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    Towards a Theory of the Interstitial
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The Interstitial DMZ
by Heinz Insu Fenkl
II. Some Thick Theory

PRAYER TOWER by: Stu Jenks
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.
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