In reaction to a recently published article by Ariane Veiergang and Ditte Nesdam-Madsen on their most recent project Terrapolis, ark review received an email, signed by one Schrödinger’s cat, containing a strange piece of writing. After some deliberation, the decision was made to publish the text in its entirety, although there was a strong sense that some editor’s commentary would be need to explain its content.
The text seems to be a rather playful and free floating meditation on a word Terrapolis, and appears to take two notions as its premises. The first is the invitation to conceive of literature as a space of free-play as suggested by Veiergang and Nesdam-Madsen—the passage containing this idea is used by Schrödinger’s cat to open the text and it is the only repeated twice. The second, is a strange condition of unfamiliarity the author/ess experiences with the word Terrapolis—“Terrapolis: unfamiliar despite the familiarity of its parts. A bearer of strange energy (no meaning yet—just energy, a meaning to be).”
What follows is a rather arcane and seemingly spontaneous free associative piece of writing that juxtaposes a myriad of tropes and quotes, and verges, at times, at what could be called gibberish.
The only structural rigidity that can be detected at all comes from the fact that the text is built around a deconstructed paragraph from Ben Lerner’s essay, The Hatred of Poetry. A paragraph that describes an experience Lerner had as a child upon discovering a new word and playing with it. The successive lines from this quote recurs every now and then and seems to serve as a structure of this strange mediation. It can also, perhaps, point towards a certain openness to the language exhibited by children, which the author/ess feels disappears as we grow up and become more familiar with our languages.
There are also obvious references to Donna Haraway’s ‘SF: Science Fiction, Speculative Fabulation, String Figures, So Far’, in which she coins the phrase Terrapolis, and is also referred to by Veiergang and Nesdam-Madsen. Schrödinger’s cat engages Haraway through a number of direct quotations merged into the flow of the text, as well as by the choice of certain key phrases. Among these is the cat’s cradle. One can speculate that the author/ess’s choice to assume the name of Schrödinger’s cat is meant as a play on this image, though it can also be seen as pointing out to the paradoxical understanding of the word Terrapolis that he argues for: it is both—seems to be the point—strangely meaningful and meaningless at the same time. Last but not least, the very title of the text, a mathematical formula denoting the equation to calculate Terrapolis, is directly taken from Haraway’s essay, though it only seems to add to the obscurity of the text rather than to clarify it.
Another set of quotations that build up the text are taken from the etymological dictionaries. If they seem to serve any purpose, it is to further imbue the text with the polyphony of meanings and make it even less clear than it already is. There some other minor quotes present in the text, they don’t, however, seem to be more than occasional puns and do not seem to have any direct bearing on the main thread of the text itself. Some at the editorial meeting argued that loose references to Hans-Georg Gadamer’s The Relevance of the Beautiful can be detected, while others suggested the text at points refers to Deleuze and Guattari. We mention it here for the reader to decide for themselves. Also, the text is imbued with hyperlinks that redirect to the sources used.
We hope that this brief introduction has been of some assistance. We found it prudent to refrain from suggesting any particular reading, nor do we want to express our own (mixed) opinions on the text: it is what it is and speaks for itself and we deem it best to let it do so.
‘Picture a space where literature takes on other meanings and is performed in other ways.’ O.K. “I remember speaking a word whose meaning I didn’t know but about which I had some inkling, some intuition,” Terrapolis. A word familiar and strange at once. Terrapolis. Terra-polis. A first glance: synthesis. Terrapolis: unfamiliar despite the familiarity of its parts. A bearer of strange energy (no meaning yet—just energy, a meaning in becoming). Announcing, as it were, some undefined promise. Although something there is to be found, instead it dematerialises every time I feel like I am about to grasp it. The object my hand reaches for vanishes the very moment my palm clenches in the hope of getting hold of it. Acting in vain, reaching the void. Terrapolis. A mirage. Is but is not. Here but somewhere else. Schrödinger’s cat. And this cat’s cradle, passing patterns back and forth, giving and receiving, patterning, holding the unasked-for pattern in one’s hands. “then inserting that word into a sentence, testing how it seemed to fit or chafe against the context and syntax,” Too early. This is impossible as of yet. I have to wait, as for the time being the meaning is absent, it is still but a proto-meaning. Initially, terrapolis does not exist/mean. Or rather, it is/means but only provisionally. It is two poles that repel one another while some greater force keeps them together—at the same time, however, it fails to merge them into one. Terrapolis is, indeed, fictionality. ‘Terrapolis is a fictional integral equation, a speculative fabulationa “niche space” for multispecies becoming-with—Ω ∫Terra[X]n = ∫∫∫∫…∫∫Terra(X1,X2,X3,X4,…,Xn,t) dX1 dX2 dX3 dX4…dXndt—Terrapolis is open, worldly, indeterminate, and polytemporal, a chimera of materials, languages, histories companion species—not “post-human” but “com-post”an equation for guman, for humus, for soil.’ Terrapolis is too many question marks, too abstract, too strange. So, first things first: “rolling the world around, as it were, on my tongue.” Terrapolis. Ter-ra-po-lis. Ter-ra. Po-lis. The tip of the tongue taking a trip. From Latin Terra (“goddess of the earth; the Earth itself”) (Roman mythology) The Roman earth goddess, equivalent in the interpretatio graeca (The tendency of ancient Greek writers to equate foreign deities with members of their own pantheon.) to Gaea. (astronomy) The planet Earth. A female given name. Polis. From Ancient Greek πόλις (pólis, “fortified town; city state”). polis (n.) “ancient Greek city-state,” 1894, from Greek polis, ptolis “citadel, fort, city, one’s city; the state, community, citizens,” from PIE *tpolh- “citadel; enclosed space, often on high ground, hilltop” (source also of Sanskrit pur, puram, genitive purah “city, citadel,” Lithuanian pilis “fortress”). Then it could be this: An allencompasing enclosed space. An enclosed allencompasing space. Or this: The planet Earth the fortress. If it is not clear what it is, one can at least sense the how: absurdly contradictory. Do I get any closer to the absent meaning? “I remember my feeling that I possessed only part of the meaning of the word,” The tendency of ours to equate foreign terms with members of our own vocabularies. Vis a vis: the impossibility of our own vocabularies, always threatened by the possibility of dissolution in the polyphonies implicit in every word. *ters- Proto-Indo-European root meaning “to dry.” It is the hypothetical source of/evidence for its existence is provided by: Sanskrit tarsayati “dries up;” Avestan tarshu- “dry, solid;” Greek teresesthai “to become or be dry,” tersainein “to make dry;” Latin torrere “dry up, parch,” terra “earth, land;” Gothic þaursus “dry, barren,” Old High German thurri, German dürr, Old English þyrre “dry;” Old English þurstig “thirsty.” From Standard English police, compare Scots polis. Anagrams: spoil. O.K. An unforeseen tangent: A process of drying out, of turning the mud into soil, then into dust. Perhaps something has to evaporate first if we are to be able to use it and get hold of the meaning at hand, otherwise it will keep slipping through our fingers. This loss is as troubling as it is necessary. Yet, again: ‘Picture a space where literature takes on other meanings and is performed in other ways.’ There is, then, a possibility to remain in this state of muddy impossibility. More, to deliberately irrigate it with the torrents, bring it back to life, even if this means that what will flourish there will be so abundant we can no longer hope to control it. It would explode with a myriad of branches, petals, flowers and shoots: they will swallow us. It is a possibility of a play. Abandoning a direction. Opening all doors and windows wide ajar. Dams up. May all come in, all the elements, all the parts. “like one of those fragmented friendship necklaces, and I had to find the other half in the social world of speech.” And so the play continues—it can always continue. A play, a game ‘of relaying patterns, of one hand, or pair of hands, or mouths and feet, or other sorts of tentacular things, holding still to receive something from another, and then relaying by adding something new, by proposing another knot, another web.’ Terra-polis. Acropolis; Mediterranean; cosmopolite; metatarsal; megalopolis; parterre; metropolitan; subterranean; naples; tarsal; necropolis; tarsus; persepolis; Tartuffe; police; terra; policlinic; terrace; policy; terra-cotta; politic; terrain; polytemporal; terran; singapore; terraqueous; terrarium; terrene; terrestrial; terrier; territory; thirst; toast; torrent; torrid; turmeric; tureen. “I remember walking around as a child repeating a word I’d overheard,” Terrapolis. Terrapolis. Terrapolis. Terrapolis. Terrapolis. Terrapolis. Terrapolis. Terrapolis. Terrapolis: “applying it wildly, and watching how, miraculously, I was rarely exactly wrong.” But also: I am rarely exactly right. And I celebrate both. Meow.
Submitted by Schrödinger’s cat