Frames /sing


“Talk to me about the Ontology of Commentary” (Illumined)

Some Thoughts on the Glossator Roundtable

If any of you have simply put the radio on in order to structure the aural world about you, I suggest listening instead to this roundtable at the Glossator conference from this past April, hosted by Nicola over at The Whim. Each of three speakers was a favorite voice , and only one person seemed to be disappointingly repeating well-rehearsed positions from their past, not actively thinking with the possibility of learning something from those they spoke with or the subject matter itself. As such the genuine aura of the conference discussion really brought home how nice it is to have creative, bright minds come together. And playing at least the first hour of the discussion where voices rhythm with more alternation and variety, simply burgeons.

The speakers are: Ulrich Gumbrecht, David Greetham, Jesús Velasco, and Avital Ronell, and they loosely organize their comments upon Nicola’s questions on the Future of Commentary, of which there are five:

1. What is the sense of asking the question of the future of commentary?

2. What are the hermeneutics of commentary?

3. What is the ethical potentiality of Commentary?

4. What is the ontology of commentary?

5. What is the pleasure (ludi) and pain (labor) of commentary?

Aside from the almost certain conflict of interest in four professional Commentators discussing the importance and (ontological, political) necessity of commentary, there is a pleasure in hearing these perspectives. (I most enjoyed the reference to slides which illustrated different marginal or commentary spaces, forcing me to imagine my way through.)

The Mp3 file of the roundtable is here, originally found over at wrætlic: the notebooks of egil on the trammes of tresoun where Dan offers a paper from the conference “Affects and Their Gravities: Commentary as a Capacity of Care”

In addition, as a modest though not inconsiderable sidenote, it was so pleasant to hear an erudite voice – I think it was David Greetham’s – say the line: “”…,or to turn it around….I don’t say ‘dialectically’ because I don’t ever know what that means…”.  Thank God someone can disrobe such an abused and mystifying word in a conference context in such a light manner, and without commentary.

Too Much Binary, Not Enough World

As to commentary itself, I could not help but think as I listened to these compelling speakers, that they had a wrong, or let us say, over-determined sense of what Commentary was. Focused on the primary binary of Text/gloss, and no doubt filled with their decades of bodily engagement with commentary and text, eyes moving backward and forth, commentary quite often took on the graft of the Being/non-Being, Presence/Absence, Text/Margin dynamic, in which we struggle to “sharpen” just what the relationship between that which fills the empty space and that which dominates the centrality of vision, seemingly so we can escort it successfully into the future (where it can be maintained as an object for our disciplined and professional examination).

What came to mind as each thinker sought to corral commentary was the defiant example of Lindisfarne Illuminative Manuscript, which I have written upon here.

The illuminative script of the anonymous monk seems to have fulfilled yet exceed nearly all of the provisos and descriptions offered by the various thinkers (or at least presents an adjunct exemplification which complexifies their categories). This immanent scripting, which lay not in the margins, but is woven of semiotic, iconographic, syntactic, conceptual and historic elements in commentary, directs our vision to an underpinning of what commentary COULD be. That is, commentary, aside from the binaries of Presence/Absence (fill), may be best seen as out-growth, or over-growth, or even a seeding. It flows out from the text, from its very form and reproduction. And then, is it not, that commentary cannot be severed from its text, any more than the scholia of Spinoza’s Ethics can be cut off from the propositions and proofs, without a certain amputation?

When you look at the Lindisfarne illuminations and view them as commentary, perhaps even taking them as models of what commentary is, I think we come up with a different sense of both the great wealth of possible commentary forms, but also its coming future. One should not think of  or look to the blank space (which invites the binary), but to the nexus shore, the touching ground where text and gloss brush up onto each other, making any strict delineation between the two impossible, or unwanted. To read the commentary is to feel the affective connection, the unfolding of the truth of a practiced mutuality. The very materiality of a text, its re/production, already presumes a certain thickness of continuity, even to a word scribbled in the margin.

I would go a bit further, if we are to insist that there is a binary operant here. At most, text works as mimetic (objective) product, and what we read as commentary as deitic screen, to the degree that we experience a certain sourcing of the former to the latter, a causal effect to which we too can be joined. In this sense, the object and the ostensive finger are always intimate to each other, and cannot be divorced. 


Alternately, think of a text as a garden, and its commentary the diversity of weeds, border bushes, pollinators both organized and summoned by the plot of land. Flora and fauna and realm both support and direct our vision to the effect.

7 responses to ““Talk to me about the Ontology of Commentary” (Illumined)

  1. Pingback: What if There was Only Poetry? What is the Referent of a Word? « Frames /sing

  2. Eileen Joy May 27, 2009 at 9:29 am

    kvond: what a lovely meditation on the roundtable discussion that concluded the “Glossing is Glorious” conference; this gives me much food for thought, and as an avid gardener, too, I really appreciated the idea of text as a garden. It was fun for me, personally, to “be” David Greetham; I actually liked his comments the best, and not just because I was speaking them. Cheers.

  3. kvond May 27, 2009 at 12:14 pm


    I would say that your “be” confuses me, but then that would put a negative connotation on it. (I was never sure who was speaking, when.) I’ll let it lay in the ungardened.

    I liked all the commentators, for their own sharpeness of mind, the third of which seemed the most playful and thought provoking. The Derridean though made me cringe, not because what she had to say wasn’t of some interest, but it was “unwilling”.

    I’m glad that the notion of text as Gardener had some resonance for you, especially as a gardener yourself. I it something I would love to see developed, perhaps you could write something on it if it germinates. I think I had in mind a line from the Eumenides, where Athena invokes something of a “gardener’s justice”, often taken to mean somethng like “killing off (weeds) is necessary for gardens” (wait, let me look it up)…:

    …In a sunny breath approach the land;
    καρπόν τε γαίας καὶ βοτῶν ἐπίρρυτον
    And fruits of earth and herds astream
    ἀστοῖσιν εὐθενοῦτα μὴ κάμνειν χρόνῳ,
    With citizens prospering to tire not in time,
    καὶ τῶν βροτείων σπερμάτων σωτηρίαν.
    And that the mortal seeds are saved.
    τῶν εὐσεβούντων δ’ ἐκφορωτέρα πέλοις.
    Of the pious tho’ bearing out more, come.
    στέργω γάρ, ἀνδρὸς φιτυποίμενος δίκην,
    For I cherish, with a vinemaker’s justice,
    τὸ τῶν δικαίων τῶνδ’ ἀπένθητον γένος.
    These just one’s griefless race.
    τοιαῦτα σοὔστι τῶν ἀρειφάτων δ’ ἐγὼ
    Such is of the Ares-slain, tho’ I
    πρεπτῶν ἀγώνων οὐκ ἀνέξομαι τὸ μὴ οὐ
    Of the Bright Fight will not endure it nea not
    τήνδ’ ἀστύνικον ἐν βροτοῖς τιμᾶν πόλιν.
    Honoring this victorytown with men.

    (This was my experimental translation). I always felt that the usual phrase “a gardener’s justice” held too skewed a meaning, and sensed that Athena was thinking more of a “vinemaker” wherein the “justice” of the slain was not only that of clearing the land for growth, but also the way in which vines are cut off (Ares-slain) and planted in the earth to grow anew. In this way, commentary perhaps forms a kind of growing of the vineyard.

    At least that was the impetus of the thought, though I think much more it is that it is part of the small “ecosystem” of a garden, the full-rhythms and pollinations.

  4. Eileen Joy May 27, 2009 at 8:27 pm

    kvond: the passage from Eumenides [one of my all-time favorite works] is lovely. When I said it was fun to “be” David Greetham, what I meant was: he could not make it to the conference, so I read his remarks. I completely share your reaction, by the way, to the Derridean’s comments [somehow, their “spirit” was way off, and to be frank, she was bit mean to some who asked her questions; oh well]. I love the idea of commentary as the growing of the vineyard [which includes clearing, of course, but also this wonderful tendril-like growth].

  5. kvond May 27, 2009 at 10:16 pm

    Ah. I should have listened closer, as I was only using the recording as a kind of sub/conscious communication. Yes, I recall in particular the harrowing adventure of one of the audience questioner who was rather harassed into confessing an apparently disqualifying Habermas influence.

    If David was not there, then who was it (male) that said the wonderful line about “dialectically” that I mentioned?

  6. Eileen Joy May 28, 2009 at 10:00 am

    In short, we’re not allowed to say these things generally, but the Derridean [I love that we’re calling her that] was a bitch: ungracious and unkind. I think that was me, *as* David, that said that line about “dialectically.” I have a deep voice.

  7. kvond May 28, 2009 at 12:07 pm

    How interesting that that was a “read” line. You read quite well. But perhaps that explains a certain condensed quality of the thoughts, a crispness of intellectual force.Written and considered, but still performed.

    The Derridean reminded me very much of a Wittgensteinian I had studied under (sigh). I think sometimes it is very hard to – once having emmersed yourself into School of Thought that was all-the-rage at a certain point in history, and having the privilege of having come very close to the “Master,” (in Derrida’s case, a chance even of sleeping with the Master) – very hard to let go of this special sphere, and to continue learning. It probably is intimidating to be surrounded by others that may not share your once-dominant conceptual jargon. I have empathy, but not sympathy.

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