Two books, one film. All treat the threshold between the stranger and the non-stranger. Visibility, legibility, recognition – these are the processes that shape the stranger. All describe conflict at the boundary between that which can be represented and that which remains outside of representation. These texts are cautionary, however. The strangeness of their protagonists would not evaporate if we just looked harder. It is irreducible because it stands in contradiction to the entire regime of visibility we live within. We cannot see them as they are, because they are outside our ability to perceive.
Miéville, China. Embassytown. New York: Del Rey, 2011.
The immer is the always, a substance beneath and throughout each iteration of the universe. It is “a langue of which our actuality is a parole, and so on,” according to the logic of China Miéville’s novel Embassytown.
“Something from the immer comes out. Taxonomy is imprecise. Most experts agree that what emerged on that day was a minor manifestation, one I’d later learn to call a stitchling. It was an insinuation at first, composing itself of angles and shadows. It accreted itself from its surrounds, manifesting in the transient. The bricks, plastone and concrete buildings, the energy cages and the flesh of the captive animals from the gardens spilled toward and into the swimming thing, against physics. They substanced it. Houses were unroofed as their slates dripped sideways into a presence growing every moment more physical, more suited to this realness.” (21-22)
The immer is the substance out of which the stranger appears because it is the substance out of which everything appears that is not-yet-us. The immer is the origin of everything we have not-yet pictured, and through picturing, made real.
Deligny, Fernand. Le Moindre Geste. 1971. France: Société pour le Lancement des Ouevres Nouvelles. Black and white film.
Le Moindre Geste by Fernand Deligny is an experimental film from 1971 about autistic people who live just on the other side of conventional language. The film argues that these strangers among us should be allowed to remain strangers. Society should abandon the drive to neutralize the autistic person’s difference, the drive to assimilate the autistic into a normative relationship to images, to language and to other humans. To live with difference, according to Deligny, is to forgo the attempt to substance illegibility. To live with difference is to tolerate the impossibility of beings that we cannot recognize and, through recognition, order.
Ellison, Ralph. Invisible Man. New York: Random House, 1952.
Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man (1952) is a classic text about blackness and whiteness and history. It is a subtle tapestry of one man’s tortured journey through adjacent historical registers. The invisible man is neither alien nor expatriate; he does not a have a place within some alternate history from which to visit. He is the stranger that America produced through its systematic disavowal of its own subaltern histories. He fights for legibility in one register and then another, which deploy him without admitting him. Invisible Man is also an important indictment of the Communist Party’s claim to speak for Every Man, the Man wiped clean of racial markings. The Communist Party mandated equality but it elided irreducible difference. It perpetuated the stranger’s exclusion.