La Discrétion des Expériences
Pelt 2: Ravanastron, Organism for Poetic Research, New York 2013
Pelt 2 Ravanastron contributors: Derek Woods, Claire Donato, Ricardo Teruel, Lauren Huret & Hunter Longe, Tiziana La Melia, Shiv Kotecha, Rachael M. Wilson, John Melillo, Philip Sorenson, Ada Smailbegovic, Maryse Larivière, Amie Robinson, Tim Anderson, Rebecca LaMarre, Jeff T. Johnson
Edited by OPR (Ada Smailbegovic, Daniel C. Remein, and Rachael M. Wilson)
A critical misreading of a text, object, or artwork that produces, through superfluity of description or explanation, a second, “imaginary” object that is more complicated and, perhaps, conceptually richer than the first object. Ravanastron refers both to the misreading itself and to the product of the misreading, which potentially overtakes, in terms of future critical interest, the object from which it derives. The ravanastron is a hypothetical object which may or may not be produced, and which may or may not be feasible to produce; it is a sheer potentiality which presents open-ended possibilities for realization.
The history of the term ravanastron dates from 2011, when the endocrine system of the OPR encountered a brilliant footnote to a lively poetic misreading of a scene from a modernist novel—a misreading in which the critic attempted to explain the presence of a mysterious object, called a ravanastron, which graced the wall of a music room in the following sentence: “A ravanastron hung, on the wall, from a nail, like a plover.” At a loss for what this ravanastron could actually be, the critic boldly ventured this explanation, with an apology to preface the speculative nature of the definition: “This word does not appear in the OED or in any of the various scientific dictionaries. It is evidently a coinage—raven (black, predatory) + astron (astronomer)—hence a rare form of raven or perhaps a black astronomical instrument similar to a telescope.”
Following a hunch regarding the shady etymology of ravan to raven, the OPR discovered the ravanastron was no such thing as this strange beast-machine hybrid. Less impressively, we found the ravanastron simply to be a musical instrument hanging in the music room. The 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica gives the ravanastron as “an Indian stringed instrument played with a bow… It consists of half a round gourd, over which is fixed a sound-board of skin or parchment… [and to which] is attached a neck about twice the length of the body. The strings are either one or four in number, the pegs being set in the sides of the neck… The ravanastron is regarded by some writers as the first ancestor of the violin, on account of the alleged invention of the bow for use with it.”
Unwittingly, our critic had (mis)produced a spectacular being, worthy of Ovid, and superior to such composite creatures as the hippogryph, the sphinx, or the centaur. The new ravanastron was an entity that synthesized animal and instrument, bird and machine, resulting in a creaturely apparatus fitted for the meta-reflexive study of that aviary we call “the heavens.” Through utter disregard of the principle of Okham’s razor, the ravanastron was born—as both the raven-telescope, and as the critical concept defined above.