In Syzygy, and to a similar extent in other experimental works such as Erratum/Frame(d), Kinsella adopts what could be described as a strategy of ellipsis, which in itself constitutes a general grammar (recalling Joyce's "paperspace" and Mallarmé's Un Coup de dés), in which it is not so much a matter of representing a lapsus or lacuna, as framing a space of repetition. As Lacan has noted, the Freudian "return of the repressed" is not the return of any thing, or even of a signifier of a repressed, but rather of the absence of a signifier, which is "made" to signify in turn: it functions as a blank into which other signifiers are repeatedly (mechanistically) inserted.
One of the ways Lacan explains this relationship of ellipsis and repetition is by relating it back to Saussure's model of signification (as the "fictional" relationship described between a signifier, or sound-image, and a signified concept). Lacan situates the signified as a species of ellipsis, whose "place" is subsequently assumed by series of differing signifiers which are taken to refer to it. Lacan describes this in terms of glissage, or the slippage of signifiers across the interstice that separates them from a supposed signified (enacting in the process a type of repetition compulsion whose structure articulates and "affirms" the illusory reality of the signified).38
In Syzygy, and much of Kinsella's non- narrative writing, this notion of glissage could perhaps better be expressed as "abrasion"–it is an abrasion rather than a mere slippage (or laminar flow) which gives signification its possibility and ties it to the traumatic (as a "missed encounter with the real"). That is to say, it does not simply pass over, or conceal, the ellipsis. Rather, this ellipsis persists, like a cicatrix–the trace, in language, of "damaged landforms":
fault-lines highways upending
bridges siphoning rivers neuter
like bedrock and pylons
congealed beneath town planners' forgotten mud, acronyms
[Syzygy 11. 'Deletions']
The landscape of Syzygy, unlike that of 'Warhol in Wheatlands' (which is more or less iconic), persists beneath the impress of mechanisation (its "meaning," to implicate Wittgenstein, as its "use" in language–that is, certain political, socio-economic, cultural rhetorics) whose object is to mask as much as to replicate.
Section 23 of Syzygy, 'Na(rra)tive/chapelle ardent,' poses the question of meaning ("Syz-23-key") as "fetish or frou-frou," warning that "Rhe / -toric plans an / invest atation," "morphemic and trendy / up- / wards & categorise." Landscape becomes a process of meaning-formation, a screen upon which discourses are superimposed, just as "pastoral industries" are imposed on the "natural" environment (in which crop cycles, with talk of yields and threat of infestation, define the landscape in economic terms while at the same time laying claim to higher (ethical, theological) values of utility): "De- / tailing / edifice & / scripture/s & / inspire- / ation." Indeed, it is perhaps at this intersection of the pastoral tradition and pastoral industry that the "traumatic realism" of Kinsella's writing has most often been identified, though equally as often misunderstood, under the rubric of "anti- pastoral."
One of the problems with discussions of "anti- pastoral" are that they risk being re-appropriated by a discourse of engagement which masks an ideological investment in the so- called "Ground Zero" of "objectivity," an investment Kinsella draws our attention to in a passage in Syzygy critiquing the truth-value of "archaeology":
on meeting archaeological light, spent swarming
the traps, for this is Ground Zero Warholing
in cyclone territory
[Syzygy 5. 'The Cane Cutter']
The derivation of first principles, of an arché, is shown as always being brought up against the problem of language, of Warholian serial repetition, of the un(der)grounding of logos at the very point at which we expect to encounter the "real." In section 23 of Syzygy again:
& presuppose a % of
Touchy on a point
of picture & linkage = so what?
[Syzygy 23. 'Na(rra)tive/chapelle ardent']
Textual archaeology, in other words, never steps "beyond" discourse, for which the distinction between "picture" and "linkage" (reference) is a matter of indifference.
Against the Romantic deployment of the pastoral as a locating of the sublime through the egoisation of landscape, "anti-pastoral" implies a negative dialectics whose anti- subjectivism presupposes the possibility of a more authentic relationship between representation and its objects (or, on the other hand, countering the devaluations of "post-modernism," between representation and repetition).
What remains, however, is that in Kinsella's writing "anti- pastoral" does not define itself in terms of a negation of the pastoral tradition, but rather as an articulation of the pastoral's "missed encounter with the real." It situates this "missed encounter" in language, in the very structure of language, such that we could speak of "traumatic realism" as a condition of discourse, and not as an object or objective. But if Kinsella's poetry can be said to articulate a kind of "anti-pastoral" violence, it is not to say that this poetry is "about" violence (the violence of the landscape, of industry, of white Australian history, etc.). Rather it is a matter of its being "'about' the violence of repetition and its structure."39 Moreover, this violence can be considered as "traumatic" not because it confronts us with a destruction of ego-affirming pastoral ideology, or because this destruction brings us into a (threateningly) direct encounter with the "real," but because it implicates us in an event of language from which we are necessarily absent and about which we are only able to manufacture accounts.
This paradox, which is ultimately that of a failed identification in the self, underlies the "representational" violence of pastoral through which landscape is redeemed for the prestige of the colonising ego of Western property culture. What Kinsella's reading of Warhol suggests, however, is that this "redemption," theological in pretension, is also a type of Simony, a purchasing of preferment, a buying back of the singular commodity of "guilt," to the profit of indifference.40 Warhol's alleged cynicism in this regard has earned him the accusation of being "morally numb," and of being "disposed to treat all events as spectacle."41 Yet in rendering guilt as spectacle (the spectacle of social complicity in tragedy and acts of violence–including moral and political violence), Warhol denies guilt as fetish, as the sacred object of an institutional morality which metes out judgement and justice (as it appears in art engagé).42 Moreover, in Warhol's work, the commodification of guilt does not render a denial of responsibility, but rather a destructuring of responsibility. For Warhol, as for Kinsella, it is not a question of responding to or for the "guilty" image, but of encountering those structures which render such "responsibility" impossible and which tie the individual into an economy of guilt that is self-perpetuating at the same time as it is "meaningless."