“self-evident and completely incomprehensible”: Austin Miles on Evan Isoline’s Insensible Text DƐVDMVTH

Insensibility invokes an opening. What’s insensible is ungriddable, unseizable, or unknown, even in plain sight. The inhuman geographer Kathryn Yusoff, writing on insensible nature, says that it is “that which appropriates sense without being sensible to appropriation.” She draws on Georges Bataille’s notion of insensibility: “a form of animality which opens up a depth that I recognize as my own but is unfathomable to me, and opens along the cut of the sensible a dimension of alterity and interiority that is unbounded and yet binding.”

Insensibility suffuses DƐVDMVTH, the follow-up to Isoline’s first book, PHILOSOPHY OF THE SKY. It’s a text bluntly flaunting meaning in favor of a gesture, a performance, a proliferation of symbols whose significance emerge out of the specter of other texts but remain unintelligible (or not, though trying to grok them would be risky business—“not all symbolism is accurate, though I attempt it,” as Isoline writes). Often it’s garishly verbose and leads you into a thicket. Phrases like “vitiated in the solar catafalque’s fuliginous fullness” and “an apical tiner, blyed in velvet” are exemplary. You find your way through the dictionary entries, note the meanings to puzzle out the significance of a sentence, and end up nowhere, or the same place you were before: without a clue.

Knowledge produces non-knowledge (Bataille: “There is in understanding a  blindspot”), a lacunae that the knower compulsively desires to infect. Non-knowledge, however, resists its transmogrification into knowledge. Life slips towards the ungriddable. As Bataille writes, “I would explore night! But no, it is night that explores me.” DƐVDMVTH emerged out of the swelter of knowledge. Quotes from Bataille, William Blake’s poem The Grey Monk, and Ludwig Wittgenstein set the tone for the text. The quotes from Bataille and Wittgenstein are more-or-less refutations of knowing in the “western” mode. The Grey Monk is a poem about the aging of the French Revolution into custom, authority, and hegemony. On the first page of DƐVDMVTH, Isoline writes “This, the grim will of the Enlightenment, is my story.” In the beginning of the next paragraph: “In my awful designs, I will pervert the forms of communication.” Isoline may flout intelligibility, or interpretability, but he’s very clear about what he’s doing.

The text is a performance, and in its performance emphasizes its ability to act on us rather than being consumed. It’s a performance of being unknowable. It’s got flowcharts to nowhere and diagrams like deranged PowerPoint presentations. It lacks page numbers so you can get lost in it—you have no map and once you leave you’ll struggle to find your way back. “I’ve made a set of rules, in case you need some” Isoline writes, but the rules make no sense, or they aren’t there, or they’re somewhere but Isoline decided he didn’t need to write them down. Where is DƐVDMVTH taking you? What does DƐVDMVTH want?

From yours, deadboy: “where reason flees there is madness. Thus I say to you: where everything is in progress, madness has already arrived.” Likewise, Wittgenstein writes in Culture and Value “It is not e.g. absurd to believe that the scientific and technological age is the beginning of the end for humanity, that the idea of Great Progress is a bedazzlement, along with the idea that the truth will ultimately be known; that there is nothing good or desirable about scientific knowledge and that humanity, in seeking it, is falling into a trap.” In response to the trap: DƐVDMVTH, which takes you towards an elsewhere via a language of discretion, or via insensibility, which, like jargon or a hidden language as the philosopher Mackenzie Wark argues, “is a tactic for creating a unity of thought and life within and against the language and power of the state.” Insensibility is a practice of unknowability, a performance of illegibility that confounds the possibility of total management, or control, or perfect plats.

Where is elsewhere? It’s where you are, or it will be. From Red Air: “A god is not a good place to search. The first step, it seems to me, is not to search, but to stop searching.” An exit from enlightenment arrives in the midst of enlightenment, once you realize its logic is disposable. In the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, Wittgenstein writes, “My propositions are elucidatory in this way: he who understands me finally recognizes them as nonsense, when he has climbed out through them, on them, over them. (He must so to speak throw away the ladder, after he has climbed up on it).” The philosopher Ben Ware, writing on the Tractatus, says “when we throw away the ladder, we do not do so because it has succeeded in leading us to a new place, but rather because we have come to recognize that the place we want to get to is the place which we are already at.” Put another way, by Isoline,

The truth
is not
found in
but by

Work through the thicket, inhabit its rooms, watch the play, investigate the definitions, the text will return you to where you were before with a shattered language. In DƐVDMVTH as in Tractatus (in Ware’s view), “its method is to occupy the internal logic of a position in order to bring it towards a self-consciousness of its own illusoriness.”

Language, particularly official language—a panoptic of power, or an organizer of madness—breaks apart momentarily in the rooms of DƐVDMVTH. Or more likely involutes. In any case the insensible that replaces it—“the answer to a problem that has no solution,” or “the adventure of not knowing,” or, “the mystery of love”—is the non-knowledge already present in enlightenment knowledge. Life flows towards this death—all that’s necessary is to destroy the dam stemming the flow, and there are cracks in the concrete.

DƐVDMVTH, by Evan Isoline. Minneapolis, Minnesota: 11:11 Press, August 2022. 260 pages. $19.99, paper.

Austin Miles is from southeast Ohio. He has poems published in Tyger QuarterlyClade SongCobra Milk, and elsewhere.

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