by Janice Lee
On May 24, 1832, the Swiss naturalist Louis Albert Necker wrote a letter to Sir David Brewster in which he described the “sudden and involuntary change in the apparent position of a crystal” during his observation.1 Necker stated that repeated observations of the same figure resulted in a change in its configuration, though the figure remained dormant. At one moment face A was foremost with face X behind it, and at another moment X came forward while A receded. His perception was spontaneously changing while the observed object stayed unchanged.
Robert Romanyshyn proposes that the original presentation of reality itself is metaphorical, that what is seen is always inextricably bound up with how one sees.2 Necker’s cube, as a metaphor for consciousness, also offers itself as a metaphor for reading, for narrative, and for hybridity. It recalls the consequences of facing the creation of an impossible perceptual world occurring in a physical one. In terms of using consciousness as a metaphor for reading a hybrid work, I regard consciousness here as consciousness of something else, always having an object which is not consciousness itself, as that process in which meaning is revealed, or, consciousness as intentionality as meaning. I assume here that all models of consciousness are metaphorical, that metaphors form the basic ground of human consciousness, that metaphors succeed precisely because they fail, that perceived reality is itself metaphorical, and that narrative/ reading/ hybridity/ textuality all become intertwined with models of consciousness.
With Necker, the figure was not only setting his eye in motion, but also his understanding. The experience of seeing could lead him to the appearance of a particular face, and yet the experience of seeing could also be led to a face which appears. The Necker cube, I propose, might be analogous to a literary text, specifically a hybrid one. Romanyshyn argues, “The Necker cube and phenomena like it endure because, through their ambiguity and movement of breakdown, we are returned to the metaphorical character of the world.“2
My forthcoming book with Dog Horn, KĒROTAKIS, is a story about a cyborg girl’s quest for, or, retreat from, consciousness (depending on your point of view). As a hybrid text, intrusions and disruptions of the narrative begin to create their own constellations of lack. G.I.L.L., as a cyborg, as having a camera for an eye, and as a surveillance tool for some malicious state entity, is not in complete control of her own perceptions. She serves as a conduit, if not for the actual consciousness of others, then at least their intentionality.
G.I.L.L.’s language is characterized by partial and hybrid expressions, her language as being primarily expressive of her cyborg, and therefore hybrid, nature. As the narrative moves on, G.I.L.L. edges closer and closer to language that is more purely her own in creating the chance for a viable alternative to the consciousness she has been confined to, but she does not and cannot escape. Instead, she is re-colonized. The text relates, “Identities have been known to fuse and unfuse at particular points in time and space.”
G.I.L.L. is the convergence of many different lines, both visual and verbal, KĒROTAKIS being a hybrid text of multiple voices, images, sources, disciplines, etc. G.I.L.L. becomes a force generated from the coexistence of many gestures, some purely scientific, others more poetic. I quote Joe Milazzo, a close friend of mine, “Though as much as these images constitute some overall image of G.I.L.L., they also dissect her and scatter her disarticulated body throughout the text like the corpse of Osiris. She can never represent herself. The images enact the paradoxical power consciousness has both to create the object of its attention, and, in summoning that attention, to obliterate the object with observations, perspectives, conjectures, etc.” Here, denotation becomes corrupted by connotation. “[The text] provokes the reader into a consideration of the wages of consciousness and the agency we so fervently believe comes along with it. Like G.I.L.L., are we really willing to allow ourselves to be spoken by language, to have our perceptions deformed by language, in exchange for some knowledge of ourselves? Is consciousness as we know it necessary for our survival, or might it be dispensed with? Can we even opt out of consciousness?“
Romanyshyn gives an example of the essential metaphorical character of reality: The eye, which sees a spectrum of colors in a rainbow, opens a world which is never seen by that same eye. The eye whose vision is an allusion or metaphor is not the eye which is seen. The first, manifests from the rainbow the elusive appearance of the spectrum which is and is not there in the rainbow, while the other merely records an isolated datum, a bare thing which is in fact not a thing at all but an abstraction.2 Is consciousness itself an illusion, a metaphor for itself?3 The rainbow would be only the rainbow, the spectrum only the spectrum. Metaphorical connections would not be made. José Ortega y Gasset asks, “How unimportant a thing would be if it were only what it is in isolation?”
Consequently, the cartography of consciousness and the cartography of interdisciplinary literature start to resemble each other – the manifestations of curious combinations of concrete images, schematizations, symbolizations, and objective geographical maps. Is the text a map of consciousness, or is consciousness the map of the text? In both we “read” the world around us; in both the maps operate to organize and stabilize, aiding us in anticipating future situations and events. Kurt Lewin, a cognitive mapper, describes the environment itself as differentiated in terms of goals, regions, barriers or boundaries, and the possibilities of pathways and movements through space.4 The dimensions of past, present, and future become linked. Narrative becomes a metaphor for consciousness. It is as the imperative: I respond even though I will be changed by it.5 Is this not the imperative of all literature?
Consciousness, like a hybrid work, occupies an intermediate order of being, between ideas and mechanisms, partaking of the characteristics of both realms, yet fully fitting within neither.
Consider another metaphor of consciousness and consequently a metaphor for hybrid work: Holography was initially seen as a metaphor to explain the distributed nature of memory traces in the brain. It has been observed that physical lesions of neural tissue do not remove specific memories in the brain. Many neurologists have despaired over the hope of comprehending the biological basis of memory organization because of the strange resilience of learned behavior and memory to physical brain damage. But a hologram has just these properties: a holographic store can be cut up into many small pieces, and an image can still be reconstructed from any of the pieces.6 Think what might happen to a text if it were cut up, how fragments might operate in relation to a whole, a text already in fragments, G.I.L.L., a cyborg, as an amalgam of parts, constantly being “erased” and “recreated.” Holograms are blurred records of images and objects, blurred records of realities. Holograms carry with them a certain set of unique characteristics, one in particular, the facility for associating two “images” in the holographic store and retrieving them both in the absence of one, meaning, when only one of the previously associated images is present, illumination of it and the hologram will reconstruct the other.9 Perhaps Menander in the 4th century BC was thinking along similar lines when he said, “Those who can read see twice as well.“
Andrei Tarkovsky’s film Stalker, depicts the journey of three men, the Stalker, the Writer, and the Professor, as they travel through a post-apocalyptic wilderness called the Zone in hopes of reaching a room that has the potential to fulfill your innermost desires. At one moment on this dangerous journey, the Stalker attempts to explain the complexities of the Zone:
“The Zone is a very complicated system of traps, and they’re all deadly. I don’t know what’s going on here in the absence of people, but the moment someone shows up, everything comes into motion. Old traps disappear and new ones emerge. Safe spots become impassable. Now your path is easy, now it’s hopelessly involved. That’s the Zone. It may even seem capricious. But it is what we’ve made it with our condition. It happened that people had to stop halfway and go back. Some of them even died on the very threshold of the room. But everything that’s going on here depends not on the Zone, but on us!”7
1 Necker, Louis Albert. “Observations on some remarkable optical phenomena seen in Switzerland; and on an optical phenomenon which occurs on viewing a figure of a crystal or geometrical solid.” The London and Edinburgh Philosophical Magazine and Journal of Science, 1832.
2 Romanyshyn, Robert. “Science and Reality: Metaphors of Experience and Experience as Metaphorical.” The Metaphors of Consciousness. Ed. Ronald S. Valle, Rolf von Eckartsberg. New York: Plenum Press, 1981.
3 Ortega y Gasset, José. Meditations on Quixote. New York: Norton, 1963.
4 Lewin, Kurt. Field Theory in Social Science. New York: Harper & Row, 1951.
5 Eckartsberg, Rolf von. “Maps of the Mind: The Cartography of Consciousness.” The Metaphors of Consciousness. Ed. Ronald S. Valle, Rolf von Eckartsberg. New York: Plenum Press, 1981.
6 Pribam, Karl H. “Behaviorism, Phenomenology, and Holism in Psychology: A Scientific Analysis.” The Metaphors of Consciousness. Ed. Ronald S. Valle, Rolf von Eckartsberg. New York: Plenum Press, 1981.
7 Stalker. Dir. Andrei Tarkovsky. Perf. Aleksandr Kaidanovsky. Wr. Arkadi & Boris Strugatsky. Kino Video, 1979.