not so subliminal message

Who is “The Subliminal Kid”? I’ve come across the character in William Burroughs’ Nova Trilogy, but didn’t see the relationship between the character and Burroughs’ concept of “media being”, a writer profile I’ve taken an interest in within my work. Jeff Rice clarifies this in The Rhetoric of Cool. The Subliminal Kid is a writer. Not a Writer or a student timidly walking through the hallowed heavy dark halls of Academia, careful not to leave the trodden fibers of the original (ornamental) rug of Composition while carefully examining musty topoi texts that have yellowed and thinned their pages from years of perpetual use. This writer should be a much more natural fit, for it is us, us everyday.

Burroughs-Nova Express:

The Subliminal Kid “had recorder in tracks and moving film mixing arbitrary intervals and agents moving with the word and image of tape recorders” (148).

“The Subliminal Kid” moved in and took over bars and cafes and juke boxes of the world cities and installed radio transmitters and microphones in each bar so that the music and talk of any bar could be heard in all his bards and he had tape recorders in each bar that played and recorded at arbitrary intervals and his agents moved back and forth with portable tape recorders and brought back street sound and talk and music and poured it into his recorder array so he set waves and eddies and tornadoes of sound down all your streets and by the river of all language” (147).

Rice on Burroughs:

Burroughs produces a lesson on how to appropriate for the purposes of writing (gathering various influences, juxtapose them, play them back), but more importantly, how media based writing turns writers into media beings (64). “As a media being, the contemporary writer is always attune to sound, imagery, words ideas” (64). A writer, “one who engages with rhetoric in order to enact, counter, uphold, or resist social change and policy” (64). A writer who refuses to settle into Composition mimicry. 

The more I read, the more I buzz with the connections between Burroughs, Rice, new media composition, fluxus, happenings, art aesthetic, everyday collections/objects/seeing, Geoffrey Sirc and “small t truths”. This vision of composition as fluid, shifting with ourselves becomes less avant-garde and more easy to be, because it is who we are. But on PAPER, it is not who we are supposed to be. There (restricted to the page), we are scholars, academics, Writers, with one idea to prove in an organized and linear fashion. Page after page.

Here, I think Geoffrey Sirc describes this composition classroom comically (honestly) well in “The Still Un-Built Hacienda”, the first chapter (or chapter 0) of English Composition as a Happening.

“The architectural design for the conventional classroom has become soberly monumental, charged with the heavy burden of preserving the discursive tradition of ‘our language…the peculiar ways of knowing, selecting, evalutaing, reporting, concluding, and arguing that define the discourse of our community’ (David Bartholomae Inventing the University). We erect temples to language, in which we are the priests among initiates (of varying degrees of enthusiasm), where we relive the rites of text-production for the nth time, despite the sad truth that the gods have fled so long ago that no one is even sure that they were ever there in the first place (in Composition, the gods are called, variously, power, authentic voice, discourse, critical consciousness, versatility, style, discplinarity, purpose, etc.).

Or better, what we build are Museums, peculiar sorts of cultural temples in which students are “invited” in to sample the best that has been thought and expressed in our language and maybe even, like the art students we see poised in galleries with their sketchbooks and charcoals, to learn to reproduce the master’s craft.”

Structural determined spaces predetermines compositions that fit. The page must shift. It crumbles under the weight of its pretention. Why curate a Museum in ruins (293) by conventionality and reproducibility? What do we have to lose?

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