Schriftatlas III, 3a-3b-4a-4b-5a-5b

[NOTE: Folios 3a-5b of the third notebook contain, if not the strangest, then certainly the longest, by nearly double, of all Valaco’s entries. Thematically, the entry is anomalous in equal measure, even by the protean standards of the Schriftatlas. Indeed, were it not for the recognizable script, considerable doubt would continue to shroud the text’s attribution. A gloss was attached to the verso of folio 3, near the bottom of the page; its position in the transcription has been maintained, despite the interruption it subsequently poses to the text.–Trans.]

Let us examine a cliché: the metamorphosis of the caterpillar as metaphor for “self-realization.” Never mind the rampant distortion, the near-systematic dilution of the metaphor’s meaning over the course of this afflicted century (how frequently we must suffer the gauzy exaltation of the little caterpillar as he “strives” to “break free” of his “cruel” cocoon in order to realize that “true nature” to which destiny alone delivers him, to emerge into that “liberated” state of the butterfly that lives only to spread its lovely wings, and how nauseating it is to then “discover” that we humans, too, just like our beloved caterpillar, have only to “shed our cocoons,” “emancipate” ourselves from our illusionary limitations, in order to achieve that beauty and greatness to which we are rightly destined…). Even were we to forgive, momentarily, the fundamental confusion of such dismal bromides–namely, that what in fact resides in the cocoon is no caterpillar, but rather the pupa in its chrysalis–at most we may hope that our carefree caterpillar-booster at least recognizes that a butterfly signifies the culmination of a process rather than some feat of will in the face of an imposed burden (some “triumph in the face of adversity,” to proceed in the hackneyed language of the metaphor and its pervasive misconstrual). What remains opaque, if not entirely ignored, in the chiffon of such affirmations is the problem–hence, the metaphorical force–of the process of metamorphosis itself. Embedded in that operation (that unfolding… that technology?) are the profoundest moral and ontological questions, which nonetheless (III, 3a) fail to register on the gauges of even the most capable deployments of the caterpillar metaphor. For the primordial issue at stake in, and so often suppressed by, the notion of metamorphosis is a function not of the cocoon–the so-called challenge or trial–but rather of that which inhabits it, the creature within, its very nature.

But what is that creature that resides in the cocoon? Surely if we are to speak of what is already enclosed, enveloped within, then we can no longer truly conceive of it as that which had been unbound without, can no longer speak of the ‘caterpillar’ per se, insofar as the caterpillar’s existence had hitherto derived from its form-in-nature, that is, from its trajectory through the space outside of and before the cocoon. Of course, no sooner do we pose such questions than we find ourselves obliged to revise our interpretations. Indubitably, once enclosed within (enshrouded by) its cocoon, the caterpillar ceases to exist in that state which had characterized its life before the cocoon; and yet, that chrysalid which is now within the cocoon can not yet be understood as the butterfly one must duly expect to emerge from it. Indeed, the very mention of that ‘butterfly’ that will ’emerge’ from the cocoon necessitates the subsequent examination of the moment and the process of the emergence at issue. For this emerging, as is well known to any casual observer of the natural world, does not happen all at once, does not occupy some discrete, indivisible point in time, but rather transpires gradually over a portion of time, indeed, continues even beyond that point at which the creature that was once inside the cocoon stands, for the “first” time, fully outside it. In strictly ontological terms, the ‘butterfly’ does not truly, utterly assume its nature (that of a diurnal insect with four large, colorful wings and a habit of irratic flight) until well after the cocoon itself has ceased to serve its purpose, has ceased to be, qua cocoon. (III, 3b) And yet, it is difficult, perhaps impossible, to pinpoint the precise moment at which the chrysalid, or pupa, within the cocoon ceased to be what it was–a being already other than the caterpillar it had also long-since ceased to be–and begins to “be” what is is not yet and will not be fully until a moment well beyond even the memory of either the cocoon itself, or the distant state of ‘cocooned creature’ which preceded it, which made it possible, made it inevitable. Stated axiomatically, we might say that the time of the cocoon is tantamount to the state, the essence, the nature of ‘becoming-butterfly’.

[GLOSS: Worth noting: term ‘chrysalis’ today as often refers figuratively to any state of transition or preparation. Etymologically, this fact has drawn signifcation of chrysalis away from its materialist origins–Greek ‘khrysallis’ (gen. ‘khrysallidos’), derived from ‘khrysos’=’gold’, means literally “the golden colored pupa of the butterfly”–and into utterly alien, abstract semantic field. I.e. term is itself a “shell” long since emptied of visual and corporeal values that once resided within. By that token, term is also an “aberration,” a “wandering” or “straying” from its concrete ground into indeterminacy of figurative usage (Latin ‘aberrationem’, nom. ‘aberrare’ = ‘ab-‘, out + ‘errare’, to wander)   

But what of that earlier ‘time of the caterpillar,’ so easily discarded or fogotten once we shift our focus to the time of the cocoon–to Chrsyalid Time–that is, to the nature of ‘becoming-butterfly’. And yet, the latter cannot be grasped precisely without a more concerted reflection on the nature of the former. Indeed, can one truly posit with certainty that the caterpillar was ever truly, ever exclusively and essentially ‘caterpillar’? In view of that Chrysalid Time, that state of becoming-butterfly to which the caterpillar inexorably progresses (though, in actuality it is but a convenience to employ the term ‘progress’ here, for it is hardly a ‘progress’ to which we refer), one may legitimately ask whether or not the caterpillar itself is not merely the name given, not to any discrete being with an inviolable identity in Time, but rather to a process, to a being-in-becoming that is neither caterpillar nor yet entirely cocooned being, that is to say, an ephemeral condition of becoming-butterfly. The time of the caterpillar (Caterpillar Time), (III, 4a) then, is the time of ‘becoming-cocooned’, itself a ‘becoming-becoming-butterfly’ that contains, already within its deepest structures, within its very nature, the dynamic (hence, unstable, unfixable) condition of the ‘cocooned’ towards which it trends and from which it will, in and over time, issue as something else entirely (though the issuing will take place at no determinate point in time).

At the very root of these observations–however graceless my articulation of them here–is the simplest, and yet most consequential matter of all: when does the butterfly become, that is to say, when does it become itself; or, to generalize the form of such a question, when does one truly become that which one’s nature has always implied, antincipated, announced? Am I, in the here-now-state of my present self [en el Hierjetztzustand de mi ser presente], already wholly myself, or am I rather merely a version, a precondition, an anticipation of that which I am not yet but will inevitably one day become, only to cease to be that which I have become on my way towards that which this having-been had also already announced as that-which-I-will-be? More importantly, are there factors, forces external to my being-in-becoming capable of diverting the course of my becoming, thus rendering the becoming itself as an aberration of being? (III, 4b)

Let us consider, by way of example, the temptation faced by the casual observer of the metamorphosis of the butterfly to tamper with that undertaking, that is, to intervene in the process by which the not-yet-butterfly breaks free of its no-longer-cocoon (that essential enclosure that ceases to be such in the precise moment at which the hitherto cocooned first pierces its surface from within, first interrupts its integrity). Picture the interloper as he tears away at the cocoon from without, perhaps with the intention of ‘helping’ along that creature he surely presumes already to be butterfly, though it is, as yet, still in every way no more than a soon-to-be-butterfly, a not-yet-butterfly. Such a benevolent intervention from without shall result, needless to say, in the disruption and corruption of the butterfly’s so-called self-realization, insofar as it is at least partly the effort, the exertion itself of breaking slowly from the cocoon which will help suffuse the insect’s as yet ill-formed wings with the necessary vital nutrients required to grow into fully formed appendages capable of flight, and without which the proto-wings should languish forever as shriveled growths, so that, indeed, to meddle with the becoming of the butterfly in this crucial stage of its metamorphosis–however charitable the intention to “assist” it in its “birth”–is quite precisley to promote the birth of a monster. (To be fair, not all examples from nature are so ghastly: in the process of circumnutation, the radicle of a seedling will contort itself into unpredictable twists and curves as it traces a course of least resistance through the ground, bending away from various adverse stimuli–an internal region of soil of greater density, say, or a stone, root, or other subterranean obstacle–even when such movement diverges from the perpendicular forces exerted by gravity upon the radicle, which would otherwise compel it to grow in a perfectly, harmoniously straight line downward through the earth….) (III, 5a)

It would seem, then, that the more instructive metaphor provided by the metamorphosis of the caterpillar is that of an existential conflict between an essential being-in-becoming that cannot be fixed in any kind of monolithic identity (therein resides its radical danger), and that of an external peril–an intentionality either myopic or malevolent, if not an immovable and insentient force–that would pervert, distort, or stifle that being-in-becoming. The terrible corollaries of this unexpressed, repressed trope of metamorphosis are numerous, though all might well be reduced to the following series of questions: am I yet the monster that, at any moment, the external world threatens to make of my being-in-becoming; or is it rather that this monster which I presently seem to become is but the announcement of a fully realized monstrosity, a monstrous perfection which, once acheived, will no longer bear any resemblance to, no longer hold the memory of, that imperfect yet benevolent possibility which I had assumed unwittingly as my identity?

In nuce: What monster am I? It is here, in the darkness of these expanses, by the burgeoning ruins of this old hotel (ruins which I myself am helping to produce), the demolition of which sustains me for the time being; here beside the implacable churning, the incessant rage of the falls, that I weigh in subdued dread the indiscernible consequences of that question, that one question that overrides or subsumes all the others… (III, 5b)