Craig Dworkin with Sofi Thanhauser

Craig Dworkin’s No Medium

Sofi Thanhauser: I’d like to begin with a question about fear. In Reading the Illegible you relay an anecdote about Ferdinand de Saussure backing away from his own work on paragrammes. Having begun a project of searching out the names of dedicatory figures (you use Apollo as an example) hidden in small fragments inside the text of classical verse, de Saussure discovered something startling: not only could a single couplet “supply an almost endless number of names” but moreover any text could be read this way, yielding an infinite number of hidden messages. At this point, you suggest, the inhumanness of language’s sheer excess, its ability to signal so many meanings over and above those intended by any one writer, may have engendered in a De Saussure a kind of terror: a terror great enough to stop the paragramme project dead in its tracks. I loved reading this story, because I relate to that feeling of de Saussure’s and it is good to have one’s own fears named and taxonomized. My question is, have you ever been afraid of language? This could be in your critical work, your creative work, or outside of your writing life altogether. It could be a fear produced by language’s inadequacies or by its superpotencies, or by any other of its (or your) qualities. Secondly, do you think there is an appropriate level of fear one ought to feel towards language, just as there is perhaps an appropriate level of fear with which a sailor ought to view the sea?

Craig Dworkin: The tone in that account echoes the tenor of Paul de Man’s increasingly dark theology in the Resistance to Theory, and his sense of the inhumanness of language: the realization that it generates significations beyond our intentions and desires. Another way to put it would be to simply note that language exhibits far more organization than is necessary for our communicative purposes.

Sofi Thanhauser with Nick Thurston

Nick Thurston and Sofi Thanhauser

The conversation below is the first in a series of interviews with the three members of the editorial collective information as material: Nick Thurston, Craig Dworkin, and Simon Morris. The series will explore the work of each of these three men both inside and outside of that particular collaborative framework. It is meant in part as a an exploration on the nature of collaboration itself, and as a meditation on the relationship between the individual artist and the artist acting collectively. 

I first met Nick Thurston this February in Rochester, New York, where he was giving a talk to a classroom of undergraduate students at the Rochester Institute of Technology. The students had just finished reading Thurston’s recently release book Of the Subcontract.

Sofi Thanhauser: When I heard you present at RIT I was struck in particular by your intonation, by the way you seemed to be stringing a complex argument together using a logic that was partly sung. Later, when I read your piece Status­_Anxieties (Some notes on Of the Subcontract in The Journal of Conceptual Criticism, the little arrows threaded through the first part of the text reminded me of that musicality. It seems to me as though there is a consistent gesture in your work towards extralinguistic content; a harmonic playing under or through the expository prose that acts as an argument against taking meaning to be something hermetically sealed within words or sentences. Am I making too much of the way you talk?