Meta-fiction and the In-Between

Photo on Flickr by mihoda, found on

I’m increasingly interested in the idea of the In-Between as a space for dialogue to happen.  I keep coming across various types of in-between spaces, and where the push-pull of binaries creates a space where we become aware of critical issues in our environment and start to think about it.  In Laura Marks, it’s the space between an image that we can recognize, and one that is abstracted (usually through close-up, motion, lighting or other technical methods).  This back and forth between recognition is when we contemplate the what and why of an image, and gives us the impetus to think critically about it.

In the same vein, I also recently read some texts by Garry Sherbert, a professor of English at the University of Regina.  His work is primarily based around cultural studies and literary theory – with a current focus on Jacques Derrida.  His first publication, stemming from his PhD Dissertation, is entitled Menippean Satire and the Poetics of Wit.  This text refers to a type of wit which is self-reflexive and breaks with logic in an over the top manner – a type of early-Dadaism.  This type of wit and satire was linked to philosophical speculation, specifically as a mockery of overly serious intellectual discourses. By breaking with decorum and convention, this type of writing would become overly flowery and elaborate, diverging onto tangents that would turn the work into a self-reflexive text.  By mocking the seriousness of what they were doing, the artists would draw attention to the disjunctions between philosophy and reality.  The writer would disrupt the audience’s control and expectations of texts through elaborate or tangential exuberance, however, at some point the over-exuberance would also diverge from the point, making the work entirely meaningless.  This see-saw between building meaning and reality, and disengaging from it into style, is a perfect example of the In-Between.  It’s only by disrupting reality through elaborate style and tangents that the artist can actually stimulate critical thinking about what they’re doing, but in doing so, they also tread dangerously into immersing completely into language and style as stand-alone objects.

This first instance of In-Between criticality threads through to Sherbert’s more recent works into his study of Derrida and culture.  In his essay “Canadian Cultural Autoimmunity: Derrida and the essence of culture” (Mosaic Journal: 40.2. June 2007), Sherbert describes the ambiguity of Canadian culture and the way that it paradoxically tries to claim a single identity by allowing multiple identities to all co-exist in the same space at the same time.  In his thinking, this is a completely positive way of considering Canadian culture, and it links to Derrida’s concept of autoimmunity (where a body – or culture – destroys its own immunity in order to protect itself from itself).  Sherbert compares this lack of a single overarching culture to this autoimmunity, and envisions it as an act of emptying itself in order to leave a void, which can then be filled temporarily by any number of other things.  Those will then be voided, and the cycle can continue.

Edited by Garry Sherbert

In the book Canadian Cultural Poesis: Essays on Canadian Culture (edited by Sherbert), he considers this cyclic culture as one that is democratic, and which allows for new voices (specifically marginalized ones) to have a chance at the spotlight.  It is a way to deconstruct cultural dominance by a single group, and forces our culture to respond to changes in a flexible way, rather than a rigid, colonial one.  It is by becoming aware of the single over-arching voice and working within it to disrupt the singularity, that we create dialogue.  This dialogue cannot happen in a situation where there is only the mainstream culture, and it can’t happen within only the minority culture – it has to be where the two intermingle and play off one another.  It’s interesting to see both Sherbert and Laura Marks apply their theories, which inadvertently create in-between spaces, to intercultural artworks.  It is a fascinating starting point for my research, to look at the links between these cultural artworks and audience engagement with dialogue on a broader scale – to take the many identities and thread them together into a larger picture.  Not a mosaic though.


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