The Pleasure of the INFINITE:



This is not the beginning of my review of J.R. Carpenter’s Le plaisir de la côte/The Pleasure of the Coast. This is not wholly my review. To quote Carpenter:

I have appropriated, exaggerated, détourned, corrected, and corrupted [HER WEB-BASED WORK]. Who, then, is the author of this [REVIEW]? The author is not dead. The author is multiple: multimedia, multilingual, poly-vocal. "Which body?" Barthes asks, "We have several."

J.R. Carpenter’s Le plaisir de la côte/The Pleasure of the Coast (2019) borrows text from The Pleasure of the Text (1973) by Roland Barthes, Introduction to the Practice of Nautical Surveying and the Construction of Sea-Charts (1808) by Charles-François Beautemps-Beaupré, and Suzanne et le Pacific (1921) by Jean Giraudoux.

The work is presented in five sections: ‘the infinite coast’, ‘the technical coast’, ‘the incremental coast’, ‘the grammatical coast’, and ‘the route of La Recherche’.

Technical: relating to a particular subject, art, or craft, or its techniques.

Incremental: relating to or denoting an increase or addition, especially one of a series on a fixed scale.

Grammatical: well formed; in accordance with the rules of the grammar of a language.

It is the infinite that most intrigues me…

Infinite: limitless or endless in space, extent, or size; impossible to measure or calculate.

The infinite has often preoccupied poets, e.g. L’infinito (1819) by Giacomo Leopardi, which opens or perhaps ends or perhaps sits in the middle of this review.

The Infinite (translation by Jonathan Galassi)

This lonely hill was always dear to me, and this hedgerow, which cuts off the view of so much of the last horizon. But sitting here and gazing, I can see
beyond, in my mind’s eye, unending spaces, and superhuman silences, and depthless calm, till what I feel is almost fear. And when I hear
the wind stir in these branches, I begin comparing that endless stillness with this noise: and the eternal comes to mind, and the dead seasons, and the present
living one, and how it sounds. So my mind sinks in this immensity: and foundering is sweet in such a sea. elv_strip1

In Everything and More: A Compact History of ∞, (W.W. Norton & Company: New York, 2003), David Foster Wallace states an obvious fact:

Never before have there been so many gaping chasms between what the world seems to be and what science tells us it is. ‘Us’ meaning laymen. It’s like a million Copernican Revolutions all happening at the same time. (22)

Le plaisir de la côte/The Pleasure of the Coast is about knowing and the pleasure of knowing and the impossibility of knowing everything. Acquiring and using knowledge has become less an act of discovery, more one of orientation.

Returning to Wallace:

…the abstract math that’s banished superstition and ignorance and unreason and birthed the modern world is also the abstract math that is shot through with unreason and paradox and conundrum and has, as it were, been trying to tie its shoes on the run ever since the beginning of its status as a real language. Re which, again, please keep in mind that a language is both a map of the world and its own world, with its own shadowlands and crevasses – places where statements that seem to obey all the language’s rules are nevertheless impossible to deal with. (30)

Carpenter’s work is not infinite. Just as coastlines are not infinite. Carpenter's work is not limitless. But it feels that way. Which is, essentially, the same thing.

In the infinite – or the veneer of the infinite – in a world of ‘too much’ – we need some sense of relational positioning. This is what Carpenter’s work does. It shows how in an ocean of so much history and data, meaning is like liquid. It falls through our fingers. But if we can position ourselves correctly, we can, momentarily, grasp sense.

This is not the end or the point of this review.