Control Group

Finding the full record of a life in the poet’s studio the day after they die, this is the literary critic’s imagined space. This attempt to find the writer’s body, his peculiar rhythm,  (“a certain drive, hidden and permanent, which sustains him and devours him…”)[1] remains at the center of the contemporary critic’s ultimate goal.

Alternatively, it remains to be seen if it would be possible to run an experiment wherein a group of writers, all embarking in different—yet equally grueling—conceptual edifications and wild machinations, could be gathered in a communal space, a kind of dormitory perhaps, where they could be closely monitored; cameras could be installed, blood pressure recorded. Each writer would in turn have another writer, an ethnographer, closely monitoring his everyday rhythms. Group A would be instructed to resist any rapport with their assigned objects of study, while Group B—maybe living in a separate building? —would receive no further instructions. One can hypothesize flashes of grievances, sexual hiccups, long-term liaisons arising, but most likely a complete breakdown in the scientific purity and reliability of this control group. On the other hand, Group A would also be compromised, since the very presence of the ethnographers would turn them into invading voyeurs, thereby contaminating the reliability of the data.


Yet all of this would be for show.


The real purpose of the experiment would be to develop a study of ‘how communities live together,’ but this would not be revealed to the scientists themselves, providing them with plausible (scientifically sound) deniability. Yes, in this experiment it would be the hovering black globes judging everything, accruing data in their surveils, crunching loopholes and splicing streams of electrons while one writer fingers his assigned watchman, and another berates her mute ethnographer for the silence of his affront. The machine would record all, the writing and the non-writing, the shitting farting and groping that gets lost in the margins of books, in order to provide the literature a complete theory of multiple, maximized, homeostatic living. With the exponential rate of discernment our recording devices have achieved it is safe to say that this experiment could be easily designed these days; perhaps it already has.

[1] Émile Benveniste, “Saussure after Half a Century,” in Problems in General Linguistics, 29.