Idea 6 Horrology — study of the self-destructive mechanisms of civilization by Mikhail Epstein

Key words: terror, horror, technology, ciliization, destruction, humanities

Horrology is the study of the self-destructive mechanisms of civilization, which make it susceptible to all forms of terrorism, including its biological and technological forms. Horrology explores how any accomplishment of civilization can be used against it, as a means for its subversion. So many forms of technology can put humanity at risk that practically any of them deserves its own horrological study. The atomic bomb is one of them. Albert Einstein was deeply shocked and saddened when his famous equation E=mc was finally demonstrated in the most awesome and terrifying way by using the bomb to destroy Hiroshima, Japan, in 1945. For a long time he could only utter “Horrible, horrible”.

Terror is usually defined as violence, or threats of violence, used for intimidation and coercion; often, terror is carried out for political purposes. In its turn, horror as a painful and intense fear, dread, or dismay is caused by terror. Etymologically, horror is derived from the Latin word horrere, meaning “to bristle with fear”. It would be more appropriate to relate terror and horror not as an act and a reaction to that act, but as the actual and the potential. Horror is caused by the possibility of terror even more than by actual terror. It is known that illness can cure at least one thing—the fear of getting ill. Horror is incurable because it is not the fear of illness, but the illness of fear itself.

If the fear of pollution—civilization’s threat to nature—haunted the second half of the twentieth century, then the twenty-first century may fall prey to another type of horror—the threats of civilization to itself. Ecology, as the primary concern of humanity, is succeeded by horrology that explores civilization as a system of traps and self-exploding devices, and humankind as a hostage of its own creations.

For example, after 9/11, it is possible to speak of the horrology of aviation and the horrology of architecture (or sky-scrapers). Consider also the threat posed to civilization by self-replicating machines and nano-devices, as described in the “hell” scenario by Bill Joy, a cofounder of Sun Microsystems, and rendered by Joel Garreau in his book Radical Evolution:

“Robots more intelligent than humans could reduce the lives of their creators to that of pathetic zombies…. Unlike nuclear weapons, these horrors could make more and more of themselves. Let loose on the planet, the genetically engineered pathogenes, the superintelligent robots, the tiny nanotech assemblers and of course the computer viruses could create trillions more of themselves, vastly more unstoppable than mosquitoes bearing the worst plagues”[1].

An archetype of such endless and self-destructive productivity is the magic pot from the famous fairy tale by the Brothers Grimm: the porridge that came pouring out of it began to fill the kitchen, the house, the yard, the street, the town, and potentially the entire world. The more productive a system, the more potentially destructive it becomes in the age of advanced technologies, these “magic pots” of today. As an example, it is possible to speak of the horrology of the Internet, focusing on the spread of viruses in computer networks. Viruses do not spread in telephones or TV networks; it is much more powerful electronic connections that fall easy prey to such misorganisms (to use the same prefix as in the words mistake and misunderstanding). As was shown with the newest Macbook laptops, a hacker can hijack the firmware to render a battery useless, or worse, turn off the temperature management to make it potentially explode; thus, a laptop potentially becomes a bomb ready to explode in our hands.

This self-destructive potential of the hyperactive Western civilization was clearly foreseen by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe in the early nineteenth century. Though often misrepresented as social utopia, the second part of his Faust testifies to quite the opposite. The activity of Faust as a social reformer and “civilization builder” culminates in his constructing a new city at the shore that is forcefully won from the sea. Faust dreams of settling a new world “on acres free among free people”, and with this last effort he savors his “striving’s crown and sum”:

I might entreat the fleeting minute:

Oh tarry yet, thou art so fair!

Faust, lines 11581–2

However, Mephistopheles, who had instigated Faust to this feat, makes a sarcastic note behind the back of his blind and half-deaf patron:

For us alone you are at pains

With all your dikes and moles; a revel

For Neptune, the old water-devil,

Is all you spread, if you but knew.

You lose, whatever your reliance—

The elements are sworn to our alliance,

In ruin issues all you do.

Faust, lines 11544–50

Such is Goethe’s vision of the master terror, whose executor turns out to be “the sea devil” Neptune himself, or Mephistopheles’ brother. Terror is not a chaotic destructive action against civilization, but an ironic accomplishment of the latter’s own catastrophic potential.

Horrology as a dicipline is the reverse of all other disciplines, it is a negative science of civilization: hence nega–technology, nega–architecture, nega-sociology, nega-politics, and nega-aesthetics as branches of horrology. Everything studied by other disciplines as positive attributes and structural properties of civilization, horrology studies as a growing possibility of its self-destruction.

[1] Garreau, Joel. Radical evolution: The promise and peril of enhancing our minds, our bodies—and what it means to be human. New York: Broadway Books, 2005, p. 139.


Idea 5. From Translation to Interlation and Stereotextuality by Mikhail Epstein

Idea 5. From Translation to Interlation and Stereotextuality

Key words: translation, language, polyglossia, stereo effect, Borges, Nabokov, Brodsky, Bakhtin

The globalization of cultures radically changes the role of languages and translation. Transculturalism presupposes translingualism, or what Mikhail Bakhtin called polyglossia: “Only polyglossia fully frees consciousness from the tyranny of its own language”. [1] With the spread of multilingual competence, translation is becoming a dialogical counterpart to the original text rather than its substitution. While bilingual or multilingual persons have no need for translation, they may still enjoy interlation—a simultaneous contrastive juxtaposition of allegedly “equivalent” texts in two or more different languages.

Interlation is a multilingual variation on the same theme, with the roles of source and target languages becoming interchangeable. In his essay The Homeric Versions, J. L. Borges famously argued that we could only evaluate a translation and original fairly if we had no prior knowledge of which is which. What is more important here, however, is not the comparative value of the original and its translation(s), but their complementarity and mutual enrichment. One language allows the reader to perceive what another language misses or leaves unclear.

I will cite one example of interlation from a poem by Joseph Brodsky in Russian and its English auto-translation. The original line Odinochestvo est´ chelovek v kvadrate in Brodsky’s poem To Urania literally reads: “Loneliness is a person squared”. Brodsky himself reconfigures this line into English as “Loneliness cubes a man at random”.

It would be irrelevant to ask which of these expressions, Russian or English, is more adequate to Brodsky’s poetic thought. Both are necessary to embrace the scope of its metaphoric meaning. Both a square and a cube represent the inescapable self-reflexivity and self-multiplication of a lonely person; they convey loneliness as geometric projections intensified by the dimensional transformation of a square into a cube. For bilinguals, this poem becomes a work of unique art that can be called stereo-poetry, which contains more metaphorical levels than mono-poetry. In Brodsky’s poem, the stereo effect is produced by the figurative relationship between the Russian and English lines: the English “cube” amplifies and strengthens the meaning of the Russian “square”. Both the “cube” and the “square” serve as metaphors for loneliness, and at the same time these two words are metaphorically related to each other.

Robert Frost famously said that “poetry is what gets lost in translation”. By contrast, interlation doubles or multiplies the gains of poetry. In addition to metaphors that connect words within one language, a new level of imagery emerges through the metaphorical liaison between languages, producing a surplus of poetic value, not its loss. It can be said that poetry is what is found in interlation.

The author may intend a certain stereo effect, or it can also be achieved through the experience of reading multiple versions of a text. For example, Vladimir Nabokov’s autobiography can be read as a stereo-text in two languages (English and Russian) and in three consecutive versions: Conclusive Evidence (1951), Drugie berega (1954), and Speak, Memory (1964). Nabokov himself emphasized that these versions are far from being mere translations, rather they relate to one another as metamorphosis:

This re-Englishing of a Russian re-vision of what had been an English re-telling of Russian memories in the first place, proved to be a diabolical task, but some consolation was given me by the thought that such multiple metamorphosis, familiar to butterflies, had not been tried by any human before.[2] (1964,)

Thus, at the crossroads of languages, a new work of stereo-poetry or stereo-prose is born which can be characterized in Bakhtin’s words: “[I]n the process of literary creation, languages interanimate each other and objectify precisely that side of one’s own (and of the other’s) language that pertain to its world view, its inner form, the axiologically accentuated system inherent in it” (1981, p. 62).

Translation as the search for equivalence dominated the epoch of national cultures and monolingual communities that needed the bridges of understanding rather than the rainbows of co-creativity. When languages were enclosed within monoethnic cultures, their combination was perceived as an artificial device. In the past, the deliberate mixture of languages called “macaronic” were mostly used for comic effect. With the globalization of cultures and automatization of translation, the untranslatability and non-equivalencies among languages come to the foreground as genuine polyglossia. In the proto-global society, a stereo-poem written partly in English, partly in French, and partly in Russian could find a tri-lingual audience that would be able to savor precisely the meaningful discrepancies between the three languages in which the poem is created.

In the course of time, stereo-textuality may come to be viewed as a distinct form of verbal creativity and not just as an exotic outcome of the growing multilingualism. It is known that stereo-cinema (3D film) reproduces sights and stereo-music reproduces sounds more naturally than their mono predecessors. The same can be applied to our intellectual vision and conceptual hearing. Can an idea be adequately presented in only one language? Or, do we need a minimum of two languages to convey the range of thought just as we need two eyes to see and two ears to hear? In the near future, we can envision a set of new multilingual creative activities in the venues of stereo-poetry, stereo-philosophy, stereo-aesthetics, and stereo-criticism. They will draw from a variety of languages and capitalize in meaningful ways on different worldviews. Multilingual writing or, to use Bakhtin’s words, the “mutual illumination and interanimation of languages,” may become as conventional for the global age as stereo-music and stereo-cinema are conventional today.

[1] Bakhtin M. The dialogic imagination: four essays. Trans. C. Emerson and M. Holquist. Austin, TX: The University of Texas Press, 1981, p.161.

[2] Nabokov, V. Speak, Memory. London: Weidenfield and Nicolson, 1964, pp. 12–13.

“ ” Theses on Blank Spaces by Mikhail Epstein

These Theses are about blank spaces in language and culture and their formative role in major artistic movements of the 20th century. The Theses propose a new sign that denotes the absence of any sign and is conveyed by quotation marks around a blank space: ”       “. This no-sign can be applied to many subject areas, including philosophy, theology, ethics, aesthetics, poetics, and linguistics.


”       ” signifies, more adequately than any of these terms, the Absolute, Dao, the Endless, the Inexpressible, Différance, i.e., the ultimate condition of any signification. Each discipline has its own ”       “, certain “unspeakable” assumptions that need to be presented inside disciplinary frontiers, as a blank margin moved inside the medium. ”       ” allows language to speak the unspeakable. The Theses present ”       ” not only theoretically, but also graphically, in its format and design.







Medium and Margin: The Reversal

I offer a new sign that signifies the absence of any sign and is conveyed by a pair of quotation marks around a blank space.

I speak about the blank space that surrounds and underlies the text and about the way we can present it within the text and make it the focus of our thinking.

Any text has its medium and margin. What if their roles, prescribed by these names, were reversed, and the margin found itself within the medium? (By “margins,” in the broad sense, I mean also the background of the text.)

The margin placed within the medium looks like “       ” if we choose to designate the boundaries of this blank space with quotation marks.


“       ” Is a Citation

The role of quotation marks is to recognize the usage (incorporation, repetition) of a source external to the given text.

However, the text of this paper cites not some other text but its own margin, the environment that makes this text possible, visible, writable, readable.

By putting the blank space in quotation marks, we reverse the relationship between the “inside” and “outside” of the text. The outside moves inside.

My way of introducing “       ” in an oral presentation is a short interval of silence marked by air quotes.

The Environment of the Text

The paper on which the text is written or printed, or the canvas of a painting, or the screen of a computer, forms the environment of the text.

The margins and the background of the text constitute not only its environment but also the precondition of its susceptibility to being written and read.

The text of this paper is self-reflective. It incorporates its own margin and stages a visual and semiotic experiment with one nonverbal sign: “       ”.

This sign transforms the environment of the text into one of its components, a new sign that functions among other textual signs.


Indexical Sign

The sign “       ” is not a symbolic or an iconic sign, like letters or pictures. It belongs to the third, indexical variety of signs (in the triadic classification of Charles Peirce).

An index is a part (a cause or an effect) of what it signifies, as smoke is an index of a fire, or dark clouds are an index of impending rain. Indices are ubiquitous in nature but almost never appear on printed pages (for example, in books or albums).

“      ” is the only textual indexical sign I can think of, because it signifies the empty background that underlies each text and makes it visible and articulate. “       ” is itself a part of what it signifies; it belongs to this pure, white “ether” that surrounds the text, as dark clouds belong to rainy weather.

Through this transparent “       ” we see the background directly, but within the quotation marks it becomes a sign of itself.

The Beyond of the Text: Relativity and Universality

Wittgenstein: “What can be shown, cannot be said” (Tractatus). In “       ”, language shows its beyond—the transcendent region of the world that cannot be said in language but can only be shown. We can see “       ”, but we cannot say it. While ceasing to speak, language begins to show, operating as an index and pointing to the environment beyond itself.

What appears within the quotation marks varies from one medium to another (it may be white or blue, paper or screen, sand or stone), but in each case “       ” represents the condition specific to its particular medium. On the white it is white, on the blue it is blue.

It is consubstantial with its medium, which makes this sign both relative and universal.

“       ” is the same everywhere, in each language, on each surface, precisely because it points to the given surface; it directly manifests “the beyond” of the text through its internal gap.



Search for the Ultimate Sign

From antiquity, philosophers and language theorists have looked for a sign to adequately convey that which conditions the existence or possibility of signs.

There are many words to designate the ultimate nature of everything: Absolute, Idea, Oneness, Essence, Nothing, Infinity, Unnameable, Dao, Différence . . .

According to Heidegger: to name the “beingness of being,” language must come up with a unique “singular word.” Heidegger’s candidate is the Greek ον: Being.

But even the most universal verbal signs used to express the infinite, inexhaustible nature of Being are not adequate to their intended signified, because verbal signs are symbolic, conditional, arbitrary.

Laozi: “Dao that can be expressed in words is not a permanent Dao.”

Derrida: “‘Older’ than being itself, such a diffrance has no name in our language. . . . If it is unnameable, it is not provisionally so, not because our language has not yet found or received this name, or because we would have to seek it in another language. . . . It is rather because there is no name for it at all, not even the name of essence or of being, not even that of ‘différence’. . . . ”

Each of such words is only one among many, a combination of letters, characters, glyphs. No such word or name has privilege over any other word or name, in any language, in designating the condition of naming.


“       ” in Philosophy

The philosophical language game can go on forever searching for a single name that transcends the contingency and arbitrariness of verbal signs. A primordial and universal principle cannot be expressed with verbal signs, but it cannot remain unexpressed either. Philosophy is the most general investigation into the nature of the world and a search for fundamental concepts to express it.

A fundamental concept can be articulated only at the frontier of language. It cannot be within language, given the arbitrariness of language; it cannot be outside language, because then it would not be a sign. At the frontier of language may be a sign both inside and outside that can express the nonspeakable condition of speakability, the nonverbal condition of verbality.

“       ” is adequate for this purpose because, as both sign and index, it manifests the conditions of both signification and indication.

“       ” speaks the most universal language, that of the blank space.

“       ” gives a name to what creates a condition for naming.

“       ” is a more adequate and universal term for the Absolute or the Infinite than the words absolute and infinite, which are composed of certain letters in a certain language.

Negative Semiotics and Apophatic Theology

“      ” is an indexical sign; but from the point of view of symbolic signs that constitute a language, it is not a sign.

The (non) sign “       ” belongs to the field of negative semiotics and corresponds to the concept of the unknowable, invisible, undefinable God in apophatic theology. Contrary to cataphatic theology, which represents God in positive terms (“light,” “strength,” “reason,” “perfection”), apophatic theology ascends to God and speaks about God through silence and darkness, nonvisibility and nonspeakability.

In apophatic terms, this Final Cause (as Pseudo-Dionysius called God) can be designated the “       ” of theology.

The oral equivalent of “       ” is a pause: an articulate unit of silence.

One can apply “       ” as a universal semiotic concept in any subject area, not only philosophy or theology. Each discipline has its own “unspeakable” conditions and assumptions that need to be presented inside disciplinary frontiers. At the same time, such conditions and assumptions need to be sequestered from representation because they remain transcendent with respect to what they make possible. Hence the need for a negative semiotics: a semiotics of nonsigns.

The Ecology of Text

There is a parallel in the relationships between text and nontext, culture and nature.

Nature is posited (usually) as the outside of culture, as its preexisting condition and environment.

Ecology, as an ethical concern and social function, attempts to turn the “outside” of culture into its “inside.” National parks, wildlilfe refuges, nature sanctuaries become zones of nature inside civilization, protected by civilization from civilization.

This shift is paralleled in ecologically conscious philology, linguistics, literary and cultural studies by the same transformation of the text’s environment into its interior area, “       ”. Here quotation marks function as do the boundaries of nature sanctuaries within industrial settings and developed areas.

“       ” is an island of environmental purity, a sanctuary of nontext within the text.

Ecophilology (I)

Ecophilology is a discipline that explores the role of textual environments in all kinds of settings and media, from ancient cave drawings and graffiti to contemporary electronic media.

Ecophilology considers:

The number of printed signs per square meter of living space as a measure of semiotic saturation of space.

The semiotic load of offices, streets, public places, various cities and countries.

The textual capacity of a space: the number of posters, billboards, slogans, announcements, street signs per square mile or other unit of territory.

The length of texts. The size of a text as an ecological factor.

With the increase of textual production—the “information explosion”—the size of texts that compete for readership needs to decrease. The number of classics, the texts that must be read, increases, thus increasing the number of people—the “uneducated”—who have not read the classics.

Ecophilology (II)

Ecophilology also considers:

The ecology of various genres.

Fragment and aphorism are ecologically pure genres: tiny texts among vast, virginal—blank—spaces.

Chronotope and ecology.

“The space of the novel” means both its internal (“described”]) and external (“occupied”) space. Intratextual chronotopes—a system of spatial and temporal imagery: how it is related to the extratextual chronotopes, the spatial and temporal extension of the text itself? The volume of the book, the multiplication of volumes of the same work. The ecology of book series, of anthologies, encyclopedias, complete works. Each of these megatextual wholes has its own environmental dimension.

Nonreading as a passive resistance to semiocracy, the power of signs.

Out of ten messages coming by e-mail, seven or eight end up in the trash can; to determine which ones, we need an undetermined amount of time. This factor is important. What is the time needed for detection of textual waste, how much time reading is necessary to establish that reading is unnecessary? What increase of semiotic procedures is required for nonparticipation in semiotic processes? How much do we need to read in order not to read?

Minus-time and minus-space of culture.


Verse and Prose

The difference between poetry and prose derives from their various interactions with “       ”. The variable, broken, zigzag layout of lines is characteristic of poetry, where the relationship between the text and “       ” changes from line to line.

All happy families

resemble one another;

every unhappy family

is unhappy in its own way.

Although this text comes from a novel, it reads as poetry in this layout because the structure of its intentionality is different from that of novels. The variation of blank spaces on the sides of the lines deepens the intensity of the semantic expectation. The potentiality of meaning exceeds the actual meaning.

In verse, “       ” is much more expansive, occupying the larger part of the page, and is more active: each line has its own zone of “unsaid” and “undersaid.” This zone is resilient, now contracting, now expanding, in inverse relationship with the length of lines.

“       ” and Eco-ethics

An aspect of ethics is the capacity to acknowledge the other as a condition of one’s own existence. The pairs of attitudes required are difficult to combine. How to embrace the other without assimilation? How to love the other without subjugation? How is the other my own other if I do not own it? How do I maintain the other’s otherness while integrating it with myself?

Through “       ”, a text fulfills its ethical relationship with its own other by acknowledging and incorporating the textual other without textualizing it. The textual other is not replaced with verbal symbols.

The ethics of the relationship between the text and “       ” may serve as a model for various human activities. We write and read texts but also speak, eat, love, breathe. Each activity has its own “       ”—its precondition in the other that makes the activity possible.

The precondition of eating is hunger. To honor the precondition, people fast. Fasting is not hunger in its primordial state; fasting is a sign of hunger, a citation of hunger within the “gastronomic” text of our life. Fasting is the “             ” of eating.

“       ”, Yoga, and Meditation

A precondition of our life is the instinct of breathing. It is honored in yoga nonbreathing, holding our breath, making the precondition of breathing, its “       ”, a self-referential sign in the “respirational” text of our life.

Yoga develops as well kinds of meditation that reveal the “     ” of our consciousness by restoring it to its own precondition: nonconsciousness. A yogi is not unconscious as stones or plants are unconscious. The yogi is consciously unconscious as he reproduces, or quotes, the “unconscious” in the text of his consciousness.

Meditation can be understood as the search for “       ” in the text(ure) of our life, as a reverential practice of citing the preconditions of our existence.

“       ” is textual yoga, a meditation on textuality that restores and honors its precondition.

The present text, entitled “       ”, with the many “clean zones” on its surface, is an experiment in textual fasting and self-purification through the sign of “       ”.


“       ”: Exposure

and Concealment

“       ” allows us to speak ethically about any primary condition without objectifying and verbalizing it in terms of its own consequences. The white that makes text visible is reciprocally made visible through “       ”. It is both exposed and concealed, in the double gesture of gratitude and reverence.

“       ” should not be verbalized (lexicalized, phoneticized, forcefully appropriated by the text).

Alain Badiou: “Evil in this case is to want, at all costs and under condition of a truth, to force the naming of the unnameable. Such, exactly, is the principle of disaster.”

The White Paintings of

Robert Rauschenberg

“       ” in Visual Art

“       ” played an important role in art movements of the twentieth century. When presented as unpainted canvas, as background left unfinished in a completed work, the background moves forward and takes the place of foreground.

The original blank canvas was shown at Black Mountain College in 1953. In the White Paintings of Robert Rauschenberg, painting exposed its own preconditions, hidden (usually or previously) under layers of paint.

The next stage in the evolution of “void art” was its spread from individual works to an entire exhibition space. Yves Klein’s exhibition “The Void” (Paris, 1958) consisted of empty, whitewashed walls.


Kazimir Malevich, White on White






“       ” in Malevich

Kazimir Malevich, the father of Suprematism, is also founder of margin-into-medium art. His painting White on White (1918) is an image of the background, contrasting only slightly with the background itself, which in turn may be an image of a larger background that surrounds the painting (a wall in the exhibition space, or the computer monitor in a Power Point presentation).

This case of a double visual citation, the citation of a citation, is comparable with a smaller “       ” placed between two larger ones:

“       “       ”       ”

Since “       ” comes in different sizes, “     ”s can be placed one within another, like Russian dolls. The citational mode (both visual and textual) can be continued and multiplied ad infinitum.

As there is intentional blankness within blankness, so there is silence within silence, as anyone knows who has survived a deep conversation.

Ilya Kabakov, At the Big Artistic Council











“       ” in Conceptualism

Conceptualism departs from most traditional art by introducing into visual space, on the one hand, texts, and, on the other hand, emptiness. Thus conceptualism simultaneously crosses the frontiers of visual representation in two nonvisual directions: one extralinguistic (toward

“       ”), and the other alterlinguistic (toward words). Even in a work of visual art, text and “       ” appear to gravitate toward each other in their opposition to visuality. The extralinguistic and the alterlinguistic are correlated and balanced, the words pointing to what is empty and unseen.

In Ilya Kabakov’s work At the Big Artistic Council (1983), the area of words presupposes and defies the area of emptiness. The reader/viewer learns about the painting of a football game and the discussion at the arts council only from the detailed caption, while in place of the image we find the smooth white surface (with only one, almost imperceptible image of a ball). The verbal description corresponds to the blank canvas.

John Cage, 4’33”










“       ” in Music

A musical manifestation (and manifesto) of “       ” is found in the composition 4’33” (1952) by the American composer John Cage. The score instructs the performer not to play an instrument for the duration of the piece. Although commonly referred to as Four Minutes Thirty-three Seconds of Silence, the composition consists of sounds—the sounds of the environment that the listeners hear while the piece is (non) performed. The outside of the text moves inside, once again, to become framed as a separate piece.

“       ” in Literature

One of the earliest examples of “       ” in a literary work is “Poema kontsa” (“The Long Poem of the End”) by Vasilisk Gnedov. This poem concludes his collection Smert iskusstvu (Death to Art, 1913) and consists of one page that, except for the title, the page number, and the publisher’s seal at the bottom, is left blank.

The poem was performed: “Gnedov would raise his arm and then quickly let it fall in a dramatic gesture, eliciting stormy applause from the audience” (Adrian Wanner). Another witness, Ivan Ignatiev, says there was a rhythmic gesticulation of Gnedov’s hand from left to right and from right to left, performed so that one movement nullified the other and represented, symbolically, a self-erasure.

Below is a clean page—Gnedov’s one-page poem. It is a poem and needs to be read. Please do so attentively, even should you feel dizzy while doing so:


Vasilisk Gnedov, “The Long Poem of the End”





“      ”: The Paradox of


If we look at a white wall or a blue tablecloth, we see colors as a part or feature of physical space. We cannot contemplate in the same way, as a material surface, the blank white paper or the blank blue screen that serve as a background for signs. Those are a semiotic vacuum, existing at the zero level of semioticity. We do not look at them, we look into them—and, the more we look, the more we lose the object of contemplation. Whiteness and blueness are no longer colors of the material surface, but the depth of the sign-continuum, which is essentially colorless, as the pure potentiality of signs and meaning is colorless.

When we cease to look, per se, at the blank page (which is, after all, perfectly visible) and try instead to read its blankness, we experience a sort of dizziness. The semiotic vacuum invites reading and simultaneously prevents it, since the vacuum has no signs to read. It is this loss of orientation that is the cause of dizziness.

The Metaphysics of “       ”

in Melville

“But not yet have we solved the incantation of this whiteness and learned why it appeals with such power to the soul. . . . Is it that by its indefiniteness it shadows forth the heartless voids and immensities of the universe, and thus stabs us from behind with the thought of annihilation, when beholding the white depths of the Milky Way? Or is it, that as in essence whiteness is not so much a color as the visible absence of color, and at the same time the concrete of all colors; is it for these reasons that there is such a dumb blankness, full of meaning, in a wide landscape of snows. . . ?”



The Phenomenology of

“       ”

From a blank page or screen, our vision receives this mixed message: Look at the text, not at the surface. But it is only the material surface that we find there; we find no text. We strain and overstrain to see beyond the colored surface into the semiotic void, which is the absent, merely and purely intentional object of reading.

What we read in this blankness is the intentionality of discourse as such, its phenomenological writability and readability, though it remains factually unwritten and unread (sans text).

From the phenomenological point of view, the blankness of a page or screen is a mode of notation, but not one comprising notes, numbers, letters, glyphs, or characters. This notation is one of intention—the intention to write and to stimulate reading. We are dealing with merely and purely intentional semiotic objects. Learning of the intentionality deepens our perception of a blank page or screen so that we can see or begin to see in it the invisibility of what we are looking into, and at the same time can begin not to see the seeable surface.

Semiotic Vacuum: White Holes

If we want to learn to read in the full meaning of the verb, we need to read the potentiality of writing, not only its actualization in letters.

Introduced into a text, “       ” explodes its own code of signification from within, causing a semiotic shock in the reader.

“      ” is perceived not as a gray or glossy white page but as semiotic nothingness, a white hole that both provokes and denies our intention in reading.

White holes of textuality may be regarded as semantic analogues of the black holes of the physical universe. The so-called vacuum described by physics is not vacuous at all. It holds a tremendous amount of energy in the form of virtual particles (envisioned by some scientists as a limitless source of free energy). Similarly, the semiotic vacuum holds a tremendous amount of energy in the form of virtual words and meanings.

The Semantic Intensity of

White Holes

If the semantic intensity of text equals one—for an actual sign corresponds to its actual meaning—then the semantic intensity of margins approaches zero in the reader’s perception. For in the absence of actual signs, there is no expectancy of potential signification.

By contrast, the semantic intensity of “       ” approaches infinity, as its potential significance is textually inscribed in the absence of an actual sign.

“       ” is a singular event in the life of the text. A singularity means a point where some property becomes infinite. For example, at the center of a black hole the density is infinite.

“       ” as a white hole is a singularity because it represents the potentially infinite environment of the text condensed in one nonverbal sign with its semantic density approaching infinity.

Transtextual Reading

Observe yourself while reading a text full of white holes. Your glance is instinctively drawn to and, at the same time, repelled by them, for you sense both constructive and destructive energy breaking up the text and hindering your perception of semantic coherence.

Such is the difficulty of our direct encounter with the intentionality of writing, when it reveals itself in the rupture of a text.

Gradually, the reader develops “transtextual intentionality,” by which I mean: attention to the boundaries of text, to its margins and internal blanks.

How to Pronounce “       ”?

“       ” presents a particular difficulty because we do not know how to pronounce it (whereas Absolute, Dao, and ον are all pronounceable).

As we attempt to pronounce “       ”, we catch ourselves filling the pause with a nonphonetic sound like “mhm” or “eh,” which stops abruptly, recognizing its lack of motivation and a failure of full articulation.

“       ” functions in our internal speech as a mechanism of disruption. The intention to pronounce “       ” cannot realize itself in any phonetically motivated form. Thus, “       ” presents itself as a barrier between potentiality and actuality in speech formation.

How to Verbalize “       ” ?

At first we look at “       ” in a lexical and morphological manner, searching through synonyms (mostly nouns) and choosing a word that seems appropriate in some context: “blank,” “whiteness,” “emptiness,” “void.” Each time we come across “       ” on the page, we replace it with our favorite synonym.

Soon, however, we realize that a substitution appropriate for one context does not fit in others. As contexts alternate, “       ” is purified in our perception of all synonyms or fillers and reveals its unique meaning to us in its wholeness, its holeness, its semiotic holiness, as the sign of pure (un)pronounceability, (un)readability, and (un)writability, for which there is no substitute among verbal signs.

“       ” works as a mechanism of disrupture and deautomatization, not only of any specific text, but also of textuality as such.

As a result of this experience, this defamiliarization, our relationship with our own internal “speech” may become more conscious.

The Unconscious of

the Unconscious

As a rule, we use language unconsciously—and language itself, according to Lacan, manifests the structure of the unconscious. Thus, the margins that surround texts and tend to remain unnoticed can be conceptualized as a linguistic unconscious of a second order: the unconscious of the unconscious.

By introducing “       ” into text, we become aware of this double unconscious and acquire a new consciousness of the language within language. Through this white hole, language exposes to our vision and consciousness whatever was previously buried in its invisible, unconscious depths.

History of “       ”

“       ” is historical and belongs to the history of textuality and to the history of consciousness. Meyer Schapiro:

We take for granted today as indispensable means the rectangular form of the sheet of paper and its clearly defined smooth surface on which one draws and writes. But such a field corresponds to nothing in nature or mental imagery where the phantoms of visual memory come up in a vague unbounded void. The student of prehistoric art knows that a regular field as an advanced artifact presupposes a long development of art. The cave paintings of the Old Stone Age are on unprepared ground, the rough wall of a cave; the irregularities of earth and rock show through the image. . . . The smooth prepared field is an invention of a later stage of humanity.

For centuries texts were inscribed into “       ”, which gradually expanded and became more refined, smooth, and clear. Thus was prepared the historical turning point, at which we can—now—inscribe “       ” into the text.

What is avant-garde?

Lyn Hejinian: “A question has arisen among some graduate students at Berkeley as to why there is nothing in academic arts/humanities scholarship that might be comparable to the “avant-garde” in the arts proper. That is the question we hope to explore—what might experimental criticism or avant-garde scholarship look like?” (in an invitation to a conference titled “Medium and Margin,” Berkeley, 2009).

Most avant-garde movements, including Futurism, Suprematism and Surrealism, emerged from avant-garde theories (manifestos, projects, utopian visions). Avant-garde theory tends to precede and shape avant-garde art.

The avant-garde experiments, radically, with sign systems undermining their foundations and reversing the order of subordination between their centers and peripheries.

Avant-garde: the reversal of

medium and margin

The reversal of medium and margin is the textual analogue and prototype of all avant-garde reversals, a signature device of the avant-garde.

All margin-into-medium authors belonged to various avant–garde movements, from Futurism and Suprematism to Minimalism and Conceptualism.

Thus “       ” graphically represents what the avant-garde aims for: marginalizing the center, centralizing the periphery, voicing the mute, uncovering and advancing suppressed layers of culture.

Insofar as the humanities deal with texts and textuality, the avant-garde trend in theory would be the exploration of “      ” and its infinite manifestations across discourses and disciplines.

The End?

The text ends with the removal of quotation marks from “      ”.








  1. Medium and Margin: The Reversal 3
  2. “       ” Is a Citation 4
  3. The Environment of the Text 5
  4. Indexical Sign 6
  5. The Beyond of the Text: Relativity and Universality 7
  6. Search for the Ultimate Sign 8
  7. “       ” in Philosophy 10
  8. Negative Semiotics and Apophatic Theology 12
  9. The Ecology of Text 14
  10. Ecophilology (I) 15
  11. Ecophilology (II) 16
  12. Verse and Prose 18
  13. “       ” and Eco-ethics 19
  14. “       ”, Yoga, and Meditation 20
  15. “       ”: Exposure 21
  16. and Concealment 21
  17. The White Paintings of 22
  18. Robert Rauschenberg 22
  19. “       ” in Visual Art 23
  20. Kazimir Malevich, White on White 24
  21. “       ” in Malevich 25
  22. Ilya Kabakov, At the Big Artistic Council 26
  23. “       ” in Conceptualism 28
  24. John Cage, 4’33” 29
  25. “       ” in Music 30
  26. “       ” in Literature 31
  27. Vasilisk Gnedov, “The Long Poem of the End” 32
  28. “       ”: The Paradox of 33
  29. Invisibility 33
  30. The Metaphysics of “       ” 34
  31. in Melville 34
  32. The Phenomenology of 35
  33. “       ” 35
  34. Semiotic Vacuum: White Holes 35
  35. The Semantic Intensity of 37
  36. White Holes 37
  37. Transtextual Reading 38
  38. How to Pronounce “       ”? 39
  39. How to Verbalize “      ” ? 40
  40. The Unconscious of 40
  41. the Unconscious 41
  42. History of “       ” 42
  43. What is avant-garde? 43
  44. Avant-garde: the reversal of 44
  45. medium and margin 44
  46. The End? 45

Protologisms on Time by Mikhail Epstein

chronocide n (Gr khronos, time + Lat cidum, from caedere, to slay; cf. genocide, homicide) — “the murder of time,” the violent disruption of historical continuity.

Any revolution is a form of chronocide: it sacrifices the past and present to the future.

Communism and fascism are both chronocidal: one destroys traditions as it leaps to the chimerical future, another brings the society under the spell of the mythic past.

chronocracy n (Gr chronos, time + Gr kratia, power or rule) — social and political order based on timing; rule by the laws and force of temporality; a form of government imposing time constraints on all authorities and the necessity for periodic transfer of powers on all levels.

Under chronocracy, life is determined by the regular periodic change of political, economic, and cultural trends, methods, fashions, and personnel. Presidents, computers, car models, artistic styles, dress cuts, textbooks have to change periodically to maintain their status as “new.”

Who rules in America, demos or chronos? America is a chronocracy no less than a democracy, with strictly enforced changes on all levels, from political leaders to dress fashions and technology.

chronomania n (Gr chronos, time + Gr mania, obsession, madness) — obsession with time and speed; inclination to utilize every moment and to submit one’s life to a total time control.

America suffers from chronomania. Faster, faster, faster! Let’s pause to see where we stand and consider where exactly we have been rushing headlong.

Chronomania may jeopardize your mental health. Try to refocus your life beyond schedules and deadlines.

chronomaniac n — a person obsessed with time and speed who tries to live faster and micro-manage time. Synonym: timenik n (time + suffix –nik)

He checks his watch every minute, a real chronomaniac.

My colleagues are crazy timeniks. No one has a minute for a human conversation.

chronopathy n (Gr khronos, time + Gr patheia, suffering) — a temporality disorder, a lack of time sense; inability to manage time, to meet schedules and deadlines.

Chronopathy is the undiagnosed cause of many social disorders and career failures.

Chronopathy can be compared to blindness or dyslexia. An impairment of the time orientation ability, it should be treated as a psychological condition rather than a moral deficiency.


chronopath n — a person affected by chronopathy.

You are always late. Are you a chronopath?

chronopathic adj — related to chronopathy.

He misses one appointment after another not because of ill intentions or disrespect. He has been chronopathic since childhood.

chronosome n (Gr chronos, time + Gr soma, body; cf. chromosome) — a unit of historical heredity.

Chromosomes pass the genetic code to subsequent generations; chronosomes pass a mental code of a historical period through styles, traditions, and “cultural color.”

The chronosomes of the early 20th century avant-garde reached the generation of the 1960s and shaped its political views and artistic styles.

Young people in the 2000s have different chronosomes than we had in the 1990s.

The chronosomic analysis of Finnegans Wake lays bare multiple mythological sources and images of ancient chronicles in Joyce’s enigmatic prose.

uchronia n (Gr ou, not + Gr chronos, time; literally “no time”; cf. utopia, no place) — a condition of “no time,” an uneventful state of permanence.

As soon as utopia finds its way into reality, it turns into uchronia, a disruption of history itself.

The worlds of great visionaries are often uchronian. Perfection precludes change.

Monday 22nd June 2015 Centre for Humanities Innovation Durham workshop: The Emerging Humanities: Strategies for the Future

The Durham Centre for Humanities Innovation (CHI) was founded to foster intellectual creativity in scholarship and research; and to encourage the creation of new ideas, concepts, mental schemes, and other products of intellectual imagination. This workshop is a follow–up to the international conference Beyond Crisis: Visions for the New Humanities, July 7-8 2014, organised by CHI. At this workshop we will explore the IAS 2014/15 theme, ‘Emergence’, as applied to the emergence of new ideas, approaches and disciplinary trends in the humanities. Each speaker will be allowed 30 minutes for her or his presentation followed by 10 minutes for discussion.

9.00.                Arrival. Tea and coffee will be available.

9.30.                Professor David Cowling, Pro Vice Chancellor (Arts and Humanities). Introductory remarks.

9.40-11.           Session 1. Biology, Evolution and the Humanities


Chair: Nick Roberts


Dr. Jamie Tehrani, Department of Anthropology

Chains, Trees and Traditions: Experimental and Evolutionary Models for the Humanities.


Dr. Gerald Moore, MLAC (French)

Cultural Studies as Artificial Selection


11-11.20.         Coffee

11.20-12.40.   Session 2. Theology and Digitality

Chair: Gerald Moore

Joshua L. Mann, Research Fellow in Biblical Literacy & Digital Theology

From Scrolls to Scrolling: Making the Most of Shifting Modes of Scholarly Communication


Peter Phillips, FHEA, Director and Research Fellow in Digital Theology

CODEC Research Centre

NEuroCoDiTy – A North European Collaboratory for Digital Theology


Lunch 12.40 –1.40.

1.40-3.40.        Session 3. Science, Cognition and the Humanities

Chair: John O’Brien


Professor Tom McLeish, Department of Physics

The Sciences as Humanities: Refusing to Recognise the Two Cultures Paradigm

Professor Mikhail Epstein, MLAC, Director of CHI

The Role of Inventions in the Humanities


Dr. Kathryn Banks. MLAC (French)

Reading Literature with the Cognitive Sciences: Case Studies of Metarepresentation and Sensorimotor Resonance.


3.40-4.            Tea.


4-5.20.            Session 4. Digital Humanities


Chair: Mikhail Epstein


Professor Claire Warwick, Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Research).

Life, Death and the Present Participle; or, Digital Humanities on the S Curve.


Dr Claire Bailey-Ross, Department of English.

A ‘New’ Space for Innovation and Experimentation? Taking Digital Humanities Outside of Academia


5.30 – 6.15.     Wine reception


All are welcome. Free registration, lunch and refreshments.

To register (no charge), please email

Lecture by Professor Katherine Hayles : ‘Transforming the Meaning of Interpretation: A Challenge to the Humanities’

Katherine Hayes image
The Centre for Humanities Innovation at Durham University is proud to sponsor a lecture by Professor Katherine Hayles. She is currently a Fellow at St Mary’s College, Durham University (January – March 2015). The event will take place on Thursday, 5th March 2015 from 17:00 to 18:30 in room A56, Elvet Riverside, Durham University. For more information, please contact

Katherine Hayles is Professor of Literature at Duke University in Durham, NC, USA. Her interdisciplinary work has centered on the relations of literature, science and technology in the 20th and 21st centuries. Her multiple prize-winning book How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature and Informatics is a founding text for posthuman studies, the first book-length study defining posthumanism, tracing its development from cybernetics, and exploring its cultural and literary significance.

Lecture by Dr. Vladimir Nikiforov: ‘Christianity and Russia’s Attitude to the West’

The Centre for Humanities Innovation is pleased to invite Dr. Valdimir Nikiforov to speak on ‘Christianity and Russia’s Attiitude to the West’, to be held on Tuesday 24th February, from 17:00 to 18:30, Room A29, Elvet Riverside 1. All are welcome to attend.


Dr. Vladimir Nikiforov is a Royal Holloway Emeritus Fellow and the author of ‘The Collaspe of Philosophy and Its Rebirth: An Intellectual History with Special Attention to Husserl, Rickert, and Bakhtin’.

Vladimir was born in the Soviet Union in 1947. He graduated with an MSc in Mathematics and Logic from Moscow State University in 1970 and worked as IT specialist at various research institutions in Moscow. Initially he was a member of the Russian Orthodox Church, but he found himself increasingly drawn to Catholicism, whose more urgent and inclusive humanity – especially as expressed in the renewal under the Second Vatican Council – attracted him. He and a group of others began to meet clandestinely in 1974. Vlad tells the story of how a visiting Catholic Priest met with their group in secret and told them that they needed a priest. He remembers agreeing enthusiastically, but asking “Who on earth would volunteer for such a dangerous role?” It was then he noticed everyone was looking expectantly at him.

He was secretly ordained in 1981 outside Russia and returned to minister. He was arrested and imprisoned, then released but placed under surveillance. When relationships between Russia and the West improved in 1988, he was granted asylum in Sweden. He became a research student of London University at Heythrop College, completing a PhD on modern European philosophy.
On arrival in the UK he became a university chaplain, first at Liverpool Hope University and then in 2002 at Royal Holloway until he left in 2012 when he was appointed to a parish in West Sussex where he continues to serve his church.