continent. maps a topology of unstable confluences and ranges across new thinking, traversing interstices and alternate directions in culture, theory, biopolitics and art.
Issue 3.2 / 2013: 13-16

Reading Eyes

R H Jackson


This piece, included in the drift special issue of continent., was created as one step in a thread of inquiry. While each of the contributions to drift stand on their own, the project was an attempt to follow a line of theoretical inquiry as it passed through time and the postal service(s) from October 2012 until May 2013.

This issue hosts two threads: between space & place and between intention & attention. The editors recommend that to experience the drifiting thought that attention be paid to the contributions as they entered into conversation one after another. This particular piece is from the BETWEEN INTENTION & ATTENTION thread:

Jeremy Fernando, Sitting in the Dock of the bay, watching... * R.H. Jackson, Reading Eyes * Gina Rae Foster, Nyctoleptic Nomadism: The Drift/Swerve of Knowing * Bronwyn Lay, Driftwood * Patricia Reed, Sentences on Drifitng * David Prater, drift: a way

* * * *


The gaze drifts where the stare dares not. The gaze is attentive while the stare is intent.

Dériver: Equally to drift and/or to derive. —When drifting then, something must be taken along. Something must be derived from the drift. Something of oneself must always become other. Incorporating the other, incorporating oneself as other. Je est un autre, Rimbaud disait;1 this in his last letter to Georges Izambard, a final correspondence to a former mentor and friend, from whom he was drifting away, having derived much.

The drift is a control incomplete. To drift is to come closer and closer, but to always be turning away, pulling apart, pulling oneself apart. It is parabolic in the sense that it is always eluding a formerly established intent. Of all axes, it never finds room to rest. Filling new spaces, always changing places, ever escaping the Cartesian; the indubitable pinpointing of position. It is never pinned down. Love together what we will be apart. Once together, we will drift apart. Il le faut.

Attention is held; it traces the path. It follows each point which traces the arc, the line, the swerve. It is not concerned with the figure being drawn, but rather the movement between one point and the next. The smallest movement. The clinamen of De Rerum Natura is the smallest of swerves, it is nothing more than the minimum — nec plus quam minimum.

Michel Serres says of the clinamen, that it is an absurdity — a logical, geometrical, mechanical, physical absurdity. 'The clinamen, from here (its state of absurdity), finds refuge in subjectivity; it passes from the world to the soul, from the physical to the metaphysical, from the theory of inert bodies in freefall to the theory of the free movements of the living.'2

So this swerve is something of the mind and something of the body, both in action, rather than a body which is merely acted upon. Swerve, however, has a connotation of suddenness. It is a movement which is made to avoid an otherwise inevitable impact. Drift, on the other hand, is the unleashing of something which is then allowed to follow a more complex series of forces. These forces now come from within as well as without. It is no longer tethered; now following tides, winds, flows or pitched slopes, now acting on its own. We are not atoms in freefall. Our attention long ago pulled us from this precipitous descent. We now live, ourselves, as one of the many forces. In the drift, as with the gaze, there is an ease. ‘Ease is the proper name of this unrepresentable space.’ It is the space nearest, the next, the neighboring space. To occupy this space requires a turn, a shift or a drift. It cannot be reached by proceeding straight ahead. ‘..the space adjacent, the empty place where each can move freely, in a semantic constellation where spatial proximity borders on opportune time (ad-agio, moving at ease) and convenience borders on the correct relation.’3

Intention always seeks to straighten this line, to make it less complex, to isolate the point of departure and the desired destination. It believes there can be two points and, between them, there must be a straight line. Can there be? Maybe. Must there be? Never. Straight lines may exist, but they can never be followed to the finish. After leaving this point, we will never reach that one without being buffeted at least a little — at least the least. One foot in front of the other, this is a very restrictive dance, less even than a two-step. Straight lines lead only to lost intentions, being the shortest and quickest way to get there.

When attention drifts it slowly turns away from the intended target, leaving it for something which pulls the attention away. Now we are for a moment free; all at once we can pivot, now we can waltz. Drifting along the page, deriving from what is seen.

Reading is seeing; the movement of the eyes as they drift. Reading in the eyes what has been seen, what has been derived from the act of reading. Reading eyes drift back and forth down the page, now and then jump back and forth, up to the top, one word, back down, quickly a few pages back, now gaze out towards the horizon. When attention drifts it is the gaze that follows. Our attention is not restricted to the path the words follow, but links them together; deriving what is to be seen, rather than read. La philosophie fait voir.

‘Thus, philosophers speak through proverbs, and demonstrate. They connect their imaginations with foreign rings, flown into famous tombs.’4

Now drifting off to sleep, dreams come as unintended visions. To dream is pure drift, vision without an object, gazing into the dark, reading the unknown of the night.

ReadingEyes2.1 ReadingEyes2.2 ReadingEyes2.3

  1. Arthur Rimbaud, Poésies (Paris: Bibliothéque de Cluny, 1958), 57.
  2. Michel Serres, La Naissance de la Physique (Paris: Les Editions de Minuit, 1977), 10. Translation courtesy of R.H. Jackson.
  3. Giorgio Agamben, The Coming Community (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 1993), 25.
  4. Louis Aragon, Une Vague des Rêves (Paris: Editions Seghers, 2006), 10. Translation courtesy of R.H. Jackson.