Glitches are, so often, the abrasions we “impose upon the fine surface” (Barthes, there) of all that we read (which is, also: what we smell, see, vibrate with, etc.), but are also the abrasions we receive (through Ouija-style transmissions of affect, through erratic memory, through the physiological forces that so often constitute physical reality; Sara Ahmed notes that “to share a memory is to put a body into words”).
The house radiates. It is. You are. The book absorbs you. You are the writing, and we must “reintegrate art into the praxis of life” (Peter Bürger). Look on with horror at human history. Look at our end: art that could tell everything at once and implicate all readers, refusing a kind of non-physicality.
The zagging sags to the minor and the atomizing and those materials relegated to the outer darkness of culture: trash, accidental art, misheard speech, mistranslations, etc. Gossip is back and forth and apparitional, so too the supermassive and its relationship to the infinitesimal, so too the time traveler who stands in for the needle and the stitches. Apparition as the z-axial.
The z-axial points to the reader or observer and draws them into the text, revealing the profoundness of field, and the z-axial is biographic and humane, transforming the domestic self into a self of outer limits: a cosmic dollhouse.
The z-axial is lonely. That is to say, the z-axial sends one into oneself, by making oneself realize their only-ness in self. They are. One is here and here and here, in being with infinity and of it, too. But, the z-axial in this inward orientation also brings into awareness the being of all beings; we are all here together. In other words, while an inner experience of the self, the z-axial is also uncanny-communal: we are all together, a long bulbous tube with many smaller tubes drawing up and evacuating, eating and weeping and laboring at the edge of our own human graves.
The gnat-book hovers across any length, drawing the reader into the gnat-book’s moments while not nullifying the moment in which the reader reads. Times overlap (as TV shows are always telling us), and this overlapping can then be layered by other interruptions: marginalia, stains on the pages, footnotes or translators’ notes, false futures, anachronisms.
The z-axial could also be an attempt to create a new genre of art/time, something that could contain “works” that ask their experiencer to consider or act upon time (the spending of, fiddling with, commenting on, luxuriating in, puddling of). But not merely a conceptual consideration as linked to reading itself.
A good stare.
If you are tracking the floating of dust particles through the making of the body an eye, if you are making your work on shadows, if you waiting in dress clothes in an unfamiliar building, pretending at being an extra on a set or a player in a tableaux, you are with the z-axial.
The z-axial wakes the now. Now I am reading; it is moving through me, like a tone from a faraway corner of the house: the plastic cat, the franklin stove. It moves through me in the way that it has moved through many others in their nows, which are also mine. It builds and builds.
In Cristina Rivera Garza’s (translators Suzanne Jill Levine and Aviva Kana’s) The Taiga Syndrome, a detective, in a professional and existential quagmire, falls asleep after asking a coworker whether a sinister man might have something to do with the disappearance of the people whom she is investigating. The coworker has already gone to bed with headphones on and cannot hear her question—the inquiry remains in some undeliverable zone—and she dreams. In her dream:
[a] small hand, its shadow on the wooden wall. A hand as small as the head of a pin. How many angels were dancing, deranged, on the tip of its nail? A hand that could have easily passed for the corpse of a mosquito or flea: a hand with five fingers, even tinier.
A kind of answer. A way of shrinking and shrinking by narrating. A way of shifting scopes.
That I would have liked to be a housewife, I sometimes thought, even a slightly sad housewife . . . Instead I was a person who walked over lots of sharp stones asking if anyone had seen something odd, a hand, maybe a very little hand to be more exact, on a wall, or on the wall of a dream.
The distance between a wall and the wall of a dream is now.
Narrative shelters the now: it shelters, per Lyotard, the now from “the perils of linkage.” Z-axiality is a counter force within narrative that draws the outside in, working as a reminder of heterogeneity: you are gigantic, tiny, time warping; you are gossip. No ghosts; every material, every forever: awaking the now. Outdated or ruined technology disturbs the now. Time, which one may imagine casts this technology into the before, is actually given form by it. The superannuated gives space for time to be.
Realisms simulate. In service of a recognizable periodicity, they isolate an instance and then exclude the instance from itself. Any political violence, the very claustrophobia of eternity, is reduced to a place/moment or a conflict that carries with it its inevitable resolution. The moment becomes a consumable idea in service of nostalgia, which in turn serves markets and neutralizes crises; the simulated real confines crises to the past:
“[T]he ‘state of emergency’ in which we live is not the exception but the rule. We must attain to a concept of history that is in keeping with this insight” (Benjamin).
No space is ever emptied of space; space is always full of itself.
While remaining perfectly still, space shoots upward toward the supermassive and downward toward the small. These infinitely thin scales, like grasses, stand next to their endless identical others, and in their threaded space make space; these scales together form endless being—in time, laboring; these scales implicate us more completely. They bind us together. Realism is nostalgic and impoverishing. The here is far out. Hell is now.
Inside of things, endlessness reclines. Turn them, and like the obverse of a Fabergé egg, a scene: a waking nude forever. Venus. If appearance is fragmentary and the non-phenomenal speeds downward/darts up, where does your responsibility end? It cannot. You, in mourning and in care, are obliged to an endless degree, to the smallest and to the most massive.
You are likewise obliged to the potential, the imaginary, the projected, the trajectory, the reflected.
The here is arriving, always arriving, as an interruption. It discovers itself, a double inside of you.
The z-axial is reappearance; that is to say, it is the discovery of a self that you’ve forgotten, the snow-covered giant frozen in the woods, your perfect copy, the microscopic worms that gather under moonlight. It’s the mirror where your ameboid grandmothers spy on you.
Notes Toward a Z-Axial Literature [Part 1]
Notes Toward a Z-Axial Literature [Part 2]
Olivia Cronk is the author of Womonster (Tarpaulin Sky, July 2020), Louise and Louise and Louise (The Lettered Streets Press, 2016), and Skin Horse (Action Books, 2012). With Philip Sorenson, she edits The Journal Petra. @InterroPorn
Philip Sorenson is the author of Of Embodies (Rescue Press, 2012) and Solar Trauma (Rescue Press, 2018). A shorter handmade work, New Recordings, was released by Another New Calligraphy in 2018, but it’s now out of print. He co-edits The Journal Petra with Olivia Cronk.