Exit Text by Geneviève Robichaud
If you asked me to define an “exit text,” I would naively tell you it was probably a dramatic instruction, like [EXIT – Pursued by bear]. Shakespeare’s plays are full of these jarring moments of blocking, when characters go off stage or, even better, when they die, shortly after announcing their fate. One lacks for almost nothing reading his poetically dense plays, except where stage directions leave moments that can only be filled by actors and directors.
Geneviève Robichaud’s Exit Text, a brief and elusive chapbook released last year by Anstruther Press, describes the “exit text” as “words in movement.” They are impossible to pin down. They are works like Fernando Pessoa’s The Book of Disquiet, which has been assembled and reassembled by so many different editors in so many different editions that, in Robichaud’s words, one can’t tell if it could ever “arrive,” which I take to mean settle down into definition.
Robichaud’s short text, which spends so much time questioning itself and rewriting its own premise, would not be easy to parse here. Her writing is a tangle of ideas that is as beautiful as it is intellectually agitating. Over the course of nine pages, she draws on nearly 30 sources to explore her theory of the exit text, holding up The Book of Disquiet, Orlando, Daniel Canty’s Les États-Unis du vent, Chantal Neveu’s Coït, Hamlet, and others against her postulations, allowing each text to shape her ongoing definition. She weaves their authors’ lines into her own in a collage of criticism.
When Robichaud introduces Bhanu Kapil, who practices bibliomancy and includes it in her novel Ban en Banlieue, she sees the aleatory as a way for the text to stay in motion:
When Bhanu Kapil is licked by Theresa Hak Kyung Cha’s Dictee the exit text takes the form of bibliomancy. A way of making visible something that was ‘no longer possible to say.’ Cha again. Who has arrived. In the last possible minute of the book. To augur. To be here—also. With Ban.
At the last possible moment, Kapil points outward, to the augury of another text. This is just one way that words refuse arrival. Bibliomancy requires the diviner to use randomly selected passages from a book—in the West, Virgil’s Aeneid was popular until it was replaced by the Bible, but some practitioners use books blindly selected from the shelf. Robichaud never pretends that her references have anything to do with each other except their elusiveness. Her style of writing presents these books as though they have fallen into her text by accident, not the rigours of doctoral research.
Robichaud’s Exit Text chases down the ‘fantasmic transmissions’ emitted by these texts: the possibilities we can imagine in the world offstage, in the text’s gaps …
As Robichaud lays out her intention, she shows us a project that looks like an anti-encyclopedic study of words in motion:
I wanted the wrapping text [Note: A former version of the concept of exit text.] to be the kind of thing—an object—that gathered references as it moved. There are several models for this. One is poetry. Another has something to do with debris. Another still is an avalanche. Sisyphus. Waste lands. The tide coming in and out. … I wanted to build a catalogue that didn’t move toward completion but to what is small, like the crack in the wall that lovers whisper through.
At least while I was studying literature, I’d always operated under the assumption that critical work was undertaken to “solve” texts, to interpret and either agree or disagree with some other prevailing interpretation, all while leaning on the opinions of predecessors as “proof.” That would be a silly way to read these texts that refuse to arrive. But despite her claim to smallness, Robichaud’s project remains expansive. The last paragraph of Exit Text alludes to the endless generation of a text that refuses to stop: “Perhaps that’s why I am drawn to write about the exit text, which is less like leaving but more like a perpetual untranslatability or inability to fully land. It is not the text of excavation. It is the one you run after …”
When characters in a play are told to exit, they are not gone from the text. An offstage world continues to exist within the parameters of the story. But they are ejected from the text before our eyes, becoming ghosts, or nonentities, until the writer summons them back. Sometimes they are just left for dead, which only spurs readers to ask, “What happened to Judy Winslow?” Or a famous pair of Hamlet’s buddies. The exit text seems to always exist in a state of potential, pointing to an offstage world that is not always within the scriptwriter’s control, but not quite the world outside the text (IRL, if you will). Robichaud’s Exit Text chases down the “fantasmic transmissions” emitted by these texts: the possibilities we can imagine in the world offstage, in the text’s gaps, whether they are missing characters, plot holes, or acts of bibliomancy. I don’t fully understand the exit text, but I look forward to seeing it expand and accumulate further.