Lance Phillips and Catherine Wagner
Front Page
Self-Perpetuating Text
, to the least detail
An epistolary sequence

Lance Phillips (plain text)
Catherine Wagner (italics)

01-05-02 …Here are the bounds: Honesty vs. Truth and Honesty vs. Community; the tangents here are profuse. It seems to me that Honesty works because it affords the chance to break any RULE-OF-ONE, be it Truth or otherwise; it requires, much as the Soul, at least two people, so it is pluralizing. Also, at some point doesn’t Truth become a representative of the self? Its work in that regard is parasitic—whereas Honesty breaks down the self because of the faith put into a context that requires multiple points of power. So Honesty instantly establishes a community. The question then is how far that community can be extended. In the text it can be broadened by making a context that is self-perpetuating to the least detail. This is started by taking thinking for what it is, never innocent, always aggressive. 01-11-02 The effort one puts into resisting Truth is effort put into creating Honesty. Do you believe in Poetry?
01-23-02 I think you might be right that Truth, if it exists apart from our concepts of it, can stand alone (and is thus inaccessible, and probably unreal) but that Honesty requires at least 2 people. That’s a terrific insight. I don’t understand how “Truth becomes a representative of the self” and “Honesty breaks down the self.” Why not just have another definition of Self, one that doesn’t need to be broken down because it’s already open? “Honesty instantly establishes a community.” OK. “How far can that community be extended?” You are really saying “how far can that community be extended in poetry,” I think. Your answer:

In the text it can be broadened by making a context which is self-perpetuating to the least detail.” Before I decide what I think of this, what do you mean by “making a context” in the text? Also, how does making a context help to perpetuate community? What kind of community do you mean? Readers? Maybe community is simply implied by Honesty for you as it is for me by the act of writing. If honesty implies community, is it necessary to talk about extending community, or should we simply talk about how to be honest? Finally, do I believe in Poetry? Maybe you mean something like “believing in Poetry’s efficacy.” What would be the nature of that efficacy? I do think my experience of the world is better, richer I guess, when I’m writing and after I’ve written, because I’m more attentive. Sometimes other people’s poetry moves me and teaches me. I can’t claim much else for certain. I love word-structurings but I’m not sure that I love them more or more usefully than a golf aficionado loves a graceful and effective golf swing. I think pattern is identical to meaning. In the way that a wave moving through water gives the water direction, pattern makes language (or anything) resound meaningfully. I’m crazy about the kind of patterning possible in language, but I don’t think poetry, as a category of pattern, can do much for the world. Poems might.
02-02-02 My notion of soul, and of self for that matter, coincide with your nexus, “I’d define self as a sort of nexus, a numinous nexus of memories, impressions, contexts, physical limitations, everything.” I use the terms soul and self interchangeably: neither one is, though both occur. What I meant by Honesty breaking down the self is that in the context of Honesty there is no choice but for the self to be dispersed. Some of the confusion lies in the fact that I, sometimes, feel a real struggle between believing very strongly in pluralized power (which is to say in a self which occurs in the between) and living that same self. So I take Honesty to be

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a context in which it becomes self-evident that the soul occurs in this way, there is simply no out. As far as how far that community, the one established by Honesty, can be extended, yes, you are right, I am “really saying how far it can extended in writing,” at least initially. Again this comes back to that struggle: the text is another one of those contexts in which through dispersion soul occurs. What I’m saying is that soul is concrete, it is there. It seems to me that one makes a context in the text by the quality of one’s movement, which is to say of one’s thinking. A text that establishes an interesting context is one that moves interestingly (of course this has nothing to do with content). This is the extending of community. Here is why: every instance by which soul occurs removes the possibility of tyranny for that instance. By this I DO NOT mean that writing is the only way of extending community—it is just the easiest for me. I cannot stand the establishment of artifacts or a life lived subservient to an Institution. There can be no difference between writing and living. If there is then Honesty is out the window, because then Truth is simply replaced with Art. Do you see? Honesty, writing and the text are a chance for everything to count, over against Truth, Poetry and the poem. Poetry is about perpetuating its own power. I don’t believe in Poetry because I have no interest in being a priest.
02-26-02 You say “moving interestingly”=Honesty, that is, the self dispersed. I’m all for that too. I’m curious—a relationship between one part of a text and the next can be seen as a power relationship, so does an “honest” reaction or response to what’s just occurred in the text (cleansed, perhaps, of any urge to contain or continue what’s gone before) obviate the power relationship? is that the absence of tyranny? If so, it sounds attractive, but I’m not sure I agree. I wonder, are you implying, through Honesty, a kind of utopia of text?
“Let’s have text be a place where no tyranny occurs, where self is dispersed, where honesty occurs”…is that a fair rendering of what you’re saying? I assume you mean that the self is dispersed consciously—it’s unable to take a position of power against or above the other(s) (others or other parts of the text) because of the knowledge that One is Many. But the big question is: isn’t it possible to exert power, exert agency, exert tyranny, from a position of Honesty and self-dispersal? I know this sounds contradictory but let me explain: in writing (or any activity) one pushes off from, moves off from, a point in the text. That move is the self. It’s entirely composed of otherness, of what it’s moving from and what it’s moving into: it is its environs. Nevertheless (and I believe in free will) the self (even though it is composed of otherness) goes in a particular direction, one that is a choice. I don’t see why that agency might not take the form of control, coercion, even tyranny. Would you argue, perhaps, that the fact that self is defined by relationship (which implies, I take it, honesty and self-dispersal) must mean tyranny can’t happen at the moment that definition is acknowledged?
          I’d say our definition of self is simply accurate. It doesn’t imply anything about what that self does. The self, however self-dispersing, retains its position-taking abilities. That’s what it does—it moves. It might seem that anyone, honestly knowing that a self “occurs in the between” wouldn’t act in any way to control or tyrannize. I think that’s optimistic. A self acts in movement, and when it does so, it pushes off against otherness and it alters the world. That given, I don’t think we can say for sure that every self will deny itself tyranny. If we can’t not alter the world—if we can’t avoid exerting some control over it—the question becomes, “What control do we choose? How shall we exert impact on the world or the community (because exert impact on it we will)?” That is, attention does not obviate the problem of

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power. I would like for you to convince me that Honesty can avoid the “perpetuation of power”—hope you will. At the moment though I think Honesty as I understand you to mean it is a necessary and worthwhile way to be and write, I’m not sure it creates a better world.
03-19-02 Yes, your assessment of the relationship between parts of text is correct; it is how power is obviated and how that act stands outside of tyranny, though I can admit no form of utopia. To do so would imply a System, which is essentially an artifact. A couple of things: to my mind self-dispersal is not a conscious act. It may be consciously acknowledged, but it remains that it occurs whether or not the Mythology of the Self notices (of course this is just what participation in Honesty forces that Mythology to notice). What I’m trying to do with Honesty is to describe what occurs in the text, in thinking, and hopefully in interpersonal relationships. It can’t be legislated into the text but must occur there. Of course it is possible and desirable to exert agency and power, so long as it is pluralistic, from the position of Honesty. Though, tyranny is mutually exclusive to this position. 03-21-02 What comes next is going to be difficult to explain, mostly because it is still muddled in my head, and may be the point at which we disagree. You state, “in writing (or any activity) one pushes off from, moves off from, a point in the text. That move is the self.” That moving may be the self, though I don’t understand the need to lay causality over it. What that achieves is not any different than pointing away from one’s body and saying that directionality is God, one is still defining it by the person. Also, when one overlays causality one overlays Time as well, which transforms my “moving” into your “move” because Time does nothing but quantify through graduation. Moving is that between I brought up previously, but it is moving between singularities. I don’t believe that Time exists in my texts. I believe they
occur as now, now, now. I don’t agree that “the self goes in a particular direction,” whether or not that direction is freely chosen. I agree with you that the self is composed of otherness, but at the point of singularity and not in progression towards or away. The questions you bring up, “What control do we choose? How shall we exert impact on the world or the community?” are entirely the point, aren’t they? Levinas says that “ Ethics are spiritual optics” which is how I think of Honesty with respect to these questions…