Plastic Figures

When I first encountered this essay in Open Letter I was stymied. It began with a long footnote on Eric Auerbach and his essay “Figura”. It is when I encountered the essay again in Nilling that I was at ease to explore its content for the form was alive with an appropriate typography. Thank you BookThug for a layout in point sizes that delimit note from body and permit a more graceful entry into Lisa Robertson’s starting “Time in the Codex”. When the footnote spills over on to the next page we are not frightened when body and note are typographically distinguished. It is with relish we can say that the note figures the body. How so?

Let’s us review Auerbach’s summary of figural interpretation and watch as interpretation provides fire to the cloaked and shivering history.

Thus history, with all its concrete force, remains forever a figure, cloaked and needful of interpretation. In this light history of no epoch ever has the practical self-sufficiency which, from the standpoint both of primitive man and of modern science, resides in the accomplished fact; all history, rather, remains open and questionable, points to something still concealed, and the tentativeness of events in the figural interpretation is fundamentally different from tentativeness of events in the modern view of historical development.

Robertson in her note rehearses Auerbach’s resume of the difference between figural and symbolic interpretation. She also brings to bear stress on the plasticity of the figural which is a large part of the beginning of Auerbach’s essay where he philologically traces the word through Latin. What I want to do here is to tie Robertson’s stress on the plasticity to the tri-temporal structure of figural interpretation: two events in the past are connected by the figure, one is the prophecy of the other which is the fulfillment of the first and these two are related to a third yet to come. In Christian readings the third is the revelation of a second coming and the establishment of a new kingdom. One wonders if figural interpretation can be shorn of its eschatological roots and enact a postmodern apocalyptics of hope.

Plasticity is the key. Robertson ends her note thus

This plasticity — this propensity of the figure to actively fold within itself an agency, an inflection that modulates perception — is the trait that permits the ongoing activity of the figure in time.

This agency is connected to the activity of reading which of course is deployed in time. We read in the body of the essay these postulations:

Reading shows the wrongness of the habitual reifications of “the social” and “the personal” in a binary system of values. It submits this binary to a ruinous foundering. And so, an erotics.

Reading is the practice that allows us to relate two events separated in time and to interpret them through a third yet to come event. It is an activity that allows us to root through cultures — our own and other’s — and envisage a future. In spatial terms, it is like remembering where the sun rises in one spot, being transported to another locale and noting where the sun rises, and link these two observations with the belief that the sun will also rise again somewhere. The figural is on the cusp of the scientific. Thinking by homology is the precursor to thinking by cause and effect. The scientific displaces the first cause and submits our binaries (footnote and body) to ruinous foundering.

And so for day 1053

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