Towards a Theory of the Interstitial [Version 1.0]: The Interstitial DMZ
Heinz Insu Fenkl, 2003
Nonobservance of the interstices... is a sin.
— Addis & Arnold, quoted in Webster's Dictionary
I. An Introduction
Recently, in one of those moments of insight sparked by a mundane question from a reader, I realized I had worked on my first book for 23 years, from the time I was twelve to the time I turned 35. I am not an especially slow writer; this was writing that had deep meaning for me, writing that was the beginning of a life-long series of interlinked works. In 1996, this book, Memories of My Ghost Brother, was published as a novel.
But Memories of My Ghost Brother is not a novel. It is the story of my childhood in Korea, drawn from life but told in such a way that there is a clear aesthetic consciousness behind it.
The decision to call it a novel — and not a memoir — was made by the publisher's marketing department, not by me. And yet the work is not a memoir, either. How did this odd problem — which still has complicated repercussions for me today — arise?
I had told my editor that if it were up to me, I would simply put the book out into the world as a work of literature. How naive! For the publisher, the problem was a merely a pragmatic one. According to marketing hearsay at the time, memoirs by people who were not already famous did not sell well. On the other hand, there was a decent readership for first novels, particularly if they were of the "ethnic" category like mine. (This was the year before McCourt's Angela's Ashes illustrated exactly how wrong-headed such marketing notions could be.)
I was not aware of this marketing logic until the decision had been made. It was out of my hands (though, really, it probably never had been in my hands to begin with). I had told my editor that given the current state of literary theory, I was comfortable calling my work either thing — a novel (because of its literary style, its use of tropes, its collaging of time and character) or a memoir (because nearly everything in it is true, in the factual sense, within the realm of flexibility for that form). I had just come out of a Ph.D. program in Cultural Anthropology, having spent the last several years heavily engaged with the theory of ethnographic writing. Memories of My Ghost Brother was what I had written in response to, and in implicit criticism of, both ethnographic and theoretical works I had been reading. It was what I was compelled to finish instead of my dissertation monograph.
I did not wish to provide the kind of theoretical justification I could have brought to bear if I had, say, presented my book as a non-traditional ethnographical text. Publishing, after all, is a business, so I left the decision to those businesspeople who knew what they were doing. But what surprised me when I heard of the publisher's marketing decision was that it had been made with no serious engagement with the writing itself. Later, it became clear to me that it didn't matter whether the publishing house even understood my book — the marketing logic did not accommodate issues of meaning at a deep level.
From the marketing point of view, the two possibilities had been obvious because bookstores like Barnes & Noble have clear categories into which the publisher's sales reps must pitch their product, usually in under a minute per book. There is no opportunity (unless, of course, some huge advance had to be recouped, in which case there is a necessity) to elaborate on the particular complexities or literary nuances of a book. My book had to be one thing or another, and so they made it a novel.
Nearly a decade after its initial publication, there is now another publisher that would like to repackage Memories of My Ghost Brother as a memoir and re-release it into a market very different from that of the mid 1990s. Now, it is believed that "ethnic" memoirs generally do much better than first novels.
It took me a long time to figure this out, but in publishing, a thing can be one thing or the other, or one thing and the other. For those with established name recognition (Stephen King, for example), this logic applies simultaneously, but if you are a small fish, you may be both things, too, but only as long as it's one thing at a time. This is not an absolute rule, of course. But it is a general rule we have little choice but to "publish or perish" by.
The above is my personal anecdote illustrating my experience with the power of binary oppositions in the world of publishing. As an academic with a background in a wide range of theoretical approaches, including semiotics and structuralism, the experience is no surprise to me; but as the wide-eyed first-time "novelist," this experience was both disillusioning and educational. It gave me that proverbial eye-opening look behind the scenes, and as I began to work later with small presses, I learned things that helped me become a more realistic academic. For me as the writer of an autobiographical narrative that pushed the envelope in both directions, the problem of categories was: memoir or novel (fact or fiction)? I approached it head-on by labeling my work "autoethnography," a term now in general usage like Audre Lourde's term "biomythography," which she uses to clarify her book, Zami: A New Spelling of My Name.
In an essay I called "an autoethnographic recursion," I looked at my own writing as if I were an anthropologist looking at a text, and this exercise helped me put to rest a tangle of theoretical and writerly problems. I had been familiar with various (now popular) theoretical approaches to texts, which examine their "liminality" or "hybridity," often applying terms with the prefixes "inter" or "trans" ("intertextuality" and "transnationality" to give two examples), but these approaches all rely on an implicit notion of dichotomy combined with the idea of moving from one state to another or combining (intersecting) one thing with another.
In the world of publishing, this way of thinking presents itself as a series of either/or decisions: Fact or Fiction, Fantasy or Science Fiction, Genre or Mainstream, Mystery or History? I present these categorical problems as dilemmas of a sort, but in many cases the possibilities are not initially limited only to two; and yet, when a particular work is hard to classify, its final label is then often compared to or contrasted with a series of other possibilities, one at a time.
The result may be that an either/or decision (which implicitly negates neither/nor) produces a thing that then follows an and/or logic and then transcends it, perhaps by ignoring it altogether. To give an example, one can imagine a work like Caleb Carr's The Alienist presenting such a marketing problem behind the scenes. Is it History or Mystery? It could not be categorized as either, and so it becomes History and Mystery. But calling it a historical mystery novel or a historical novel that focuses on a mystery are both deemed unexciting and potentially limiting in terms of sales, and so it is simply marketed as a mainstream book, riding on the exotic quality of its title and Carr's cachet as a historian with Beat roots. It becomes a bestseller.
Unfortunately, there are many other works with equally interesting or novel approaches — and better-written works — that suffer exactly the opposite fate. The decision-making process follows a different logic tree, and they are shoehorned into an inappropriate inaccurate category, usually for the publisher's expediency, and they simply disappear or take decades finally to be "found" by a readership.
In this essay, I will try to illustrate why the logic of categorizing, which is based on the underlying notion of dichotomy (which itself is a general reflection of the way people think in western cultures), is inadequate for dealing with an entire class of works, which I term the "Interstitial." I will also attempt to show how interstitial works are in a constant state of coming-into-being at the threshold of the readers' consciousness and yet also in a state of potential self-negation once their nature has been identified (also how it causes transformations in the reader at a large scale). I will focus on issues of writing, since that is the field with which I am most familiar, but these observations will apply equally well to other forms of expression like film, visual art, and music.
II. Some Thick Theory
In the past couple of decades, academic inquiry, particularly in literature, has moved increasingly from the center to the margins. Although this trend is a logical development of the general move from Modernism to a Postmodern sensibility, it is probably the challenging of universals or absolutes — in the broadest spectrum of categories, ranging from morality to reality — that has resulted in this particular movement. In the history of physics, the move from the Theory of Relativity to Quantum Theory prefaces nearly all of the theoretical innovations in the social sciences and the arts, which take another half-century or more to catch up, but now that science news is part of the general cultural dialogue, those in the arts are in a far more dynamic turmoil.
With the future of the universe being debated every several months in the mass media, the public is exposed regularly to fundamental debates about the nature of cosmology and reality. Initially, this new preoccupation manifested itself mostly among highbrow discourses (like the annual Modern Language Association conference), but now these notions are topical in popular culture as well — consider, for example, the immense popularity of films like The Matrix and the more recent Minority Report. What this means is that high-level theoretical discourse regarding texts is more and more directed at genres, which were formerly at the fringes of "serious" literary criticism.
In the theoretical world of relativity, which can be paralleled with Modernism, there remain fundamental absolutes like celeritas (the speed of light, C) and causality. This translates into ideas like the notion of cultural relativism (in Anthropology), which accommodates divergent cultural practices and values while maintaining an underlying notion of human absolutes. With the introduction of Quantum Theory, which can be paralleled with Postmodernism, all absolutes are problematized except, perhaps, the Second Law of Thermodynamics, what used to be called "the heat death of the universe," a picture of how everything will end as a cold, dark, uniform bleakness (there are challenges to the Second Law, but none is yet credible enough to oppose its awful view of the distant future). Another idea that emerges from Quantum Theory — which Postmodernists often misapply — is Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle, which illustrates the direct relationship between the observer and the thing observed. Determining the position of an electron changes its velocity; determining the velocity of an electron changes its position. Increasing accuracy in one measure decreases the accuracy of the other.
Extrapolated upwards to higher-level phenomena, this means that we change reality in the act of observing it. When I was a graduate student in Anthropology, it was already clear to me that this understanding had pretty much killed the practice of classical ethnographic writing, which relied on the "participant observer" method. Extrapolations of the Uncertainty Principle also problematize the idea of literary intention, and when this is coupled with the idea of the unconscious, as it was brought into literary discourse with Freud's The Interpretation of Dreams at the turn of the last century, it altogether unmoors the common-sensical, naive notion of what even constitutes the act of writing.
I have laid out these theoretical considerations to save discursive time regarding the Interstitial. Since academic discourse is likely to engage, eventually, with these precise issues, I am merely setting the clock forward and generally surveying the terrain for others who might wish to survey it more particularly in the future.
Here is my transition to the idea of the Interstitial. By virtue of human sensibility (that one can trace back to very old texts like the Tao Teh Ching), we tend to deal with complex ideas initially by breaking them down into binary opposites (binary, polar, diametric — these refer to digital, three-dimensional, and two-dimensional ways of thinking of opposition). That is why in discussing Relativity, one uses examples of time paradoxes affecting two observers at a time; in Quantum Theory, models deal with one observer and one discrete phenomenon. In psychoanalysis — both Freudian and Jungian — we pair the conscious with the unconscious or the subconscious. Things get too difficult otherwise. Even in the classical Structuralism of Levi-Strauss (who applies the linguistic theory of Roman Jacobsen), structure is generally composed of a series of binary oppositions (those plusses and minuses which label interactions). This is why, in the move from center to periphery, we tend to deal with one set of borders at a time. And what is between a set of borders? An interstice.
III. The Interstices
An interstice is not an intersection. (That is why a concept like hybridity, by itself, is not adequate to the idea of the Interstitial.) The word "interstice" comes from the Latin roots inter (between) and sistere (to stand). Literally, it means to "stand between" or "stand in the middle." It generally refers to a space between things: a chink in a fence, a gap in the clouds, a DMZ between nations at war, the potentially infinite space between two musical notes, a form of writing that defies genre classification.
An interstitial thing falls between categories, and so one might think of "interstitial" as coterminous with "liminal" (from the Latin limen, meaning threshold, or limes, referring to boundary — the word "limit" comes from the same root). Liminality is a concept made prominent (in Anthropology) by Victor Turner, who used it to refer to that strange "betwixt and between" state initiates go through in rites of passage. Liminality is a suspended state, but there is an underlying idea that it is also transitional.
In the field of Cultural Studies, the figure most identified with the idea of liminality is Homi K. Bhabha, and I refer to his work here because he deals with various boundaries and borders, concepts directly relevant to the issue of "Artists Without Borders."
In his introduction to The Location of Culture, he writes: "It is in the emergence of the interstices — the overlap and displacement of domains of difference — that the intersubjective and collective experiences of nationness, community interest, or cultural value are negotiated"(2). Bhabha is writing about nations, cultures, and marginalized peoples, but what he says is just as applicable to the world of literature. In place of "nationness" we can think "genre" (or, more widely, "marketing category") and the parallels are quite clear. Imagine the "domains of difference" being the vaguely-articulated features that distinguish the category "Fantasy" from "Mainstream Fiction" and the ideas of "community interest" and "cultural value" become apparent. And this is not an inappropriate application of Bhabha's ideas — we are still dealing with domains of discourse and the relationship among centralized power, the margins, and minority groups. In the realm of discourse, the dynamics are remarkably parallel.
Bhabha asks, later in his introduction, "How do strategies of representation or empowerment come to be formulated in the competing claims of communities where, despite shared histories of deprivation and discrimination, the exchange of values, meanings and priorities may not always be collaborative and dialogical, but may be profoundly antagonistic, conflictual and even incommensurable?"(2). Here one can easily imagine the uneasy relationship between the "Fantasy" and "Science Fiction" genres, both marginalized by the "Mainstream" or "Literary" world, each competing to authenticate itself in relation to the literature of high culture. Here we can also sympathize with the problems that writers like Harlan Ellison and Ursula Le Guin faced when they attempted to reject the label of "Science Fiction" as applied to their works and their identities as writers. At the same time, those sympathetic with the margins of literature can see the unfairness of James Michener's Space or Gore Vidal's Kalki (utterly unremarkable works of Science Fiction and Fantasy) avoiding genrefication altogether because of their association with the mainstream "community."
Bhabha also notes: "The social articulation of difference, from the minority perspective, is a complex, on-going negotiation that seeks to authorize cultural hybridities that emerge in moments of historical transformation"(2). In the world of literary and cultural studies, there are already dozens of specialized journals that deal quite explicitly with the issues raised by Bhabha and a handful of other major theorists. Two such journals — both with international readerships — are even called Limen and Limina.
In the world of genre literature, perhaps because the typical genre reader tends not to read critical journals, there are few venues that seek "to authorize cultural hybridities" except perhaps some recent e-zines and web resources. Science Fiction Eye comes to mind as a forum for genre discourse, but its circulation was small and one could argue that even with its elite readership and contributorship, its general impact was minimal. (Genre Science Fiction will probably remain dominated by militaristic space operas until the next Neuromancer comes along.) And yet we are clearly in one of those "moments of historical transformation."
IV. In the Interstitial DMZ
I've discussed liminality at length above so that it may serve as a starting point for elaborating on the Interstitial. (Turner is a good point of reference because he developed his idea of liminality in part by observing stage performances.)
There is a major difference between liminality and interstitiality. Unlike the liminal, the Interstitial is not implicitly transitory — that is to say, it is not on its way toward becoming something else. The liminal state in a rite of passage precedes the final phase, which is reintegration, but an interstitial work does not require reintegration — it already has its own being in a willfully transgressive or noncategorical way. Interstitial works maintain a consciousness of the boundaries they have crossed or disengaged with; they present a clear awareness of the kinds of subtexts which might be their closest classifiable counterparts.
The problem with an interstitial work is in its relationship with the audience — both its initial audience (which we may construe, for economy's sake, as the publisher) and its eventual audience, the readers. The relationship between reader and text, as we all know, is integral because each separate reader of the same text creates a unique work in his or her mind. Our general agreements about the plot or theme of a work are essentially the same as our agreements about the "real" world, which is actually determined by cultural consensus. Interstitial works have a special relationship with the reader because they have a higher degree of indeterminacy (or one could say a greater range of potentialities) than a typical work.
For example, if an interstitial novel is unfortunately determined to be Fantasy by its publisher, a reader, having the parameters of initial engagement with the text predetermined, might experience it as a Fantasy novel exhibiting odd dissonances or interesting novelties in relation to that genre. Barry Hughart's Bridge of Birds is a novel that did well in its genre classification, winning the World Fantasy Award in 1985 (tied with Mythago Wood by Robert Holdstock). Fantasy readers found the work uniquely vivid and full of a sharp and lively humor. The backdrop, a "China that never was," proved the novel feature and all of the representations of that mythic China (a collage of different historical periods and literary sensibilities) was the thing that made the book unique in the genre. But read outside the genre by a reader unfamiliar with the built-in expectations of Fantasy, say, a reader of Mystery novels, Bridge of Birds presents an updated twist on an old tradition started by the Dutch diplomat, Robert Van Gulik, with the Judge Dee series, set in T'ang Dynasty China. Yet another category of reader — say, one with background in Asian Studies — might appreciate Hughart's mixing of history and fiction, something Van Gulik's could not do as brilliantly after the initial Judge Dee novel (which happened to be a translation of an eighteenth-century Chinese novel set against a T'ang Dynasty backdrop).
Each of the above readers experiences a novel with a different configuration of subtexts. Furthermore, a reader may change categories over time. The adolescent Fantasy fan goes to college and majors in Asian Studies and then finds that the work s/he read has changed in retrospect. In this hypothetical case, the reader's memory of the work has taken on a different meaning after the reader's own transformation.
To give another example, consider Kirsty Gunn's second novel, The Keepsake. Gunn's first novel, Rain, was universally hailed by critics as the work of a prodigious new talent. But The Keepsake generally received disappointing reviews because its critics did not properly perceive its subtexts. To a mainstream reader, the novel, despite its beautiful language, is opaque, confusing, violent, perverse, and hallucinatory — all in frustrating ways. But to a reader of Revisionary Fairytales, Gunn's weaving of subtexts (ranging from Bluebeard to Donkeyskin) into a decidedly strange mother-daughter narrative is nothing short of brilliant — placing her in a class with writers like Angela Carter and Djuna Barnes, making all the modifiers I used above a positive thing. Unfortunately, The Keepsake never found a wide readership because the publisher withdrew its marketing plan after the disappointing reviews from the mainstream world.
Bridge of Birds spawned two sequels, but then Hughart quietly disappeared from the Fantasy radar, having worn out the quality that made his mythic China a novelty in that genre. Hughart's is a case of initial success as a result of forceful classification into a genre, but the eventual outcome is negative. Gunn's case is slightly different — it is her second novel that was misclassified or misunderstood because she debuted as a "literary" writer with Rain. To market her second work as Fantasy would have been considered a mistake, perhaps even a sort of insult, given the odd psychology of the publishing world in which genres are lower in the cultural hierarchy.
On the one hand, what I've described above is merely the sad reality of the publishing business. But both cases show the problems of initial perception and the eventual effects of forceful classification based on a publisher's (mis)perception of a text. Playing devil's advocate, one might argue that both Hughart and Gunn had their chance with readers, that they simply represent cases of texts that lost their potential readership to other texts more competitive in the marketplace. But both readers and publishers know the importance of initial reviews, packaging, and classification. What if Bridge of Birds and The Keepsake were to be re-released into different classifications, the first as mainstream and the second as an Adult Fantasy title, with careful attention to sending the books to appropriate reviewers? Would the books suddenly find large numbers of new readers who had not appreciated them in their first release? (I let this stand as a challenge to some brave publisher willing to take a meaningful risk. But recall that above, I stated that interstitial works are not implicitly transitory — to republish these books would be to make them retroactively illustrate the liminal state.)
Things are complicated in the DMZ of the Interstitial. There is another problem, an unexpected one. Interstitial works are also self-negating. That is, if they become successful to the degree that they engender imitations or tributes to themselves, or, if they spark a movement which results in like-minded works, then they are no longer truly interstitial, having spawned their own genre, subgenre, or even form. The DMZ they initially inhabit becomes its own nation, so to speak.
The irony is that successful interstitial works are almost by definition self-negating. They may emerge, like William Gibson's Neuromancer, as something sui generis (ironically within a genre) but then their very success creates a category — Cyberpunk — that becomes its own genre and retroactively, in the midst of controversy, quickly manifests a historical trajectory that precedes Neuromancer itself. (There is already a large and argumentative literature on this subject, which I need not dwell on here.)
Another example might be the form of the Revisionary Fairytale itself, which has become a clear subgenre by now. Although its current form is best represented by the works collected in the six volumes edited by Terri Windling and Ellen Datlow (ending with Black Heart, Ivory Bones) as well as books like Emma Donoghue's Kissing the Witch, there are numerous recent works that make use of the same trope, some by established writers like Robert Coover, who enjoy a highbrow credibility for their Postmodern writing. Once this subgenre exists and is identifiable by various consistent characteristics, it is possible to begin tracing the history of the form. We might begin with a work with strong elements of Revisionary Fairytale like the film that made Reese Witherspoon famous — Freeway — and then look for other works that perform similar transformations on the Little Red Riding Hood story and arrive at Angela Carter's collection, The Bloody Chamber (1979). Carter is recognized now as one of the originators of the contemporary Revisionist Fairytale, but while doing some random reading, one might run across an even earlier text, Djuna Barnes' perplexing novel, Nightwood (1937), which uses tropes very similar to Carter's, and may, in fact, be a formative influence on her work. But by this time we will have noticed the Red Riding Hood motif in perfume commercials, music videos (by Tori Amos and Sarah Evans), and other recent films (Pieter van Hees's short, Black XXX-Mas: a.k.a. Little Red in the Hood).
A literary scholar, unlike a typical reader, might watch Freeway and see, immediately, that much of its subtext comes directly from an academic collection of works on Little Red Riding Hood — Little Red Riding Hood: A Casebook edited by the psychoanalytic folklorist Alan Dundes. But even with this crib, the scholar would go on to Carter's and Barnes' works while following arguably non-literary works like Bruno Bettelheim's The Uses of Enchantment and then the case studies of Jung and Freud. I say "arguably non-literary" because, upon close examination, one discovers exactly how fictional the "scientific" works of Bettelheim, Jung, and Freud can be — and how they are all deeply influenced not only by the psychologists' reading of literature, but their own literary sensibilities.
What I am trying to illustrate is the oddly ironic quality of interstitial art. Once it manifests itself, regardless of the conditions of its creation, the interstitial work has the potential to create a retroactive historical trajectory. Further, if this historical trajectory is prominent enough, the work that sparked its discovery (or creation) then may become a representative — though not necessarily the first — work in a newly-identified genre or subgenre whose parameters the work has helped illuminate.
V. Illuminating the Interstitial
What the Interstitial does, actually, is transform the reader's consciousness. The reason that the formerly invisible historical trajectories become visible to the reader is because the interstitial work, in combination with the reader's particular perception of it, has manifested itself in such a way because the reader's "reality" has changed. We have figures of speech for this kind of transformation at a profound level — "I have seen the light," for example — but the transformation caused by the Interstitial is far more subtle. Perhaps instead of something as extreme as "The scales have fallen from my eyes," one might characterize this change as "A scale has fallen from my eye." In any case, the reader has learned to see in a different light, and that change causes a reinterpretation of the reader's experience of the past — in general — though perhaps this begins with a re-examination and reinterpretation of other texts the reader has experienced.
This phenomenon of illumination and (re)discovery is not all that remarkable, in one sense, because art as a whole relies to a large degree on this precise effect. In literature, one example would be the moment of "epiphany" in a story. In James Joyce's "The Dead," the reader's consciousness of the story is transformed at the same moment the character has a profound realization, and this simultaneity creates a powerful resonance, which the reader experiences while "watching" the physical image of falling snow, "hearing" and "feeling" the rhythm of the language describing it, "comprehending" the poetic logic of Joyce's tropes. While all this happens in the reader's "present," the more important effect is that the reader's memory of the "past" of the story is significantly altered. When we read "The Dead" for a second time, the "reality" of all those mundane-seeming things at the beginning of the story has become entirely transformed (and now we experience the story at another, deeper level, a scale having fallen from our eye).
The epiphanic moment in "The Dead" might be compared to the Rinzai school of Zen, which relies on the baffling koan to induce sudden enlightenment, whereas the Interstitial is more like the Soto school of Zen, which relies on a slow and gradual process of accumulated insights (and this is not to preclude the possibility of sudden illuminations within interstitial works). The underlying idea behind great literary works like "The Dead" (at least the idea according to what might be an outdated school of literary theory) is that the epiphany in the story affects the reader and then is applied outside the text to the reader's "real" world. Art is (or was) supposed to change us for the better, making us fuller and implicitly better human beings.
The disappointing truth (to which legions of college professors can attest) is that even great works do not necessarily engage the (student) reader the way they are ideally supposed to. I recall, quite clearly, and with great retroactive embarrassment, that I found "The Dead" incredibly tedious and boring when I first read it as a college freshman. There was no grand epiphany for me. But I was moved by the final images, and the work left me with a feeling that something very important had gone on. I had an idea of epiphany, but that did not compel me at that time to read the story again.
An interstitial work operates differently. It provides a wider range of possibilities for the reader's engagement and transformation. It is more faceted than a typical literary work, though it also operates under its own internal logic. At Readercon, on a panel discussing Metafantasy, I used the term "bilocation" (borrowed from the practice of Remote Viewing) to describe the reader's state of mind when reading works like John Crowley's Little, Big, which are Fantasy but also aware of the fact that they are Fantasy and make the reader aware of that awareness. Readers can lose themselves in the world of the novel, but simultaneously maintain an awareness of the act of reading. This "bilocation" (more precisely, a "multilocality") of the reader's awareness produces a form of engagement characteristic of metafiction and altered states of consciousness. Many readers find this state of mind so uncomfortable that they reject works of this nature (often rationalizing their rejection by focusing on some perceived flaw). Interstitial works also induce a sort of multilocality in the reader's consciousness, but at a different threshold of perception. The reader may not be aware of this phenomenon, and therefore stays with the work, achieving the effect of multilocality over repeated engagements over time. This multilocality then extends to the reader's perception and memory of other works. (And once again, this is not to suggest that interstitial works cannot be metafictions.)
To give an example, once one engages with the underlying logic of the Revisionary Fairytale, for example, one can see its structural qualities in other works in various orders of magnitude. What Carter and Barnes do with the story of Little Red Riding Hood is to take an extant structure and then transform its elements or its structural dynamics, thereby creating a work with clear knowledge of its subtext but with a distinctly different rhetoric. This is what the Romans did with Greek myths when they renamed the Greek gods and goddesses (e.g., Hermes became Mercury, Aphrodite became Venus) and appropriated them into their own religious practices. This is also what the Romans did by attaching their mythic history, The Aeneid, to the Greek epic, The Iliad. This is what the writers of the Gospels did when they took the story of Jesus and worked it into a classic Hero tale that parallels the stories of Krishna, Mythras, Appolonius, Buddha, and even Julius Caesar.
But before such historical trajectories become apparent, the works that reveal them are interstitial — sometimes only for a short while, yet sometimes for several centuries — and by being unclassifiable, they present readers with a uniquely new literary consciousness. In transforming the perceptions of the reader, interstitial works make the reader (or listener, or viewer) more perceptive and more attentive; in doing so, they make the reader's world larger, more interesting, more meaningful, and perhaps even more comprehensible. The reader, who has been seeing black-and-white, suddenly begins not only to see color, but to learn how to see other colors.
VI. Temporary Conclusion
My understanding of my own book, Memories of My Ghost Brother, as an interstitial work, has significantly changed not only my own retroactive perception and understanding of it, but the future direction of my literary work as well. The marketing of Memories of My Ghost Brother reminded me, somewhat, of the fact that my own citizenship had never been under my control (the document that shows I was naturalized at age three has my father's rendition of my signature on it). For much of my life, this detail regarding my citizenship meant nothing to me, but its meaning became a significant issue once I was old enough to understand identity politics, colonialism, and issues of liminality. My understanding of my writing, a product of my conscious, subconscious, and unconscious intentions, has changed, quite radically, since those writing workshop days when I was creating things in a sort of aesthetic fog. I am far more aware, now, of the act of perception and its consequences.
I will end this version of my essay here for now. In a future edition, or perhaps a continuation of this essay, I will pull together some of the ideas I have introduced above and discuss how the simple, yet elegant, slit experiment — which illustrates the particle/wave duality of light, one of the profound mysteries of reality — also illustrates the power of interstices in the act of perception. I will also introduce a new approach to Structuralism, a literary extrapolation of the Holographic Paradigm, to illustrate how well-crafted literary works, and particularly interstitial works, create their own internal logic. Stay tuned for "Towards a Theory of the Interstitial (Version 2.0): The Literary Fractal."
New Paltz, New York, January 2003
Copyright © 2003 by Heinz Insu Fenkl
Some suggested readings online
Perloff, Marjorie, "Cultural Liminality/Aesthetic Closure?: The 'Interstitial Perspective' of Homi Bhabha"
For more on Victor Turner: click here