A reading from a section of William S. Burroughs Nova Express (1964). A rather wonderfully evocative reading with synchronized visuals that add extra-textual connotations, but here I just want to focus on the text and the lucid narration of the subliminal kid. We are first introduced to the notion of networked surveillance as a kind of human artery to a metropolis. Technology takes on a direct humanist extension, an allegorical network in smoothly integrated with the psyche of the subliminal kid. The visual stream of what we assume to be real-time activity manifests a narration of the actual city, on a metaphysical level the inescapable ‘sight’ of the camera equally constitutes the filmic image of the city as manifest as ‘the city itself’ (to rephrase, the city cannot escape being defined by the presence of the camera). This serendipitously moves into a narration of the city as image and the deliberate malfunctioning of fiction and reality, that become reflected back onto the actions of the city.
Why serendipitously? Well it fits theoretically smug with a list of theories. Firstly there is the obvious opinions of William S. Burroughs of state control and the engineers of technology being amalgamated with governmental powers, a clear engagement with Marxism and a rendition of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. Then we may equally divulge into the Debord’s power of the spectacle, Foucaultian power structures of observation or Baudrillardian hyperrealism, all with equal measure.
I’d like to borrow from literary theory (or narratology) the concept of Metalepsis.
The Latin equivalent is transumptio meaning to assume one thing from another (for a full definition see John Peir’s definition in the Living Handbook of narratology). In literary terms it is the specific violation of narrative structure between narrator and narratee, one interjecting into the other and so merging the two levels. Metalepsis is typified in two forms, firstly through rhetorical means as a distortion on narration, and then secondly as a full violation of the ontological structure of a narrative, by which the reader or recipient re-evaluates the narratives plausibility and is drawn towards the ‘inventedness’ of narrative.
In theatre Tom Stoppard’s The Real Inspector Hound two theatre critics are seen to be watching a play until they are inadvertently drawn into the play and one of the critics is murdered within the play they are assumed to be ‘viewing’. In Sally Potter version of Orlando she repeatedly has the lead actress address the audience, peering down the lens of the camera into the cinema, a technique utilised by other arthouse films and theatre that is known as ‘breaking the forth wall’ or addressing the invisible membrane between audience (although this in not strictly narrator/narratee but rather narrator/audience, it is still a mechanism to highlight the ‘inventedness’ of narrative and a structural interjection).
This passage on the subliminal kid contains a metalepsis between the ‘realism’ of the city (the ‘city’ here has a singular agency) and the fictive telescopic films of the subliminal kid. The merging of the city and the kid is complete in this passage, the citizens themselves figuratively becoming mere images of light and the total loss of material realism. The metaleptic moment is the act of violation on the ontological structure of ‘the city’ as it is narrated as a material entity.
(Note: the entirety of psychogeography is saturated in this instance by the televisual ie, ‘the city’ is manifest through the singular which is perhaps its flaw. Psychogeography as a strategy enables a remanifestation of materiality in instances that are particular and so outside the scope of being condensed into universal values).
I might here address the concept of an ‘affect of metalepsis’. In narrative terms the separation between narrator and narratee is to maintain the tenuous ‘suspension of disbelief’ that traditional narration requires. The narrator is positioned with the authorial voice of truth upon the fictive structure that it presents, so defining an ontological clarity between accepted truth and fiction as ‘falsified truth’. A violation of this structure results rather in the ‘suspension of belief’, the accepted agreement of suspended disbelief is violated. The reader/audience is made to question firstly the authority of the narrator’s voice; a voice that has committed what might be equivalent to lying, and then secondly is drawn to the ‘inventedness’ of narration.
Metalepsis highlights narrative function, artifice, the artificial and the synthetic malleability of apparent realism. It lifts up the car bonnet to reveal that the car has no engine and we that we no longer have a clear idea of what is it that is driving us about. The collapse of the diegesis upon the real, enacts a recursive diegetic fiction within the real. Thus the interplay becomes fiction on fiction, falls in on itself, becomes layers of enmeshed fiction, a mashup in which illusion and fact are inseparable.
There are ways out of this, or more so there are alternative means of approaching the issue. It requires however a reassessment of the ontological structure concerning fiction and truth that provide the basis for metalepsis to occur. The ‘suspension of disbelief’ is an invention of Western theatre, and so entangled with the Western ontology of things. Ethnographic studies have shown the ‘fictional narrative’ in some cultures is asserted as literal truth, there is no suspension of anything at all.
In contrast to most linguistic theory, Mopan do not place emphasis on individual agency and the speaker’s creativity. Instead, they explicitly stress the role of the hearers, and their obligation is to believe. Speakers must respect that intention in their hearers. (P. 4)
This quote from Peter Metcalf’s They Lie, We Lie (2002) is an example in which fiction ceases to exist. The counter example is Metcalf’s biography concerning the Berawan of Borneo, from those manner of storytelling the title is derived. This saying of ‘they lie, we lie’ is a Bakhtian ‘”stylistic aura” of the entire speech genre’ (P. 7), enabling Metcalf to propose the the Berawan of Borneo have always been postmodern when it comes to appropriating language. There is no collapse into relative fiction or nihilistic sophism, but rather the ritual of storytelling is linked to ancestoral/historical past and invigorated in the enactments of the speaker. If they lied then so do I.
This type of ‘telling-as-it-was-told’ is a kind of reverse narrator. A narrator that disavows herself as the creator of fiction, but rather the emulator, channeller, reteller, a filter or vehicle for story. Metalepsis is not a violation as the author/narrator has no authority in the first place. In the enacting of story there is an eclipse of past and present, a collapse of the temporal arrangements that does not encourage an agreed ‘suspension of disbelief’ but rather a re-manifestation of the story as it is told.
In David Blair’s faux-past, the discovery of a ‘Telepathic Cinema of Manchuria’, a take on the real Benshi tradition of Japanese actors narrating silent films is an ontological challenge to the Western notion of narrative. The film is a little obscure, makes an overt parody of exoticism on Manchuria and speaks of telepathy and unified triplets with a mystique that ridicules a Western rationalisation.