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Chapter 27. 0 and 2: Object-Oriented writing

There seems to be a mutual logic in some of the most dominant practices and theories. It is the binary logic of on and of, zero and one. In psychoanalysis one could transfer that logic onto Freud’s “fort” and “da”, the play he saw his grandson was playing after his mother has left him. Suggesting that this play gives the kid sovereignty over an uncontrollable loss, “fort” and “da”, here and now, on and of, zero and one structures the discourse of power. But one could identify the binary logic in a lot more practices and nuances. That seems trivial, put to open or to close a book resembles the agency of zero and one as the foundation of machinic execution or agency. Zero and one defines the basic structure of commands. Getting deeper into the analogy even and odd, vowel and consonant short and long constitute on a basic level not only language but also poetry. And even breathing seems to be structured like a binary code: breath in, breath out! 

But as I mentioned in many chapters before, there is a gap between inhale and exhale, just as in Object-Oriented Ontology there is a gap between the essence and the appearance of an object. And it is the gap which does neither belong to the zero nor to the one. 

In her text written in 1966 Word, Dialog and Novel Julia Kristeva works with Mikhail Bakhtin’s concept of dialogue revealing a basic binary code of literature which Kristeva calls “the dialogue-monologue distinction”1: the dyad goes on with the terms “langue” and “parole” we are all familiar with. But for Kristeva the structure is not like computer code. She writes:

“Dialogue and ambivalence lead me to conclude that, within the interior space of the text as well as within the space of texts, poetic language is a ‘double’. Saussure’s poetic paragram (‘Anagrams’) extends from zero to two: the unit ‘one’ (definition, ‘truth’) does not exist in this field. Consequently, the notions of definition, determination, the sign ‘=’ and the very concept of sign, which presuppose a vertical (hierarchical) division between signifier and signified, cannot be applied to poetic language – by defining an infinity of pairings and combinations.”2

For Kristeva the code does not read zero and one, but zero and two, but why? Kristeva writes:

“The notion of double, the result of thinking over poetic (not scientific) language, denotes ‘spatialization’ and correlation of the literary (linguistic) sequence. This implies that the minimal unit of poetic language is at least double, not in the sense of the signifier/signified dyad, but rather, in terms of one and other. It suggests that poetic language functions as a tabular model, where each ‘unit’ (this word can no longer be used without quotation marks, since every unit is double) acts as a multi-determined peak. The double would be the minimal sequence of a paragrammatic semiotics to be worked out starting from the work of Saussure (in the ‘Anagrams’) and Bakhtin.”3

Therefore every 1 has a double, which makes it 2. This means, that for the sake of analogy the 0 stays “off” but the 2 is not just “on”. It is on as well as on in a different sense. But what different sense? What is that other, which is also on, when we switch the light switch? What defines this uncanny relationship within the “on”? 

Kristeva does not fall for the questions, but posts a remarkable statement:

“Instead of carrying these thoughts to their conclusion we shall concentrate here on one of their consequences: the inability of any logical system based on a zero-one sequence (true-false, nothingness-notation) to account for the operation of poetic language.”3

Does this mean, that no computer would ever write a poem? Does this even mean that code cannot be poetry? Clearly not, but the statement shows, that the binary structure of 0 and 1 does not account for autopoetic emergence. But where adds a 1 to generate the 2? 

For me this breaks the command structure of programming and coding: Poetic language cannot be a command to do something and if it does so, it isn’t poetic anymore. It seems that the zero-two-structure marks a superposition regarding the zero-one-code. “The only discourse”, Kristeva writes, “integrally to achieve the 0-2 poetic logic is that of the carnival. By adopting a dream logic, it transgresses rules of linguistic code and social morality as well.”4 To become more than a command one has to join the carnival. 

And this is seemingly only possible through an author. Regarding Bakhtin’s classification of three words of a narrative Kristeva writes explaining the third function: “In the third instance, however, the writer can use another’s word, giving it a new meaning while retaining the meaning it already had. The result is a word with two significations: it becomes ambivalent.”5 But I would like to remain at the second function. In the French original it is called the “mot objectal” which is translated into object-oriented word.3 One can easily see that someone who tries to work with OOO would be fascinated by this circumstance. This is not only because auf the same use of “object-oriented” but because the term comes from computer programming. Kristeva writes: 

“Second, the object-oriented word is the direct discourse of ‘characters’. It has direct, objective meaning, but is not situated on the same level as the writer’s discourse; thus, it is at some distance from the latter. It is both oriented towards its object and is itself the object of the writer’s orientation. It is a foreign word, subordinate to the narrative word as object of the writer’s comprehension. But the writer’s orientation towards the word as object does not penetrate it but accepts it as a whole, changing neither meaning nor tonality; it subordinates that word to its own task, introducing no other signification. Consequently, the object oriented word, having become the object of an another (denotative) word, is not ‘conscious’ of it. The object-oriented word, like the denotative word, is therefore univocal.”3

There is a lot to unpack here: First, it seems that the object oriented word is nature. It is object to the writer, that means an object itself, but also somehow “oriented towards its object”. Please read what Graham Harman writes about “object-oriented” programming: 

“object-oriented programs make use of independent programming ‘objects’ that interact with other objects while the internal information of each remains hidden (or ‘encapsulated’) from the others”6

Kristeva also insists that the word is not “conscious” or aware of itself just as the object in object-oriented programming. This is interesting for two reasons. First, the two quotes show where the difference between structuralism and OOO might lie. And secondly, it reveals where OOO and deconstruction might meet up to fuse for Dark Hermeneutics. Kristeva’s (and Bakhtin’s) standpoint seem to be influenced by coding because they rely on mathematics as scholars always tend to explain Kristeva’s early approach. But the Co-Evolution of coding-practices, coded literature and the structuralist approach in the 1960s (think of concrete poetry, oulipo, SI, SPUR, or media theorist like Max Bense) the goal is to reconfigure language and the subject. Kristeva writes about who the writer uses words. But those are also functions of a machine, sampling words. There is something different working here which belongs to the world of words and world itself in which humans might be a part of but also machines.

For the function of the writer Harman poses a more theatrical engagement which could be also understood as a more carnivalesque approach: the human subject might reenact the aesthetic appearance of an object. That means that the practice of writing becomes a more performative practice. Writing is dressing up for carnival. To write means to reenact the object-orientation even though the object is not oriented right now towards what could be oriented. That is where the other becomes relevant for the code: we are always already in disguise, which means the binary code which makes the computer do something also escapes as a problem of poetic language. 

Code (as zero and one) seems to be an epic monologism: “Within epic monologism”, Kristeva argues, “we detect the presence of the ‘transcendental signified’ and ‘self presence’ as highlighted by Jacques Derrida.”7 And this is true for the digital discourse we life in: everything is digital (text). Dark hermeneutics try to counter this monologue by reflecting more and more on the digital, the code and programming through writing and theory. With regard to Philipp Schönthaler8 one can say that in programming (as well as in meaning as Kristeva would say) subjectivity is not included. Subjectivity becomes than the other of programming. 



Cite this blog post
Martin Bartelmus (2022, September 29). Chapter 27. 0 and 2: Object-Oriented writing. Dark Hermeneutics. Retrieved June 23, 2024, from https://doi.org/10.58079/ngxd

  1. Kristeva 1966/1986, 38 []
  2. Ibid. 40 []
  3. Ibid. [] [] [] []
  4. Ibid. 41 []
  5. Ibid. 43 []
  6. Harman 2018, 11 []
  7. Kristeva 1966/1986, 48 []
  8. Schönthaler 2022, 444-447 []

By Martin Bartelmus

Martin Bartelmus is a Postdoctoral Scholar of German Literary, Media, and Cultural Theory at Heinrich Heine University Düsseldorf. He studied German Literature, Philosophy, Political and Social Studies at Julius Maximilians University Würzburg and received his PhD in Media and Cultural Studies as part of the DFG graduate program “Materiality and Production” from Heinrich Heine University. His PhD-Thesis is entitled Cultural Born Killer: Poetics of Killing around 1900. Before joining the department of German Literature at Heinrich Heine University for his current postdoctoral position, he worked as a curator for the Museum of Natural History of the Benrath Palace and Park Foundation and as a freelancer for the Julia Stoschek Collection. He is interested in Animal and Plant Studies, killing in literature and film, French theory, Object-Oriented Ontology, and literature without humans.

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