Theories and speculations


Characters in stories have three categories of existence. They act, they relate to each other and they have relativity to each other. In the first respect, they are functional and structural. That’s pretty clear. Without action there would be no plot. However, the other two categories are constantly muddled up, although having a relationship and being relative are of course very different. In the second respect, a characterisation may be emotional and empathetic, or otherwise. Characters without feelings for or about each other would be irrelevant to us. And in the third respect, they are consistent. It would be impossible, for instance, though perhaps rather amusing, for Quilp to appear in Sons and Lovers, or for Hamlet to appear in The White Devil for that matter. Relative existence is a question of time and place, but particularly of time. Relationships may evolve and change but relative existence shifts constantly, because we are never relative to anyone for long. If functionality is only as stable as cause, relative existence is only as stable as circumstance. 

The way we think about stories is dominated by our concept of the individual. We are generally comfortable with the idea that an individual can have freedom of choice and action and that this has consequences relative to other characters; and moreover that we all think and act in consistent, and therefore comprehensible ways. When we read a book we often criticize it in terms of the nature of the personalities it contains – are they sufficiently interesting and lifelike? – and in terms of its consistency – is the story believably carried by its actors? When we think about Hamlet, for instance, we habitually attempt to focus on a person. The play is called after him, after all. If Hamlet isn’t a real person, what is the play about?

This is odd, on the face of it, because characters in stories clearly don’t exist either functionally or relatively, outside the book itself. Action and context is contained within story. If the book is to engage us they have to have the third order of existence, and this is where it becomes clear that this is of a different kind altogether.

Hamlet is a good place to examine this, because the play is about what it means to be an individual. We could say that the play is about what Hamlet is. The title of the play is as much a challenge as a statement. Hamlet is the first work in English literature to carry the name of someone nobody had ever heard of before. A Prince of Denmark? Where’s that? But most importantly, who is he?

If we think about Hamlet in terms of functionality and relativity we soon get lost, because Hamlet does not know what to do, and his world is radically inconsistent. There is a ghost in it, for a start, which may or may not belong to it. Our search for an individual leads us to begin to believe that functionality and consistency are what the play is ‘about’ – but that does not really take us anywhere at all, because they are supposed to be the tools by which we understand individuality in the first place. Thus, Hamlet dissolves.

But Hamlet dissolves because Hamlet is not what was there.

We habitually treat Hamlet as if he exists. But what do we start with when we imagine Hamlet? When we look at our source material for this supposition we find simply a series of pieces of dialogue which form links between Hamlet and others. This dialogue is performed, in infinitely varying ways. Hamlet is never the same person twice. He might speak the same words, more or less, but the way they are delivered is varied by his actor. 

We assume easily that dialogue is originated by characters, and we are in the habit of taking these fictional people as our starting points, assuming that authors do the same. We might call this a Creative Fallacy. Almost without thinking, we invent characters from the words they speak and the names they are given. It seems natural to give these names and speeches individuality and identity. Actors are paid to do exactly that. So if we imagine Shakespeare, say, ‘creating’ Hamlet and Gertrude, we might imagine him drawing two people in his mind. But actually that might not be the way that they are conceived at all. Perhaps they are instead conceived as mother and son (and then they are not ‘conceived’ at all because mother/son is something which existed already), and it is not their identity that is interesting but the space between them. So Hamlet’s identity, in relation to his mother, is not ‘Hamlet’ but [mother/son].  And this is then complicated and made more interesting by his other identities, which are [dead father/son], [uncle/nephew] and [stepfather/stepson]. All of these are Hamlet, and all we really know about him – all that exists – are the relational words, the dialogues, which establish these multiple identities. Hamlet is simply the place where they coincide. 

All of these identities are established through dialogue. So maybe we should treat the starting point not as the character but as the speech. And what if the dialogue is generated, not by the nature of the individuals, but by the nature of relationships in which they are enmeshed? It is not the individuals that are created or authored, but a kind of network that interrelates them. If this is true, maybe we are often guilty of looking at things back to front. 

If we question the status of the individual within a network of relationships, who is not an individual at all, we must also question our view of the story, which would no longer be an individual ‘creation’ but a repetition and variation of familiar relational patterns.

We could say that in any story, characters are unique meeting places for different sets of identities, not formed individuals. If this is true, it might be supposed that literature is not about the ways that individuals influence the world, but about how the world encourages us to form concepts we call individual, and about how these are in fact illusory. But this is to look at it merely from a functional and relative point of view. It’s akin to the reading of Hamlet which sees it as a play about Hamlet’s ability to act. In fact, it does not seem outrageous to suggest that human beings exist primarily relationally, and the degree to which we have the capacity to do so is arguably what sets us apart from other animals. It is the links, the bonds, the associations that we are capable of forming, our emotional lives in short, that really engage us. It is these lives which enable us to imagine ourselves, and, if we wish to do so, to see ourselves as individual, claiming credit for something we only have access to by virtue of the fact that it is not there.

So Hamlet is not an individual, but a part of a play. What is really presented in Hamlet (as in every other story) is not a set of characters at all, but a set of relationships – a network. Hamlet is formed by his relationships with all the other dramatis personae, each of which makes him differently. 


If Hamlet isn’t an individual, what does he look like? Relational links in a play can be described very simply, if only superficially, on the basis of who communicates with who, so a sort of simplified picture of Hamlet might look like this:


Unsurprisingly since this is a picture of Hamlet, the diagram suggests that he is the most important character in this play. However, it is true that Hamlet has more links to other characters than anyone else, so we are justified in drawing a picture of Hamlet which is Hamlet-centric. We can see clearly that Hamlet is related to all the other characters. If Hamlet is ‘made’ by all these relationships, then he is extremely complex.

There is very little point in turning Shakespearian masterpieces into spiders webs, except for this one. Normally, we view Hamlet in terms of his actions and his relative existence. Both of these ways of interpretation tend to look at Hamlet as he evolves, and attempt to understand what that evolution is. This analysis is temporal, an inter-related examination of cause and evolving circumstance. But what if we forget about time, at least for a moment? The diagram presents us with a temporally ‘flat’ structure which gives us a different insight into how the play works.

Cause and circumstance lead us to read Hamlet’s story as an account of an individual struggling to assert control over events. 

Hamlet’s problem is precisely a lack of power. He has no outlet for action. He can hardly bring himself to speak to anyone, and every opportunity he has is closed off to him. He is so lacking in opportunities to speak, that he actually has to try to forge new links, via the players. And of course, he is able to speak openly only to himself. This is not very promising for a figure placed at the centre of a network. What sort of control can Hamlet confer? 

The instability which is represented in Hamlet is of a particularly interesting kind, because it is an instability which at once constructs and undoes a network of links which forms the action of the play. The needs which are concentrated in Hamlet’s character are the needs which organise, and so connect the play, although their content is all about the undoing of the power structure and the disappearance of the power network which they build. The apparent way that the network of the play is organised thus vanishes as it arises, and the connections which it makes are impermanent because they are forged through a lack of connections. Why is this so? Does this vanishing network merely reveal the deconstruction of action, or does it contain something more interesting?

The network of Hamlet is built upon Hamlet’s desperation to have control. The source of this immediately raises questions, because it is represented by the ghost.

Power requires fixed objects. It requires solidity, to use Hamlet’s word. Control cannot be asserted over a thing which disappears, or changes in its nature. The ghost has a curiously ambivalent role. It is only the ghost that fixes the moral nature of the other characters in the play for the audience, and it is only the ghost that provides Hamlet with his moral status. Any justification for action comes from its mouth. The ghost is therefore Hamlet’s source of power. 

When the ghost vanishes, all these other fixities effectively vanish with it, and so does Hamlet’s authority. The ghost’s lack of solidity is an immediate problem. From his first encounter with it Hamlet simply finds himself unable to pin anything down. He rushes about the stage literally attempting to grab the ghost. The ghost disappears into thin air. As it does so, authority disappears too. Hamlet’s search for power is intimately connected to this lack of permanent materialisation. Hamlet is not a ghost (although he realises that becoming one would be one way out of his dilemma). Hamlet must make his predicament real before he can act within it. The need for material facts is absolute. The network of which Hamlet is the centre should be fixed and stable. But there is a ghost in the machine.

The ghost catches Hamlet in a paradox. If the ghost is real, then it is clearly not a ghost. Then it would lack authority altogether, because it would have no means to its supernatural knowledge. So part of Hamlet wants the ghost to vanish. But if it is a ghost, and not real, then the situation it has interpreted to Hamlet may also be unreal. It might well be that all is illusion. If we renounce solidity altogether, then we must consider what dreams may come. Hamlet is in search of an impossible certainty because he wants the spiritual world proven. We could say that he wants to prove the existence of god. But there is also a more secular way of interpreting this dilemma. The ghost represents a version of the past. He tells Hamlet the history of Claudius and his mother. It’s a story Hamlet desperately wants to believe. Hamlet wants the past to be real. He wants the past to come to live in the present. Symbolised by the ghost, Hamlet’s wish is for both past and present to be fixed and solid. Only then can he assert any power, and only then can he act.

This objectification of the past is a recurrent theme in narrative. What might have been. Hypothesis.

The dilemma is not just Hamlet’s. The real nature of the ghost – it’s ghostliness –  lies not in its being a ghost, but in this ambivalence. If it were a real ghost it would not be ghostly at all – it would be real. But if is only a ghost, to what extent does it exist? Do we believe in ghosts? If not, how can we trust what it says? Do we join the ghost in urging Hamlet to sweep to his revenge, or do we hesitate with him, and seek further proof? Can a ghost’s the ghost’s history be true? Can the past be as solid as the present? The ghost’s ambivalence undermines the entire network of the play, and also the links it makes to its audience. We have to share Hamlet’s doubt. But it is important to understand that this doubt is not doubt about matters of fact. The facts seems clear enough, and the ghost’s story is evidently true. The doubt is about the status of the present. Can the present be so thoroughly determined by the past? Or do we have a freedom, an individuality of our own? Are we in thrall to our ghosts, or do we command our own actions. Are we real, and self-determining, or mere shadows of former worlds and past lives? This doubt is not answered by any amount of factual, solid truth. Doubt is the ghost in the machine, and it is doubt which connects this world with the other world of the ghost, and with the past.

It is easy to see, from here, how the ghost haunts Hamlet. The whole play is dominated by his ghostly doubt. Doubt undermines solid reality, and renders solidity intolerable. Doubt stands obstinately between Hamlet and his now ethereal father, and also between Hamlet and his revenge. It is not just his own solidity that is undermined, but his entire world. Claudius’ solid flesh is as problematic to Hamlet as his own. And of course his mother’s solid flesh is arguably the most problematic of all. It was her solid female flesh – Hamlet believes – that started all the trouble in the first place. He is physically repelled by his mother’s physical existence, and since he sees this as a condition of humanity and not anything specifically to do with his mother he is equally repelled by Ophelia’s physical existence too. Their too, too solid physical existence, their bodies, the objects that are Hamlet, Gertrude, Claudius, Ophelia – these become the causes of suffering and tragedy for Hamlet. Hamlet is jealous. They are all just too certain, too fixed. He is haunted, so this is a solidity he cannot emulate. 

The ghost’s speech tells Hamlet to sweep to his revenge. The ghost’s appearance tells him something very different. It tells him that we are the stuff dreams are made on, that we are shadows, that everything passes away. The materialisation of the ghost does not confirm the solidity of the world but instead undermines it. The ghost’s words explain the present; but his presence states that the past matters more. For Hamlet to assert his power, this is not good enough. The past is not a spur to action, but a drag upon it. Instead of confirming the facts he knows, it undermines them. The plainer the facts become, the less power they have. They confirm the past, but they determine him, undoing him as an individual. If the past is material and solid, then we are always shadows of our former selves. And if we act in this world of shadows, then we lay ourselves at the mercy of our dreams. In asserting power, all power is lost. In doing, we undo ourselves. We can only act if we sacrifice our individuality.

This is a familiar dilemma, and one which utterly destroys authority. Hamlet finds that the story exists only in the realm of determination. In order to have authority in this world he must surrender all authority. Solid truth can never be a source of power because solid truth is only the past. The more solid the past, the more shadowy the present. The truth merely traps Hamlet within this paradox. The truth only draws conclusions against itself. The more he discovers, the more Hamlet finds himself undone as an individual. The past is a tyrant. The words that make up the story he uncovers are shadowed constantly by the un-words that make them meaningless. The words spoken in the dreams that may come, the dreams that do come. Hamlets words and actions are mere shadows of the past, re-playing scenes over which he has no control. And where there are no unshadowed words there are no unshadowed actions. Hamlet loses the power of speech along with the power of action. The story is a shadow of itself, and indeed Hamlet himself plays it out as a shadow, staging a play. The play is of course the truth. But it is also the untruth, a fiction, the shadow of what really happened.  That shadow will never go away. The flesh is too solid, and if it melts it is only ever into not being. The play is played out, but Hamlet’s father does not come back. Hamlet’s words do not have that power. 

Without that authority, he believes, he himself is nothing. Power is nothing. Sexuality is nothing. Desire is nothing. Wealth is nothing. He is confronted by his non existence, the choice only to be or not to be. If the ghost has no solidity then it follows that Hamlet’s own solid flesh must also consign itself to a world of extremes of being and unbeing. The two extremes are in Hamlet’s mind intertwined inextricably, and the tragedy he faces as he discovers only hard fact, solid truth, is that the end to which he is tending is his own undoing. Hamlet finds himself suspended helplessly between the two uncomfortable extremes of solid fact, left to draw the only remaining conclusion, against himself. In this physical world  being and unbeing are held in balance, and the acceptance of this nihilistic vision is the price of intellectual control. When Hamlet finally concedes, let be, he is forced to concede the fact that these two poles will eventually tear him apart and that there is nothing in the world that he can do about it. For Hamlet, this is not the resolution of anything, and so it appears as defeat – and brings about death – and yet it’s always been the only possible course of action. It is the failure of individuality.


Hamlet as Swiveller

But we must remember also that it is only the failure of individuality. We have been discussing Hamlet, once again, as if he were real and solid. It is clear now why it is so tempting to do so; because this is the way in which he attempts to view himself. But Hamlet vanishes. He is not an individual, but a character in a play. His surrender at the end to the forces outside himself also works upon this other level. It is a surrender to the action of the play. It is a surrender to his status as a mere character upon a stage. It is a surrender to that subtle meaning of the ghost, not the ghost as he appears, but to the ghostly effect he has. At the end of the play, Hamlet releases his hold upon power. The network of the play takes over.

This network is not Hamlet’s power network, because of course the failure of power is built into the wider network of the play. It is built into the doubt that runs through all the action. The role of the ghost is as crucial in our relationship with the play as it is to Hamlet. Are we being invited to believe in spirits, in ghosts, in other worlds? Not at all. The significance of the ghost, and the reason why the appearance of the ghost dictates the whole action of the play, is not because he is a spirit but because he creates doubt. Doubt is not a character or a world, or anything physical. Doubt is our word for one of the links we make between things. Doubt is our connection between things we are unsure of. It is a relationship. Doubt can permeate an entire network. In fact, we can go further. Although it is curious to use such materialistic language, networks can be made of doubt, because doubt is a human way of making connections between things.

?The nature of the ghost, then, is irrelevant. As I have already suggested, if we are uncomfortable with the thought of a spirit, we can think of him as the past. We can call him memory, or conscience. It doesn’t really matter what he is. What matters is the connection that is made between him, Hamlet, and the network of the play. His presence characterises that network. But even to say this is to approach the issue from the wrong side. The connection came first. The ghost does not create doubt. Doubt creates the ghost. The ghost does not change the play; he is built into the way the play is connected. The ghost is there in the power network, we must assume, because power networks – attempts to control our world, to assert our individuality – always contain ghosts. ?Power is made of doubt.

This has many significances. Not least is the significance for the playwright and for the audience. A central, controlling character is essential to a story. How can you have a tale without a teller? But the power to tell a story must not become a tyranny over the audience. Tyranny is exclusion. It is closing, self-sustaining. Without the indulgence of the audience, the play does not exist. It is this connection – this connectedness to the much bigger network of humanity – which creates the ghost. As an audience, we participate in the destruction of the play’s power. We share the writer’s abdication. In this way, and only in this way, can the play have a hold over us. The ghost is not just within the play, but within ourselves. For the duration of the play, we have become part of the network. We have a relationship with the writer, because we share his doubt. We see that there is no fixity. The play dissolves as we leave the theatre. We have been watching shadows. We have been contemplating our own ghosts. Hamlet’s ambivalence – the way he makes connections while denying their existence – is a form of humility. It invites the audience into the play. Hamlet is an abdication of power, an acknowledgement that the play is a shadow played upon a stage.

If we view Hamlet like this, we see that it is only Hamlet who is enclosed and undone by his search for individuality. But we are not trapped within Hamlet’s personality. After all, it has vanished. We are simply conscious of it. 

This consciousness is the key to understanding the network of the play. Again, this is putting things backwards. After all, it is absurd to think that Hamlet, or Hamlet, could somehow have come before consciousness. The network of Hamlet is formed by consciousness. Consciousness is as much ours as it is the writers; unlike individuality consciousness does not belong to anyone. If we are left with any consciousness at the end of the play, the play cannot have formed it. Rather, it is formed from it. We might newly discover some part of it for ourselves, but, we must assume, it was always there. The network it makes, then, contains our consciousness of reality. It enables us to step back as we see individuality disappear, to become conscious of it. This process of consciousness is a kind of progression, part of a process. The nature of the network structure means that we need to revise our concept of representation. What happens in books is not the representation of a finished and realised exterior universe. This fixed object does not exist. Things change, and the links between them dissolve and are continually modified. Again, the idea of representation looks at things backwards. It involves looking at a character or a book, and asking what it means. This is fundamentally the wrong question. Meaning – consciousness – cannot be derived from literature. To think so is utterly illogical. Meaning came first. What is represented in books – all that can possibly be represented – is not an outside world but the process of understanding. We are led to expect that the experience of reading will be one of revelation. Instead, we need to think of it as a process of sharing, of participating fully in a knowledge of which we are – consciously or unconsciously – already a part. There is a kind of cycle at work here. Power, failure, sharing. And again, if we are worried about transcendental overtones here, we can think of this process simply as one of properly understanding the past.

This process of course began before Hamlet and will continue afterwards. In Hamlet the ghost is the past; one of the privileges literature gives us is to visit the past. We can go back and find the ghost elsewhere.

Before Hamlet, Shakespeare’s plays have often been structured as power networks, and can be seen as examinations of the ways these networks break down. In the earlier plays, the speech links show a tendency to organise action around a power figure. 

[One other early play + histories]

In Much ado, the play appears to be very much about the control Leonato is able to assert. Though even here it’s the watch that delivers justice. Beatrice/Benedick – Beatrice urging Benedick to sweep to revenge, Benedick as hesitating Hamlet. Hero as ghost. Female/ghost connection – Hero playing out play as shadow, a theme returned to in Winter’s Tale

However, play written near the time that Hamlet was produced show more obvious ambivalence in their networks. Measure for Measure – Duke divided, friar his shadow. In Twelfth Night the female/shadow connection becomes the organisational centre of the play. Midsummer Night’s Dream most adventurous structure of all the plays, parallel worlds – reality constantly shadowed…

This process also continues. Hamlet is now the ghost. Once past, the present will work out differently. It is determined in another way. The play will be played out again, but it won’t be quite the same. In Shakespeare’s work, we can see this clearly if we look at a later play, The Tempest.

The network structure of the Tempest is very similar to Hamlet:


Unsurprisingly, the links in this network are clustered around Prospero. Prospero is the hub, the source of power. Prospero, however, is very much clearer about his own status as a shadow. While this is something Hamlet discovers, it informs all of Prospero’s actions, and enables him to be, temporarily, the shadow master, just as the playwright was the temporary shadow master of Hamlet. What is clearer in the Tempest – although of course it is present in Hamlet – is the understanding of the centrality of self-consciousness, of the importance of knowing that we know.

Here is the pattern uncovered again:

            And like the baseless fabric of this vision

            The cloud-capped towers, the gorgeous palaces

The solemn temples, the great globe itself

Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve

And, like this insubstantial fabric faded,

Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff 

As dreams are made on, and our little life

Is rounded with a sleep.

Power, failure, sharing. Prospero’s power has vanished with his books. There is no representation, we are told; there is nothing to represent. Nothing, that is, but the dissolution of something. And from the dissolution emerges a pattern which we find repeated on the stage, by the audience, by “the great globe’ itself”. These might be, in a world understood as represented, the words of despair; and yet they do not sound despairing. In this most alluring of passages Prospero is passing towards understanding; or at least he is not standing in the way of making that passage. Hamlet would have turned back, here; “To sleep, perchance to dream”; but Prospero is willing to let the path go on. Prospero contemplates representation denied, bounded by a sleep, but it becomes clear then that he is also contemplating something else, that he is beginning to understand the world in a different way. The prospect of the sleep of death has previously brought despair, but Prospero suggests the possibility of something beyond:

            “                      My ending is despair

            Unless I be relieved by prayer,

Which pierces so, that it assaults

            Mercy itself, and frees all faults.

            As you from crimes would pardoned be

            Let your indulgence set me free.”

The language is religious, but the significance of these words is entirely secular. The truth is not represented. Everything vanishes. Instead, we are asked to recognise that a world has been produced. This has been a process, and now we, the audience are asked to participate in it; not to complete it, but to join in. Completion is not possible; completion and closure belong to the illusion of fixity, of solidity, which has passed away before us. We are now asked to give our assent to that passing, and in that assent is a liberty. The liberty is such as Ariel has been given, and now Prospero in turn seeks it from the watcher; the liberty from structure, liberty from corporeal objects, liberty from the play, speech, words, representation. 

Liberty then for what? To what end? The answer is, to no end but to continue. But continuation is the hardest thing to ask for at the end of a work. Continuation is the difficulty. Continuation is what the critic seeks to ‘take away’ in the identification of a formal truth. Prospero is telling us that there is no such formal closure. Ending is impossible. Instead, the action passes over to us; our indulgence is to continue the process we have witnessed; and indeed it is part of that process. Although couched as supplication, Prospero’s speech is as much an acceptance of the way things are. It indicates a condition of receptivity. It is our indulgence, our forgiveness, our help which makes Prospero’s world continue; but at the same time our indulgence belongs to the process we have witnessed. Indulgence is sharing that works two ways. We share the ending of the play; but now its chief actor asks for a reciprocal share in our ending, for the rest belongs to us, the audience, as we leave. We have viewed the condition of our own liberty too; and our receptivity to that process is the key to our liberation. A world may be produced, or contained by every member of the audience, and only in so far as this is true is it brought forth by the play. At the end, only our indulgence of the play is left. The rest vanishes. It is merely illusory. The Tempest shows that no thing on earth may be represented, upon a stage or anywhere else, because in order to have representation we must first have permanent existence, and in this play everything vanishes but our indulgence; and that, too, passes away as we rise from our seats and other thoughts and actions crowd in upon us. 

What remains is the pattern which that indulgence is part of. Power, failure, sharing of knowledge. It remains, not because it is something we can believe in, or recognise, or because it is a lasting, fixed truth, but because it is a process which shapes our lives just as it has shaped the play and our response to it.

Literature, fictions, plays communicate to us because they are governed by the same rules as our lives. The insubstantiality of the worlds they attempt to create – “shadows” as Prospero says, with no substance – is our condition, the condition of life. Works of literature do not represent ‘things’ because ultimately there are no things; but if the failure is of the world of objects, then there is after all a commonality expressed by language. It is in the process of this discovery that they create a relationship with a reader or audience. This realisation is not stable in the ordinary sense: what is brought forth is not object, not material; the applause at the end of the play will fade, the indulgence is only sought at that moment, for that occasion. What is sustained is the pattern; that this is where we come to, every time. The failure to represent something, and the resonance of that failure, is the way we can describe representation. But the pattern, the process of cognition, even when it appears obsessed with failure, is more positive than failure itself might suggest. In fact, failure feeds the process. Negativity nourishes it. Destruction affirms it. Without failure, the process would end. The relationship of writer to audience and of audience to each other, which is the same thing, is only established when the shadows have flown away. It is this point in the process that invites consciousness. The less substantial we believe objects, things, materialisations to be, the more we value those connections we create, the networks by which we live, which exist between the things we necessarily objectify. If the consciousness is a process, then similarly the play, the book, the audience, the readership are also processes, and the mind – consciousness – plausibly a common process within them all. The relationships by which the process of the mind works are what is then brought forth by literature; not a representation of the world in which they dwell. So the process of consciousness within Prospero is similar to but not the same as the process of mind in both Shakepeare and audience, and this is both how and why we understand it.

This pattern is repeated wherever representation is attempted. Creation must fail. Everything must vanish. And at the vanishing point appears the invitation to consciousness. Understanding is impossible without this vanishing away. And only the understanding of this process brings knowledge.

We see this pattern emerging wherever power is asserted. Because of the kind of networks it creates, power has its own failure built into it. But we should not assume that networks are unsustainable. It is only power itself that is unsustainable. Power is undone by our humanity. It is haunted by ghosts. The patterns that form among us change constantly. It is necessary to attempt to assert control, and it is necessary to understand how that control fails. It is necessary in order to communicate with each other. Power networks fail and re-emerge whether we want them to or not. It is a pattern that exists beyond us. But by knowing this we can share experience. We can form our own networks of understanding. We can live with our ghosts.

Networks, in their constant shifting from power to failure to invitation, constitute not a static web but a process. We cannot hope to represent reality because reality cannot be fixed. But this is itself the story that books tell. If we accept that condition, then we can enter the parallel universe which is literature. Literature is the process of producing a world, or at least it is part of that process, while knowing that we are doing so. And in knowing that, and enabling us to know that, it is the process of understanding ourselves.

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