Tue 21 November 2017
Current Issue
Current Issue
Forthcoming Issue
Previous Issues
Article Search
Submissions
You are here: Home > Writing in Education > Writing at University > Writing in Practice > Current Issue > Vol. 3 > “Connective Tissuing Language” Stretches: Creative Writing’s Methodological Possibilities
Back
“Connective Tissuing Language” Stretches: Creative Writing’s Methodological Possibilities
Author: Mattie Sempert
Mattie Sempert, acupuncturist and writer, demonstrates that the lyric essay form is capable of re-presenting the body as a group of “becoming bodies” alive with possibilities, alive with knowledge.

Abstract

As an acupuncturist and creative writer, I work with flesh and words. Put another way, my creative practices blend the ancient needling arts with contemporary literary arts, specifically, the lyric essay. As a creative practice researcher, I think transversally between the body and ideas as I write a series—or make a body—of lyric essays. In my PhD I aim to demonstrate that the lyric essay form is capable of re-presenting the body as a group of becoming bodies alive with possibilities, alive with knowledge. Like the astounding capacities of the human body, the lyric essay, I propose, is a form flexible and agile enough to slip out of dualistic traps and flow into the multiplicities of the fluxes. As a conceptual analogue for the structural elements of the lyric essay, I draw on biomedicine’s recent re-discovery of connective tissue as dynamic and alive. To add critical and sinewy rigour, perspectives from New Materialism and process philosophy are ficto-critically embedded into the bodies of the lyric essays.  By doing so, I aim to demonstrate how my idea of connective tissuing language is a new vital material that has the capacity to stretch Creative Writing’s developing epistemological body.

 

Keywords: Creative writing methodology, New Materialism, process philosophy, lyric essay, connective tissuing language, immanence, creative research practice.

 

“Form is a necessity of thought; form is that thought,
not just a device to be employed for poetic effect.”

– Lia Purpura (Root 2011: 99)

 

“Knowledge does not keep any better than fish.”

– Alfred North Whitehead (1929: 98)

  

Writing from Inside the Body

As Creative Writing makes its way out into the global academy, separate from its world-wise older sibling, the critical study of Literature, Graeme Harper asks, “What methods are there for creative writers to make new discoveries?” (2007: 94). During its relatively short academic history, Creative Writing has proceeded, claims Harper, on “shaky premises” (2007: 93). In order to contribute to the construction of Creative Writing as a site of disciplined knowledge-making, Harper insists it needs more well-argued and rigorous “evidence” (2007: 93).

Nigel Krauth and Tess Brady, co-editors of Creative Writing: Theory Beyond Practice, also advocate for ways of seeking out—or discovering—methodologies that allow for creative writing to “find a research voice rather than to have to learn to sing to another discipline’s tune” (2006: 15). They note that scholars have used a multitude of ways to enter the discipline of writing—“some are even climbing in the windows”—and that each approach contributes “a richness, a complexity,” (2006: 16) to the fledgling academic field. 

In his chapter of the book, The Domains of the Writing Process, Krauth focuses his inquiry more directly: on the writer’s body as a site to be explored in the practice of creative writing. He argues for a more considered approach to the writing process as experienced through the body, since “the author’s body is the major recording device” (2006: 189). Krauth also claims that writers have been “reticent to analyze the creative process as a personal activity, seen from the inside” (2006: 190). This includes an attunement to the “minutiae of my body’s responses” and to write with a “kind of microscopic attention that the normal reader/experiencer has not had time or inclination for” (2006: 189).

It is as an acupuncturist that I have crawled through Creative Writing’s open window. As a creative writer it is through my body that I explore fresh ways of thinking about, and expressing in a narrative form, notions of body that are potential antidotes to the Cartesian dualistic habit that continues to nag Western thought. As a creative practice researcher, I look to theoretical perspectives that critically examine notions of immediate lived experience outside of dualistic structures. Perspectives that background the human and bring to the fore more-than-human constructs. These perspectives include concepts central to process philosophy—and thinkers such as Gilles Deleuze and Alfred North Whitehead—as well as joining the current epistemic movement in Critical Studies called New Materialism.

Oriented in this way—towards my creative writing process as experienced and considered from the inside— I aim to demonstrate a methodology that is always, immanently, amidst method. It is from this flexible and fluid position, I propose, that the transversal movement between body and language, and the process of creative writing, emerges.

 

Always Amidst Method

Taking my cue from lyric essayist Lia Purpura, I propose that the form is created as a result of the movement of thought, and thoughts’ successor, the movement of ideas. This suggests that knowledge—what we arrive at as we are immersed within thought—is made immanently.

Deleuze, following Spinoza’s insight that the whole body thinks, suggests that thought is a milieu, or a kind of environment into which we enter and into which we participate. We are, therefore, already within thought, and not in those domains of representation that are outside of thought (world, self, god). For Deleuze, thinking is about creating concepts that are in relation to other concepts, and that could be laid out on a “plane of immanence” (1994: 41) where the thinker is immersed like a surfer is immersed in a wave and all the forces at play in the environment. Both Spinoza and Deleuze were interested in what we can become—and what the body[i] is capable of—while all those forces act upon us (Deleuze 1987).

To accomplish my aim of re-presenting the body expressed immanently in a narrative form, I situate myself on Deleuze’s undulating plane of immanence, as my whole body thinks. I also align my research method with the current New Materialism wave of thinking in cultural studies, which, according to Dolphijn and van der Tuin, “challenges the humanist and transcendental (dualist) traditions, that have been ‘haunting’ cultural theory” (2012: 49). They furthermore state that “What can be labeled ‘new materialism’ shifts these dualist structures by allowing for the conceptualization of the travelling of the fluxes of nature and culture, matter and mind” by showing “how the mind is always already material (the mind is an idea of the body), and how matter is necessarily something of the mind (the mind has the body as its object)” (2012: 49). This wave of thinking in New Materialism has the capacity to carry the momentum of Spinoza’s insights, conceptual forces conceived nearly four hundred years ago.  

Writing in the midst of forces is also a method of activating the transversal movement between body and language “that cuts across or intersects dual oppositions in an immanent way” (2012: 101). By immersing myself in the new materialist wave of thinking a potential is created that can tease open the conceptual edges that have kept separate the different disciplines and domains of knowledge, because “the strength of new materialism is precisely this nomadic traversing of the territories of science and humanities” (2012: 102). As I travel the fluxes making a body of lyric essays, the creative and productive forces are always at work, amidst the method.

The practice of experimenting with the lyric essay’s capacity to carry the force of thought forming, can, by extension, make the act of creative practice research a testing site for the creative production of knowledge: where the forces at work (and play) within thought—within language—become the vital “material”. In an immanently changing field of possibilities, practice becomes the material site for creative production.

 

Twirl-Whirl Lyric Essays

To reiterate, the lyric essay, I propose, is up for the task of expressing immanence. As a sort of nonfiction, the lyric essay, elastic and generative, is a form that is capable of forming form, of engendering change and growth. Of becoming-body. The lyric essay’s wild and unpredictable tendencies have the potential to articulate the mess and complexity of lived experience. It is free to roam, but remain tethered—on a very long leash—to literary convention. Margot Singer, in Bending Genre, lists optional literary devices available to the lyric essayist: montage, juxtaposition, toggling, fragmentation, white space, etymological exegesis, the weave, the tangent, and the digression (Singer & Walker 2013: 140). The choice of device depends on the desired writerly and operational effect: such as how strategically placed white space offers the reader time to pause and reflect, as well as create elbow-room for the parts of text to articulate together; the jostling layers of over-lapping text used in literary collage technique, assembled and re-assembled (and often re-re-assembled), designed to jar, stir, or possibly even nauseate the reader; or how fragmentation creates a friction-ing effect; or how weaving can tense knots of thought. These devices give the lyric essay its polymorphous agility, which allows it to elude genre captivity, and domestication. Singer adds: “Nonfiction propels them to the fore—continually reinventing the generic space where the writer plays” (Singer & Walker 2013: 140).

John D’Agata describes the lyric essay in another way: “It’s an oxymoron: an essay that’s also a lyric; a kind of logic that wants to sing; an argument that has no chance of winning” (2003: 435-6). As a writerly device, the oxymoron, as D’Agata suggests, is well suited to the elusive lyric essay form. An oxymoron is situated in the differential–thinking in the Deleuzian in between—as the effect of putting together two opposing ideas generates an operational twist. A surprise, a flinch, a lifted brow; a nonsensical yet affectively vital effect. What occurs as a result (operational tension) of the movement between forces is more important than resolving the tension, or arriving at fixed knowledge. Rather, an oxymoron is operationialized by the method of bringing the form into existence: knowledge made on the fly, by the seat of a writer’s pants attuned to the whims of the form’s forming. The form is thought made in an operational twist, such as an oxymoron. “While the lyric essay is ruminative,” D’Agata adds, writing with Seneca Review co-editor Deborah Tall, “it leaves pieces of experience undigested and tacit, inviting the reader's participatory interpretation” (1997).

To explore how the method of writing—the practice of thinking through making—potentiates fresh knowledge-making, I bend towards my other creative practice: acupuncture. The practice of precisely placing needles in the middling space—between the skin and the flesh—and their active engagement with connective tissuing forces. The microscopic place where material forces can be met, twirled, activated: always from the middle.

 

Form Emerges from The Middle: Connective Tissuing Language

A way to contest reductionism and avoid contributing to binary splits—this or that thinking—is to go between this and that. “The only way to get outside dualisms is to be between, to pass between, the intermezzo,” say Deleuze and Guattari (1987: 277). Connective tissuing language, I propose, is a potentially useful conceptual device that could allow for operational tension to occur between different knowledges. Elastic and robust, connective tissuing language could act as a sort of between-ing agent, or what Deleuze and Guattari call the middling. In tinkering with this concept as a writerly device, I aim to see if it can allow for a stretch between binaries that have long been perceived as in irreconcilable opposition, such as between Western medicine and East Asian medicine. Or the centuries-old Cartesian split between the mind and the body. Or the hard-edged binary wedged between art and science.

What has inspired the invention of this concept—and its potential usefulness as a device—has come from all the thousands of needles that I have inserted and twirled in fleshy bodies over the past twenty-five years of practice. As I twirl, fine microscopic fibres of connective tissue wind around the needle’s body, eliciting a zing—which instantly instigates a cascade of physiological responses in the body of the person receiving the zing. In traditional Chinese medical theory, the system activated by the twist-zing is called the San Jiao, or The Organ with a Name but No Form (Wu Jing-Nuan 2002).

The theory and practice of acupuncture comes from an ancient Chinese tradition based on pluralism: the view that there are no divisions made between the thousands of systems—and forces—constantly at work and play in the body. It is all one pulsing smear of simultaneous activity, unfathomable in its complexity, always moving, always in relationship. Always changing, growing and becoming. No Form—discrete yet ubiquitous, for every part of the body contains it—is the Deleuzian middling agent, always present, immediating the action. Intermezzo. As I connect to the forces in the midst, the needle twists the forces in-forming form, always into the middle.

Over twenty years ago, Western biomedicine radically shifted its understanding of the connective tissue system, which could be considered the Western equivalent of Chinese medicine’s No Form. The recent discoveries have brought the Western understanding closer to what the ancient Chinese had thought all along: that the connective tissue system—No Form—is dynamic and alive in the body as a “sensory organ-system” (Schleip 2012: 77-79; International Fascia Research Network 2012). Far from passive, the Western researchers have found that fascia and connective tissue respond to movement and tensional forces (such as an acupuncture needle’s twist), and in doing so, determine the shape of the body (Schleip 2012: xv-xvi). It is no longer considered the inert stuff to scrape away in anatomy class to better view structures underneath. Instead, it has been found that connective tissue, in response to movement, is the organizing factor. For example, muscles are enfolded within fine layers of fascia (a type of connective tissue), and movement of the muscle acts on the surrounding fascia. As the body moves, connective tissue immediately responds by stretching and laying down more fine fibres. Movement is not possible without the integral presence of all pervasive fascia.

Because bodies need to move (and change and grow and become, which requires movement), the gooey substances—discretely hidden within and between the joints, organs, vessels, bones, in the brain and just under the skin—are constantly responding to movement and external forces by laying down more fine fibres of connective tissue. If there is no movement, the connective tissue becomes stiff. With little vitality to mobilize it, the shape shrivels.

“Structure is thus the result of movement,” says R. Louis Schultz, one of the leading pioneers in fascia research. “Connective tissue defines the body contour and is the organ of structure and movement in the body. This is a new concept in the field of Western bio-medicine,” he adds (1996: 4). Schultz’s simple declaration has far-reaching implications: fascia re-conceived as a dynamic, generative material, always active in the midst of forces, and always in the middle of immanent change.

In re-presenting connective tissue as a conceptual analogue for the capacities of the lyric essay body, I draw on this fundamental property of connective tissue—to respond and determine shape—to form the structure of the body of lyric essays. To explore how the ideas and concepts within the bodies of the lyric essays move together and form the structure. This suggests that structure is the result of movement. If the idea-movements aren’t able to stay in dynamic tension, the connective tissue—the Deleuzian middling agent—has nothing to respond to. There is no operational tension, so the idea(s) become stiff, atrophy, and die. Thoughts need to move with other thoughts and generate force, and become form. Or, as process philosopher Alfred North Whitehead has said, in order to keep knowledge alive “it must be drawn out of the sea with the freshness of its immediate importance” (1929: 98).

As conceptual connective tissue seeps between the spaces of its parts, it expresses how well the lyric essay body moves with dynamic tension created by the movement with other bodies, other parts. Again, as suggested by Lia Purpura, form is thought, and, from the perspective of process philosophy, thoughts move. Thoughts, according to Deleuze, have creative and productive force. Conceptual connective tissue is a discrete and dynamic material-force—a vital material—that is continuously responding to the movement of thought and idea-bodies, that is, bodies that have the capacity to affect and be affected by other bodies.

 

Twirl-Whirl Becoming Nar

Because the method of writing is integral to the propositions made in this paper, I have included an example of twirled together lyric essay bodies. The whirl effect is generated by the responsive quality of connective tissuing language. This writing example intends to demonstrate how thinking and making (that is, creative practice research) are always inextricably linked, a concept that activates the method and is central to process philosophy.

The Twirl-Whirl sections are textual assemblages placed before and after the lyric essay, with the aim of exploring this new notion of connective tissuing language. As stated before, I am conceptually re-presenting connective tissue with its re-discovered properties: as alive, quivering with affective vitality. As the concepts move in relation with other concepts—the structural elements of the lyric essay—the body grows, changes, and becomes. If the concept isn’t able to stay in relation with other moving concept-bodies, it will shrivel, and die.

A full-bodied lyric essay, Becoming Nar, is composed of three different narrative strands, which are separated by plenty of white space. The loose placement of the strands allow for a pause, a vibrating echo, a silent space to carry the connective tissuing concept. The spacious placement of the text also allows for the affective forces to slide, scrape, jar, recoil, that is, move the reader in some way. This is an example of how the method becomes the structure made in its movements. The essay, Becoming Nar, explores perspectives on human perception, and wonders about the changing nature of touch as it jostles between human, non-human and more-than human contexts.

Like the inter-dependent relationship between muscles and enfolded fascia, the relationship between the Twirl-Whirl parts and the body of Becoming Nar depend on the effectiveness of the connective tissuing concept to respond and determine their shape, together.

Here are a few questions to consider about the method as it is made manifest in the writing: Do the Twirl-Whirl sections contribute to the becoming capacities—affective variations—of the lyric essay, Becoming Nar? Does the toggling between research and creative writing bring about ease in rhythm and register? Does the movement across the textual field allow for a potential stretch across disparate domains of knowledge-bodies, contained both in Twirl-Whirl and Becoming Nar? By exploring and experimenting with the lyric essay form, can the concept of connective tissuing language add to a method for generating new possibilities of knowledge-making? As Whiteheadian fresh knowledge that is capable of traversing the fluxes that break free of binary and dualistic constraints? As a writerly conceptual device, does it stretch methodological possibilities?

By exploring these questions through my research, I aim to demonstrate how a living body of lyric essays contains a critical perspective on the making of a method in Creative Writing. This process of making—of twirling in and assembling, testing and re-assembling—is the methodology. It has the potential to demonstrate the process of creative writing as research; of its structure as the method.

As another lyric essayist, Judith Kitchen, puts it: “The lyric essay eschews content for method, and allows method to become content” (Kitchen 2011:120).

 

Twirl-Whirl

When making a lyric essay, my mind meanders, makes wild associations and attempts to spin pure sensibility through words. When I twirl a needle, the narrative can take an arbitrary, unexpected turn and wander in a completely different direction.

The interaction between ideas lays down conceptual connective tissue and creates the capacity for the body of the lyric essay to grow, change, become.

Judith Kitchen says that “the lyric essay generates its meaning by asking its readers to make leaps, to make a kind of narrative sense of the random and chance encounter” (2011: 116).

Thoughts become ideas that have the capacity to move. An idea stretches towards another idea then wraps around, twists and folds in. Idea-surfaces engage, rub against, gyrate, dance the dance dancing does. Or if an idea can’t stay in relationship with other ideas, it withers, shrivels and dies.

Chinese whispers along membranous walls: vibrations reach ears that lean in.

The rhythm between thinking and making—like jazz riffs—is a co-created circularity, requiring a conduit of relationality. The lyric essay requires the reader to lean in and participate. And like a quality of connective tissue, the form is porous, and seeps beyond itself (Kitchen, 2011:120). Far from passive, both creative forms—acupuncture and the lyric essay—are relational, improvisational, and generative.

Literary collage technique takes as literal the space between. Says Donald Kuspit, “Collage is a demonstration of the many becoming the one, with the one never fully resolved because of the many that continue to impinge upon it” (1983: 127). Impingement is a kind of force, generating an intensity, a movement. Translated as “glue” in French, collage acts like connective tissues in the body, allowing for fragments to respond, articulate, and move.

When an acupuncture needle is inserted just under the skin and gently twirled, the needle grasps and twists fine fibres of connective tissue, generating a whirl.

The twirl-whirling action sends a ripple through the interstitial fluid, a sort of connective tissue, instigating a cascade of physiological responses throughout the entire body. The tips of needles find the sweet spots of pain—Yes, that’s it! Zing! That’s the spot!—sending the body onto a trajectory of repose: out of pain and into sweet relief, as cells flock in the trillions towards flux.

Xue, an acupuncture point, literally means hole. Classically xue meant a cave, or a “chamber below the earth”.

The ancient Chinese called connective tissue the cou li, or the “Organ with No Form”. Such as the band of fascia—called the huang gao or the greasy membrane—that wraps around the diaphragm assisting with the act of breathing. No Form—including intercellular goo that’s the consistency of egg whites—provides the slippery medium for change to take place. Messages are relayed across liquidy sheets containing homogeneous cells that scatter, then flock into excitations: like the flash of fireflies, or chirping crickets, or the synchronized beat of the heart’s pacemaker cells.

Lia Purpura says that “lyrica” or “poetic” requires a trust in free wandering, or, as she says, “this moving away and returning to. Form is a necessity of thought. Form is that thought. It’s not something I employ for poetic effect” (2011: 98).

Acupoints, on their own, are inert. But they project a quality. To be open, and to be clinically effective, a point needs to be met, stirred. Agitated.

 

Becoming Nar

“Can’t you hear them whisper one another’s touch?”

The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning and Black Study

 

:)----------

 

The narwhal is an Arctic whale with an extraordinary tooth.

In Japanese nursing homes residents practise origami, the art of paper folding.

The group is led one single fold at a time. Busy fingertips are like busy brains growing new neural circuits that can carve fresh paths to the big brain. Ageing brains shrink and lose complexity. There's less juicy goo to form fresh rivulets of neurons, tributaries that shimmer with novelty, the stuff the brain craves.

Nar is an old Norse word for corpse; the whiteness of the narwhal’s body often appears in the water like a drowned sailor.

These days, it’s not that uncommon for one-year-olds to learn to use an iPad before learning to walk. A plump finger smears the glassy surface to change Barbie's clothes. Tap, tap, smear and Barbie changes from a skimpy bikini to a disco dress. No buttons and clumsy learning as the brain etches the buttonhole into the fingertips as a way of knowing. Yes! Success! Fingertips never to touch Barbie’s absurdly pointy petite feet, or plastic breast bumps, or tensile hair. Or get to know texture: soft satin, scratchy wool, hard sequins. Instead, fingers point and slide, point and slide, point and slide. The pointer finger doesn't join the thumb to pinch, pick up, grasp and claim. Or learn to persist with the fiddly frustration of buttons, when thumbs are needed.

Gotcha.

The narwhal tusk is actually a tooth that is embedded in the jawbone.

It has nothing to do with chewing.

For French philosopher and self-proclaimed Vital Materialist, Gilles Deleuze, the human subject must be conceived as a constantly changing assemblage of forces, an epiphenomenon arising from chance confluences of languages, organisms, societies, expectations, laws and so on (Parr 2010: 27). Deleuze’s philosophy of dynamism has the capacity to dislodge stick-in-the-mud being onto loose trajectories of becoming. Never static, motion generates a waft of forces—lines of flight—as assemblages jostle and converge, indeterminately.

Boundaries are smeared by difference in the porous process of becoming.

Inuit people, living in the Canadian High Arctic, report watching the nar-tooth bend twelve inches in any direction.

Nearly three million years ago, our ancestors came out of the trees to stand upright on the Serengeti’s savannah. To stay alive they had to gesticulate to each other. Language was invented. Frontal lobes started to grow as opposable thumbs took up their bossy position on the hand: to hold, grip, command. Thumbs and fingers do things, make things. Create things.

The Inuit name for narwhal translates into “the one that points to the sky”.

What will get laid down in the pristine folds of the toddlers’ growing brains? Which pathways and neural circuits will be etched for the first time in the virgin landscape of their gooey grey matter? Swiping over pinching? While their pointer finger leads the way, is the swivelling design of the joint at risk of redundancy?

The dextrous old fingers and thumbs make the final fold. Fiddly fingers work to tilt the continental drift back to memories: shoe laces, buttonholes, doll dresses, balsa airplanes. Knowing fingers can recover lost knowledge, like leaving retraceable breadcrumbs on a path back to a memory.

The shape suddenly makes sense: it's a crane!      

The entire length of the narwhal’s tooth is supplied with nerves and blood. Instead of a hard, protective layer of enamel covering the tooth—such as on human teeth—the surface soft and porous, allowing millions of tiny tubules and channels to be exposed to the elements, that is, the frigid Arctic water.

Deleuze claims that in order for us to express ourselves, we need intercessors. “Intercessors are fundamental,” he says. “Creation is all about intercessors. Without them, nothing happens.” In Deleuzian terminology, intercessors intervene in a process of formation, [and] “they can be people, [...] but things as well, even plants and animals. Whether they’re real or imaginary, animate or inanimate, one must form one’s intercessors” (1995: 125).

Human fingernails are considered relics of claws. As an acupuncturist, I keep my nails clipped short. My bare finger-pads are then free to press in and saunter over a body’s surface to collect information without hard keratin’s interfering poke or jab.

Contemporary researchers speculate that the narwhal uses its tooth as a tool—a sense-organ—to navigate ice floes, detect salinity changes, dive into the icy pitch dark in search of food, feel for cracks and openings in the ice as they ascend to surface for air.

While at acupuncture school in Boston, I was a slate and copper roofer. My German slate hammer—one end sharp like a pick and the other a narrow hammerhead—became more like a well trained appendage than just a tool. With quick thwacks I'd punch precise holes, leaving a concave hollow for the head of the copper nail to rest and secure the slate flush with the roof. The satisfying feel of the copper nails, two inches long with ridged bodies designed to hug the wood. With more thwacks I’d sink them, pleasurably, into the fascia planks. The nails sit snug inside the beveled space, like hidden roof jewelry. The leather handle became shiny and smooth, like an old boot.

To better locate the copper nails from my pouch, I’d snip the end off of the glove's fingers. The hole invited in dirt and slate dust. My fingerprints’ whorls—especially my pointer finger and thumb—filled with dust. The fine lines were etched deep with grey, orange and purple.

It is also plausible that the nar-tooth detects sound vibrations, although little research has yet been done to look into this capacity.

The kind of acupuncture needles I like to use have fine copper wire twirled around the handgrip, making them feel like little sculptures. The needle’s body—about the thickness of four human hairs—is made of surgical stainless steel, and the tip is sharpened to a slightly beveled, microscopic point.

The narwhal’s tooth is straight on an axis, and spirals—like a candy cane—counterclockwise. Always.

Brian Massumi is a contemporary process philosopher who often thinks-with Deleuze. Weary from—and wary of—human consciousness, Massumi’s thinking meanders away from the human and closer to the non-human animal. As a way to re-think the nature of instinct in creativity, so long marginalized by the dominant currents of evolutionary biology, Massumi looks to the non-human animal’s ludic gesture—and creativity—as emerging from instinct: “Play instinctively belongs to the aesthetic dimension,” he says. And the human, or “the chattering animal’s” capacities for language, and the conditions of evolutionary possibility, “are set in place by play, on the continuum of instinct” (2014:10).

Just as Deleuze needs an intercessor for expression, Massumi’s becoming-animal “finding the right artifice, and letting oneself be swept up along by [the ludic gesture].” As it emerges, immanently, in a thought’s twist, as one swirls into another. “Following this movement, one finds oneself always already more-than-human: mutually included in the integral animal continuum as it follows its natural path in the direction of its immanent self-surpassing” (2014: 92-93).

With the swipe of a thought-paw, possibilities lurk in-between the forces at work and play.

Narwhals have displayed obvious avoidance responses 50 kilometers from icebreaking ships, indicating extreme sensitivity to disturbances. Rather than flee, the ice whale freezes, stops vocalizing, and sinks to the safety of the benthos.

As a patient sinks into parasympathetic bliss, I marvel—nearly every time for twenty-five years of practice—at the paradox: how the effects of making tiny cuts, closely followed by electrical zings, soothe.

The non-conscious bare activity of acupuncture lullabies.

As a potential way to avoid the Anthropocene’s looming boil, Massumi insists “there is only one way out: to quit the human arena and reclaim animal existential territory.” This requires “letting oneself be swept up all the more horrifically intensely in the enthusiasm of the body of vitality affect” (2014: 56). As an example, Massumi references Kafka’s horror at becoming-cockroach as Gregor’s way out in The Metamorphosis: “What is expressed is the vitality-affect signature, the -esqueness of its actions arcing through all its movements, the manner in which the animal continuously performs something extra to the functions of behavior [...] There is a cockroachity of the cockroach, a mousiness of the mouse, and it is these form-of-life signature styles that get into the act of writing” (2014: 59, italics added).

Inuit’s have reported to researchers that narwhals rub teeth together in what looks like a display of pleasure, or play, a behaviour not necessarily needed for survival.

As a way to get these signature-styles into the act of writing, Massumi offers a clue: “All you need to do—quoting Deleuze and Guattari—is look only at the movements” (2002: 206).

The narwhal can dive a mile deep to feed on cod, squid, and Greenland halibut.

Try not to flinch and at the same time be affectively attuned to the wild and untamable movement of esqueness, and allow it to seep into the act of writing. The pure expression of lived abstraction—in esqueness—also has the capacity to seep into evolutionary possibilities, because, according to Massumi, “the written act goes the furthest, most intensely” (2014: 61).

Several attempts have been made to keep narwhals in captivity, but none have survived.

How will I become the feeling of moving-with the narwhal?

Perhaps by feeling the signature-style of a nar’s whaling, as its movements perform something extra to the functions of behaviour.

The narwhality of the narwhal, diving deep to overspill with language. The unknowable, elusive nar, made in its movements.

Made in its gigantic, porous feeling-tooth.

My narwhal-esqueness intercessing with nails, needles, and a nar tooth.

My nar-touch overspilling into words.

Written in Nar.

Becoming.

 

Twirl-Whirl

A virtual needle coming out of my fingertips. Repetition over and over inserting needles, thousands placed under the skin, finding the space, tapping into free flow, is invited back in as the gate is gently pushed open. A mapped acupuncture point on its own is static, inert. A live spot on the skin needs to be met, activated, brought to life, engaged. Not enough just to jab a needle in. Informed touch warms up the spot, locates, precisely, the gate. The inhabiter of the spot confirms: Yes, that's it! The needler places the needle into the heart of the spot, a gentle tweak opens the gate, granting flow entry. Leaving a fascial footprint.

When acupuncturing, I listen with my hands: I can’t see through the density of flesh, but I can listen and feel into it. Textures on the surface give clues to disturbances underneath: knots, hard or soggy spots, rough patches, soft cysts, dents, icy toes. I search out spots on the skin where the flow can be met below.

Writing acu-essays with lyric-punctures. Roland Barthes’ notion of “punctum” as aberrance, an unintended shock or surprise that escapes language. “What I can name cannot really prick me,” he claims, “therefore, the inability to name is a good sign of disturbance of punctum” (1981: 26-27). How to express the inexpressible through language? Maybe through those sweet spots when the moment a needle’s tip zings—like a lightening flash—a discharge of calcium ions bound-up in taut muscle tissue. The zing is like a thunderclap after the flash, sending ripples across the internal horizon.

My writing practice is like my needling: twirled on the constitutive level of thinking-making. My fingers transpose the textures—experienced through my sense-perceptions, or through my mind and body—into words. As initiated in my writing practice, I think-feel through language, through words, making text. Both practices arise, immanently, from my body.

The swirl of forces: scraps of text generate friction from the rub of difference, attempting to say something new. Punctures are performed from decisions made, on the spot. Where to place the needles? What word to use? How to organize the text? All decisions are sourced from the body, from my body, our bodies. Making cannot take place without thinking, and thought cannot be done without a body. Immanent and improvisational: we don’t know what our bodies are going to do next.

Xu, or cleft points, are located in anatomical fissures or narrow gaps on the body’s landscape. These interstitial points are places where stuff can accumulate and get stuck, much like a logjam in a river.

The intra-active forces generated by the movement between all of the articulating parts and perspectives—between the needle and the skin, between me the needler and the fictionalized patient, between the assemblages of text—generates movement and flow. In doing so, the work has the potential to contribute to a narrative framework that is not only agile and able to slip out of binary constraints, but is also capable of expressing the unfathomable complexities of immediate, lived-in experience. As the whole body thinks.

Each essay pulses with synergistic flux, made contiguous by the discrete presence of connective tissues as an analogue. As the body moves, changes and grows, connective tissue responds in kind, lending sinewy strength and elasticity as the ubiquitous substance seamlessly participates in the generation of incipient change and movement. Juxtaposition, wild associations, breathy white space, smooth and jerky rhythms, are some of the writerly devices that add to a connective tissuing of language.

 

Conclusion

My research has set out to make a body of creative and critical work alive with possibilities, alive with knowledge, where the method I am using to make this body becomes or is becoming the methodology. To show how the embedded ficto-critical assemblages jostle and move with the creative assemblages, and as the poetics of the work dances with the conceptual, the body can be re-presented, rigorously. To do so successfully, I believe, has the potential to add sinewy strength to Creative Writing’s evolving epistemological body. Its capacity to grow, change and become. Immanently. Words and body, creative and critical, entwined, with crafted connective tissue carefully positioned to respond, always from the middle, allowing the form to move and take a shape.

As my method of creative practice research, I am always within thought, engaging with the waft of forces within thought, writing from the middling, as my whole body thinks. I will continue to experiment with re-presenting conceptual connective tissue as a vital material—that is, as a structural element of the lyric essay—that is always at work amidst the forces, responding, determining the shape. And as I write a body of lyric essays, I will continue with my explorations: of what the lyric essay is capable of doing; and ways that knowledge can be made, as fresh as Whitehead’s fish.

 

Endnote

The “body” preferenced here is not just the fleshy thing, but body as guided by the principle that what defines bodies is their capacity to affect and be affected. This includes Gilles Deleuze’s definition of body: as any whole composed of parts, where these parts stand in some definite relation to one another, which has the capacity for being affected by other bodies (Parr 2010: 35). For Deleuze, even ideas have bodies. Bodies that move and generate force, relationally. Bodies with edges that rub, scrape, crash, rupture. Or caress.

 

References

Barthes, R. (1981) Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography. New York: Hill and Wang.

Cooney, E. (2014) Secrets of the Narwhal’s Tusk. Harvard Gazette. Available from: http://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2014/03/secrets-of-the-narwhal-tusk/  [Accessed November 18, 2015]

D'Agata, J. (2003) The Next American Essay Minneapolis: Graywolf Press.

D’Agata, J. and Tall, D. (1997) A Special Issue on the Lyric Essay. Seneca Review. 37(2) Available from: http://www.hws.edu/academics/senecareview/lyricessay.aspx [Accessed 15 January 2016]

Deleuze, G. and Guattari, F. (1987) A Thousand Plateaus (B. Massumi, trans). Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press.

Deleuze, G. (1994) What is Philosophy? (H. Tomlinson & G. Burchell, trans.). New York: Columbia University Press.

Deleuze, G. (1995) Negotiations. (M. Joughin, trans.). New York: Columbia University.

Dolphijn, R. and van der Tuin, I. (2012) New Materialism: Interviews and Cartographies. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Library

Gourley L (2005) Marine Biology Mystery Solved. Harvard Gazette. Available from: http://news.harvard.edu/gazette/2005/12.15/01-narwhal.html [Accessed December 17, 2015]

Harney, S. and Moten, F. (2013) The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning and Black Study. Brooklyn: Autonomedia. 

Harper, G. (2007) ‘Creative Writing’? New Writing: The International Journal for the Practice and Theory of Creative Writing, 4 (2), 93-96

International Fascia Research Congress. Available at: http://www.fasciacongress.org/2012/program.html [Accessed July 5, 2015]

Krauth, N. and Brady, T. (2006) Creative Writing: Theory Beyond Practice. Teneriffe, Queensland: Post Pressed.

Kitchen, J. (2011) Grounding the Lyric Essay. Fourth Genre: Explorations in Nonfiction. 13 (2), 115-121.

Kuspit, D. (1983) ‘Collage: The Organizing Principle of Art in the Age of Relativity of Art’ in B. J. Craige (ed.) Relativism in the Arts. Athens: University of Georgia Press.

Langevin, H. M. et al. (2007) Connective tissue fibroblast response to acupuncture: dose-dependent effect of bidirectional needle rotation. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. 13 (3), 355-360.

Massumi, B. (2002) Parables for the Virtual. Durham and London: Duke University Press.

Massumi, B.  (2014) What Animals Teach Us about Politics. Durham and London: Duke University Press.

Molnar, C. Gair, J. (2013) Somatosensation: Concepts in Biology. Available from: https://opentextbc.ca/biology/chapter/17-2-somatosensation/ [Accessed March 24, 2016].

Parr, A.  (2010) The Deleuze Dictionary, Revised Edition. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.  

Pruszynski, J. A. & Johansson, R. S. (2014). Edge-orientation processing in first-order tactile neurons. Nature Neuroscience. Available from: http://www.nature.com/neuro/journal/v17/n10/full/nn.3804.html [Accessed March 24, 2016].

Root, R (2011) Interview with Lia Purpura, Fourth Genre: Explorations in Nonfiction. 13 (2), 89-101.

Schleip, R. (2012) FASCIA: The Tensional Network of the Human Body. Edinburgh: Church Livingstone Elsevier.

Schultz, R. and Feitis, R. (1996) The Endless Web: Fascial Anatomy and Physical Reality. Berkeley: North Atlantic Books.

Singer, M. and Walker, N. (2013) Bending Genre: Essays on Creative Nonfiction. New York: Bloomsbury.

Whitehead, A.N. (1929) The Aims of Education and Other Essays. New York: The Free Press.

Wu Jing-Nuan. (2002) The Ling Shu or The Spiritual Pivot. (translated from the classic, circa 2600 B.C.) Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press.

 

 

Mattie Sempert is a practicing acupuncturist, writer and creative writing PhD candidate in the School of Media and Communication at RMIT University, Australia. She is a member of the award-winning peer-to-peer group, HELP, and also the non/fictionLab. Mattie is also involved with the Montreal-based SenseLab: a laboratory for thought in motion.

 

 

Back