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    Towards a Theory of the Interstitial
[Version 1.0]

The Interstitial DMZ
by Heinz Insu Fenkl
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 Aenead, 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.
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