[G]hosts which haunt the space of their violent removal—censoring marks keep open a space in which the work cleaves between two moments of composition, and they establish a second system of signification, a competing semiotic regime, within the field of the text.
The music composer Claude Debussy once said, “Music is the space between the notes,” whereby white space shapes musical compositions’ form and rhythm. Although erasure is meant to “strike out” meaning, like the capacity of white spaces, it too shapes texts’ form and rhythm. Its effacement illuminates language as excesses of signification and material; the illegible becomes legible. Whether they are documents redacted by the state or erasure poems, these texts hold a politics of their own. As Craig Dworkin suggests in Reading the Illegible, erasure becomes a practice that speaks to the “politics of the poem: what is signified by its form, enacted by its structures, implicit in its philosophy of language, how it positions its reader. . . how it was produced, distributed, exchanged.”
One of the characteristics of erasure poetics that I’m most drawn to is its method of multiplicity; rather than nullifying or “cancelling out” meanings, erasure only activates other ways of engaged reading. Jen Bervin’s silent contribution, a recipe for erasing powder, speaks to the tangible markings of erasure, its visibility of traces. Taken from Hiscox’s and Sloane’s Fortunes in Formulas for Home, Farm and Workshop (1949), one creates erasures by “rubbing [the erasing powder onto paper] very lightly with a clean linen rag. . . the spot or the writing will disappear at once.” Although erasure is defined in such severe terms—the OED enacts the term, “obliteration”—its performance is one of tracing; not “disappearance” in the sense and completion of vanishing, but in the perpetual enactment of the vanishing. Tracks and remnants. While reading through contributors’ pieces for this issue of Evening Will Come, erasure also became a violent gesture; a map of potential; intervention; an act of sifting; palimpsest.
Truong Tran’s manifesto that gestures toward self-erasing becomes the “process of trying to find [his] way back into the poem.” Solmaz Sharif’s essay compares and contrasts the state’s acts of redaction and poetic erasures, asking how we critically engage with a poetic strategy that is also used by the state to oppress and ultimately obliterate. Andy Fitch and Amaranth Borsuk’s As We Know, inspired by Roland Barthes’ desire for a literature of “corrected banality,” prioritizes erasure as the primary, rather than secondary, document and explores how nonfiction subjectivity is shaped by erasure. Derek Beaulieu’s essay takes up the way visual artists and novelists have used punctuation to guide their erasures, creating “maps of potential.” Craig Santos Perez’s essay on erasure responds to the devastating effects that U.S. occupation has had on Guam, activating erasure poetics as a way to scar the paper in order to articulate and resist the U.S.’ attempts toward total obliteration of a people. Laura Wetherington’s essay boldly claims that, “Erasures and translations are the same thing,” recalling Walter Benjamin’s notion of the “third language”; a bad translation, according to Benjamin, transmits only “information—hence, [is] something inessential.” (15) Erasures’ acts of obfuscation create an ethics of reading that makes the readers re-think the very constitution of information and the relationships of power and authority contextualized within the erasure itself. The issue closes with Jennifer Chang’s lyrical essay that collapses time and space and takes us through the sprawling deserts of Nevada and California, where erasure is anything but an irrevocable closing; it is a constant rupture, an “unrequited art.”