hypocritically borrow the same composite voice. With Chateaubriand, the author
begins his solitude: the author is not his character: a distance is established, which
Chateaubriand assumes, without resigning himself to it, whence those reversals
which give the Life of Rance its special vertigo. (46)

Other similarities exist between Barthes's analysis of Chateaubriand's textual

practice and Ulmer's heuretics, as, for example, their shared reliance on the homonym and

other similar plays of language for the purpose of invention. In describing how in ordinary

discourse "the relation of words is subject to a certain probability," Barthes notes that such

"ordinary probability is rarefied by Chateaubriand" through the use of "cultivated gaps"

through which a "surprising substance erupts into the discourse" (47). Indeed, the

marvelously performative and generative qualities of Ulmer's own mysteries, such as that

presented in his "Derrida at Little Big Horn" or the "Beau Geste" of Heuretics, provide

similar "surprises" that emerge out of the "cultivated gaps" and rarefied probabilities at

work therein.

I find truly haunting, one of the closing passages of Barthes's essay on

Chateaubriand, a paragraph in which vertigo achieves the status of a troubling dream--a

dream in which both the subject of literary biography and he or she who reads said subject,

is implicated in the "theater of... language" and "where the soul is doomed to speech"

(53). Such marks the intersection of the forking paths of Patchen/Robitaille/Welles/Kane

and all other parties who join the quilting bee and co-sign the patchwork by virtue of their

hypertextual weaving and unweaving of the infinite strands that both compose and

decompose the endless combinatorial arrangements of the Patchwork inter-active,

mystorical biography. Again, to quote Patchen himself, "You are not reading this book,

this book is reading you" (Moonlight 202 ). Barthes writes,

Every man who writes (and, therefore, who reads, has in him a Rance and a
Chateaubriand; Rance tells him that his self cannot endure the theater of any
language, or he is lost: to say I is inevitably to open a curtain, not so much to
expose (which henceforth matters very little) as to inaugurate the ceremonial of the
imaginary; Chateaubriand, for his part, tells him that the sufferings, the
discomforts, the exaltations of this self, in short, the pure sentiment of his
existence, can only plunge into language, that the "sensitive" soul is doomed to
speech, and consequently to the very theater of that speech. For nearly two
centuries this contradiction has haunted our writers: consequently we find
ourselves dreaming of a pure writer who does not write. (53)

Such, I believe, was Patchen's dream and his consequent flight into the obsessive

dissemination of his signature across of variety of media until all that was left beyond the

tortured register of his jazz poems and the primitive, alien forms of his painted poems, was

the final anchoring of the selfs free-floating signifier in the universal language of the

scream, which, according to his wife, Miriam, signaled the moment of his passing.

I close this chapter's commentary with some reflections on two more hauntingss,

two more recent attempts to construct an alternative biographical practice sensitive to the

problematic of biographical representation and which anticipate strategies to be employed

in Patchwork. The first, Jacqueline Rose's The Haunting of Sylvia Plath (1991 ), begins

with the disclaimer that the text to follow is not a biography," that the author "is never

claiming to speak about the life, never attempting to establish the facts about the lived

existence of Sylvia Plath" (xi). Indeed, Rose asserts she has no desire "to arbitrate between

competing and often incompatible versions of what took place" (xi). What does propel

Rose's engagement with her "subject" is "the circulation of fantasy in her [Plath's] texts"

and certain "difficult ethical issues -- about the legitimate scope of interpretation" (xii).

Calling into question the notion that there is "only one version of reality," Rose sets forth,

not to certify an authoritative reading of the life and art, but rather, to explore why, and in

what sense, it can be said that: "Sylvia Plath haunts our culture" (1)

For rather than providing her readers a unified subject, "Sylvia Plath," as an easily

anchored signifier, "her presence," observes Rose, "seems to open up a rent or gap in the

world" (2). In language that evokes the reporter's dilemma in Citizen Kane and the plight

of the biographer central to this project, Rose notes,

Often, as we will see, it is technically impossible to separate Plath's voice
from those who speak for her Plath's writings and the surrounding voices
stand in effigy for her, they speak in her name. It is this effigy that haunts the
culture. This is of course true of any writer who is no longer living--in fact of any
writer, whether living or not. (2)

It is the acknowledgment of this phenomenon that prompts the emergence of an

alternative approach to the biographical subject, an approach, such as that explored in

Ulmer's mystery, that neither ignores this contamination effect, nor sees it as a limit point


for the generation of a creative exchange with the play of signification "authorized" by the

constellation of signifiers that move in and out of the orbit of her signature. Indeed, Rose

posits a Derridean recognition of the complicity of language itself, of the centrality of

difference and of the double space of writing, when she writes,

What she [Plath] presents us with therefore is not only the difference of
writing from the person who produces it, but also the division internal to language,
the difference of writing from itself. It is the more striking that so many critics have
felt it incumbent upon themselves to produce a unified version of Plath as writer
and woman, as if that particular form of fragmentation or indirect representation
were something which, through the completion of their own analysis of her, they
could somehow repair. (6)

This compulsion to "repair" the subject, a compulsion readily apparent in the

comments of Patchen's friends and foes alike, is an occupational hazard amongst literary

biographers. The tendency to formulate the subject according to rules of bifurcation,

Patchen as angel of darkness and light, nihilist or romantic visionary, peacemaker or

aggressive antinomian, results, according to Rose's insightful theorizing, from the failure

to recognize that:

There is no history outside its subjective realization, its being-for-the-
subject, just as there is no subjectivity uncoloured by the history to which it
belongs. The division between history and subjectivity, between external and
internal reality, between the trials of the world and the trials of the mind, is a false
one. The distribution of opposites which has relentlessly attached itself to Plath is
the consequence of a false premise, a false antagonism, from the start. (8)

In search of a paradigm, of an aesthetic, that will serve as model for a 'life writing'

that will avoid such fascist agendas, Rose takes her cue from Plath's use of the collage

form, constructed as a "set of fragments" and which, significantly, "is also not unlike a

picture puzzle or rebus, which is the model Freud offered for the language of dreams" (9).

While rejecting the reductive interpretation of this collage form as valorizing a

"disordered, fragmented, shifting subjectivity which women oppose to a destructively

linear world," Rose argues, I believe, for an electronic logic, when she credits Plath's

collage as a means to work "across boundaries, psychic, political, cultural ." (10). It is

this multidimensionality, inherent in the mystorical approach to an alternative biographical

practice, that Rose hopes to honor in her non-biography.

Yet another recent experiment inspired by the hauntingss' of its "subject" is Louis

Kaplan's Lazlo Maholy-Nagy: Biographical Writings. Kaplan's text, like those discussed

above, similarly anticipates the possibilities inherent in a hypertextual, non-linear,

patchworked, mystorical alternative biography. Kaplan's project takes its cue from

Maholy-Nagy's artistic precept of"vision in motion" which Kaplan associates with

relativity theory, and which employs certain "deformation strategies and multiple

distortions" that ultimately "provide a powerful critique of any mode of representation"

(3). Kaplan identifies in Maholy-Nagy's artistic practice "a set of operations and strategies

that acknowledge the problematic of language for the visual arts and [which] consider art

as a signifying practice," a point central to the understanding of the role of Patchen's art to

Patchwork. Indeed, I would submit that such is not only the case with Patchen's

multimedia explorations and textual practices, but that one can conclude of Patchen, as

Kaplan does of Maholy-Nagy, that:

.. this linguistic turn provides another source and resource of turbulence and
resistance to an unproblematic form of historical representation, and this, in turn,
impacts any biographical attempt to seize upon Maholy and render an account of
his life (3).

Indeed, Kaplan succinctly summarizes the premise for the current project when he

notes that "abstract art art and theories of language in the twentieth century have

problematized the representation of the (biological) object of study and the claim to an

immediate, direct, and easy accessing of the referent" (3). Having accepted this

phenomenon as a (T)arget towards which he must invent an alternative strategy of

approach, Kaplan's inventio, his "particular thrust" at this semiotically untethered subject,

"is to review how the artistic practice ofLaszlo Moholy-Nagy engages a primal scene of

signification in the staging of signature effects, and further, to consider how this signature

practice impacts upon the writing of biography" (4). Kaplan cites as an example Derrida's

Glas, in which the "double band of the signature's writing" serves generatively to produce

a writerly text out of the juxtaposition of the signatures (and their respective play of

signification) of Hegel and Genet.

In Patchwork, this Derridean practice of decomposing the proper name into the

common noun, is extended through its employment as a strategic element in Ulmer's

heuretically inspired mystory. As Kaplan points out in his study of Maholy-Nagy, this

extension of the signature event into the realm of biography also finds its prototype in

Derrida, as witnessed in his "Otobiographies" wherein Derrida "challenges the genre of

philosophical biography that is constructed upon the historicist maintenance of a rigid

separation of the life and work of the philosopher" (9). Kaplan's project proceeds

therefore by way of the "substitution of the term (Moholyean) "artist" for (Nietzschean)

"philosopher," setting the stage for a writing "in the Key of Moholy" (10). The key to this

Derridean maneuver, as exemplified, say, in his The Ear of the Other, is when Derrida

"problematizes the fixed biographical subject by lending an (other) ear to the line of

textual credit undersigned in the posthumous name of Friedrich Nietzsche on account of

the dynamics of the eternal return" (10). Similarly, as will be discussed at length in

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