English novelist and critic Virginia Woolf in 1902
“The true length of a person’s life, whatever the Dictionary of National Biography may say, is always a matter of dispute. For it is a difficult business—this time-keeping; nothing more quickly disorders it than contact with the arts; and it may have been her love of poetry that was to blame for making Orlando lose her shopping list and start home without sardines, the bath salts, or the boots.” Virginia Woolf, Orlando
What an odd place to begin, or rather what an odd statement to make. A length of a person’s life is not conventionally understood, I don’t think, as a matter of dispute. Engravings on tombstones, birth and death certificates, and birthdays all seem to attest to the contrary. If anything the length of a person’s life is absolute. Then again, what Woolf is suggesting is that the bounds of one’s life are rather measureless. Biographies, to follow the logic of the example provided above, certainly attest to this. Life-stories, with their mixture of life and art, follow a different course, by which I hear both the implications of a trajectory but also of something served.
If, as biographies suggest, the length of a person’s life cannot be measured, then perhaps it can be said that it’s because, as a matter of posterity, they end up roaming after worldly in the world, detached from a discernable origin or source. Auto-vampiric, they take on a life of their own. Recently, I have had the very fortunate opportunity of sharing an ongoing piece of writing, which I have been cloaking in the vocabulary of “the wrapping text.” What constitutes a very digressive momentum in the writing, I have been characterizing as an enveloping gesture that moves with the compression of a poem. The result is ribbon-like. Of late, however, the wrapping text has taken on other dimensions, namely through the figure of what I have been calling the exit text.
The exit text is a text which doubtfully ever fully arrives, but that is nevertheless present, at least in some spectral or fantasmic sense. Vehiculed through Fernando Pessoa’s The Book of Disquiet, the exit text has a rumourological quality, which is a term I am borrowing from Avital Ronell’s reading of Heidegger, Benjamin and Rousseau in an essay entitled “Street Talk.” The reason I am prefacing all of this here is because while Hamlet serves as an associate-text or associative text in which the rumour can be figured as something roaming after-worldly in the world, this morning I discovered another text which shares similar vampiric qualities, at least in its auto-mobility, and that is Virginia Woolf’s Orlando. Like Pessoa’s Book, which is composed of philosophic meditations, dreamy Symbolists texts, and diaristic passages, most of which are contained in a long section entitled “A Factless Autobiography,” Orlando is also a kind of factless autobiography, at least in the sense of its being a“biography” masqueraded as novel, or novel as biography. It roams detached from both, unable to be pinned down.
Looking back on my first encounter with Orlando years ago, I could not notice at the time the various implications of food and feasting, even though what seems to be set out (on the table) is a kind of literary buffet as Orlando travels through time. In a way Orlando sets out a measureless course, and by course I mean both the idea of trajectory, as previously articulated through the figure of the exit text, and also the deployment of a “feast” and its several courses. But if literature is what is being served, then why is it that the main course is always getting away?
In a way, it has something to do with the errand (as well as erring) as a matter of course. Remember that in the quote that opened this nano expose, Orlando forgets the sardines, the bath salts, and the boots because of what? Poetry! To offer yet another example of the conflation beyond the errand and the erring (text), Orlando, upon witnessing a sunset with the gypsies, finds that there is no word for beauty. Wanting to communicate“beauty,” she exclaims: “how good to eat,” which is taken as a manner of speaking off-course, or within the multiple locations and dislocations of poetry, a kind of malady of which Baudelaire is a destinary text, among many others, of course.
In a way, this whole month has attempted to serve a similar gesture: to have recourse to multiple itineraries in food-related texts and their contact with the arts. “How good to eat” here serves as a sort of welcomed epilogue, but one where the course is far from over, and if I invoke the exit text here, it is in an attempt to gesture toward a closure that is not one.
As a matter of course, this week, please welcome Alexia Moyer’s visual studies in food as well as Lorne Roberts’ witty piece on the food of the future or the future of food.
As this completes my guest-editor residency, I cannot “leave” without expressing my gratitude to this month’s contributors. Thank you for making yourself available to numerous exchanges and for entrusting me with your work. Fawn Parker, layout editor extraordinaire, how boundless is your patience and availability—you really make the posts look delectable. Jason Freure, you have offered me more than an invitation; my experience as a guest-editor is, like Woolf’s example of biography, indeed measureless. Thank you dear readers, dear friends, and dearest family members … for listening and for sharing, as one does a crème brûlée at the end of a meal.