Chapter 4. Misfitting together – The gap between inhale and exhale

Regarding OOO one might understand every text/artwork as an object. This object reveals its appearance alluding other objects in getting in touch, communicate or interpret the object. But neither the object nor the other object will get a hold on the essence, which is withdrawn. So far so clear: this is the way Harman or Morton understand the “object”. But there is also a rift between the essence and the appearance and this gap – in my metaphor – is the moment between inhaling and exhaling. I do not arrange those movements of breath with the terms essence and appearance but will hold to a more flexible understanding: inhale could be appearance but also essence. The same applies to exhale. But what about the rift? What is its function? Is it just to distinguish two motions? Or two ontological states of an object?

Let me contemplate a little bit longer about the two in one concept of breathing and objects: for objects essence and appearance do not exist one after the other but simultaneously. Breathing thus is an ongoing process of repetition. It is a succession. I inhale so I cannot exhale. I exhale thus I cannot inhale. The rift in between constitutes the time-space as an axis of the two elements. There is a certain temporality to breathing and objects, which they share. 

What interests me the most is the concept of misfitting together in breathing as well in objects. Such a concept is described by Douglas Crimp regarding Andy Warhol’s movie The Chelsea Girls, which is a movie shown simultaneously on two screens as if inhaling and exhaling were separate moves disconnected of each other and also performed only for themselves without knowing about the other but happening at the same time. This results in an artificial breathing pattern which does not breath at all. Is it, because there is no acting rift, which connects the two hermetic motions together?

It seems to me that such an artistic constellation reflects upon the problem of Object-Oriented Ontology and its thoughts about the position of the subject. Harman regarding José Ortega y Gasset’s theory of metaphor writes: Neither the first-person nor the third-person standpoint gets us any closer to the true inwardness of things beyond all description: what Ortega seeks instead is something I once called the ‘zero-person’ aspect of things, meaning their reality apart from any observation.”1

Douglas Crimp put his experience with Warhol’s Movie into words as follows: “It’s not always easy to achieve the detachment that makes it possible to see and remember these between-and among-the-reels interactions, because there is a constant pull toward the reel whose sound we hear as we watch, as if by paying attention to that one and ignoring the other we could follow the story.”2

Combining the two statements I will follow what Crimp calls a “different kind of attention”, maybe a “zero-person attention”. Is this even possible for a human subject like me? And furthermore, can such an attention be the mode for dark hermeneutics?

Crimp relates to Yvonne Rainer’s article published in 1967, in which she explains her method of looking at the “inside edge” of the screens. Of course, this is possible if we can distinguish two screens. But is this mode of watching/perceiving, so to speak this mode of aiesthesis possible for looking at the breath? What happens if I focus the rift in between inhale and exhale? 

That is the moment Andy Warhol’s term “misfitting together” comes in handy: In which sense do inhale and exhale fit together? If one understands the process as a process in time and space, they can only exist together as a breath. So: do they fit together? Does plus and minus fit together? 

Karen Barad uses Derrida’s deconstructivism to argue for a process of cutting together apart. I will now turn to Rainer Maria Rilke and two of his so-called New Poems (1907) which indicate the quantum physicality in poetry. Just for the record: Albert Einstein wrote the special theory of relativity in 1905. It was popularized by Max Planck in a lecture in 1906 and through the lecture Space and Time by Hermann Minkowski in 1908.

The two poems sound (in German) as follows:


O du wilde weite Werferin:

Wie ein Speer bei andern Dingen

lag ich bei den Meinen. Dein Erklingen

warf mich weit. Ich weiß nicht wo ich bin.

Mich kann keiner wiederbringen.

– – –

Meine Schwestern denken mich und weben,

und das Haus ist voll vertrauter Schritte.

Ich allein bin fern und fortgegeben

und ich zittere wie eine Bitte;

denn die schöne Göttin in der Mitte

ihrer Mythen glüht und lebt mein Leben. 

– – –


Unruh will ich über dich bringen,

schwingen will ich dich, umrankter Stab.

Wie das Sterben will ich dich durchdringen

und dich weitergeben wie das Grab

an das Alles: allen diesen Dingen. 

In the first poem the “I” is diffracted by a “you” who had threw the “I” “like a spear/javelin”. But it is the “Your sound threw me far” at the end of line three and the beginning of line four, which gives the solid status of the “I/spear/javelin” away. It is uncertain, one could say, if the “I” is a particle or a (sound-)wave. Sappho and Eranna, the ultimate Greek female poet and her lover, misfitting together and their love is cutting together apart. Not only are these two lovers cut together apart through two poems, but they are also cut together apart in a material and semiotic sense. But through their ontological status, especially of Eranna, they are related through the pages. As soundwaves she is rushing through the words, the material of the poem, but also through the paper. It is that “Unruh”, which re-solves the misfitting together of the two distant yet so close lovers: “Unruh” stands for unrest or restlessness, but the missing “e” in “Unruh(e)” gives the relation away as a (im-)balance of a clock. Swinging, vibrating, shaking, sounding/ringing – those words mark the ontological status of a diffracted “I”. 

Also, these two poems discuss the topic of identity and difference. Just as Barad relating to Haraway and Trinh Minh-ha, argues: 

“The key is understanding that identity is not essence, fixity or givenness, but a contingent iterative performativity, thereby reworking this alleged conflict into an understanding of difference not as an absolute boundary between object and subject, here and there, now and then, this and that, but rather as the effects of enacted cuts in a radical reworking of cause/effect.3

The “spear/javelin” is not only a phallic symbol, but also a timeline which points to certain teleological concept of time. But as for the first poem, the spear/javelin is thrown in the second it is swung. As if the two physical concepts and also Newton and Einstein are misfitting together the poems start to vibrate. They begin to diffract a hermeneutical/deconstructive approach and tend to be both. Sappho and Eranna are misfitting together. The poems motion is breathing, they in- and exhale leaving a gap for vibrant signs, words and love. 

  1. Harman 2018, 70 []
  2. Crimp 2012, 105 []
  3. Barad 2014, 173-174 []

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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