Table of Con­tents | Arti­cle doi: 10.17742/IMAGE.SA.12.1.10 | PDF

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In Eugène Ionesco’s 1959 play, Rhi­noc­er­os, a sin­gle rhi­noc­er­os makes a sense­less inter­rup­tion to rou­tine vil­lage life, and towns­folk spec­u­late about the dan­gers. As they debate whether it should be per­mit­ted that a rhi­noc­er­os should run through the streets, one by one they, them­selves, trans­form into rhi­noc­er­os­es as though via thought-con­ta­gion, and Berenger, the pro­tag­o­nist, antic­i­pates and strug­gles against the poten­tial for his own trans­for­ma­tion. After WWII, some thinkers pro­posed that infor­ma­tion had “lost its body,” become weight­less and unen­cum­bered by mate­r­i­al and mean­ing, but we still had bod­ies.1 Now, infor­ma­tion baits its prey —its coun­ter­parts are data points attached to flesh and anx­ious pre­sen­ti­ment. Per­haps antic­i­pa­tion has always grap­pled with a poor­ly grasped tem­po­ral­i­ty. “There is a scenog­ra­phy of wait­ing,” Barthes insist­ed, “I orga­nize it, manip­u­late it, cut out a por­tion of time.”2 The struc­ture of antic­i­pa­tion might be time itself, but not with one moment fol­low­ing anoth­er as its ref­er­ence or cause. Not like H.G. Wells’s nar­ra­tor puts it: “For years even quite bold and advanced thinkers were chased by events […] They only real­ized what had real­ly occurred long after­wards. And so they nev­er fore­saw.”3 If they had, they could put to work a neg­a­tive antic­i­pa­tion, a kind of secu­ri­ty against some­thing that might be emerg­ing but remains stub­born­ly inchoate or isn’t quite here now. Maybe “[t]he being I am wait­ing for is not real”4—yet. There is still time to orga­nize secu­ri­ty for unno­ticed emer­gen­cies. Antic­i­pa­tion would oper­ate “like a sixth sense,” some­thing to which attempts at expla­na­tion and prepa­ra­tion give a sketchy out­line, turn­ing “a poten­tial into a thresh­old to the real,”5 until it grew a sol­id bor­der, a body, and could move by itself. Or, the thing against which antic­i­pa­tion mobi­lizes its defences was already there before you heard the faint ring of the glass­es clink­ing on the table. At that time, it might have still been noth­ing, bare­ly per­cep­ti­ble, near­ly emp­ty, like the glass­es that wait to be refilled with appre­hen­sion. Because it was there, some­where beyond the cor­ner, before you heard the gal­lop­ing foot­steps, pick­ing up their pace, com­ing around towards you, like Ionesco’s rhi­noc­er­os crash­ing through the morn­ing. By then, it was already too late. Even though it had already thun­dered past, and could no longer get us, peo­ple had tak­en the shape of their fear and wore it around, like you said they would. But, per­haps, “You didn’t pre­dict any­thing. You nev­er do. You can only pre­dict things after they’ve hap­pened.”6


  1. N. Kather­ine Hayles. How We Became Posthu­man: Vir­tu­al Bod­ies in Cyber­net­ics, Lit­er­a­ture, and Infor­mat­ics. Uni­ver­si­ty of Chica­go Press, 2008, pp.19‑24.

  2. Roland Barthes. A Lover’s Dis­course: Frag­ments. Trans­lat­ed by Richard Howard. Lon­don: Vin­tage, 1978/2002, p. 37.

  3. H.G. Wells. “The Shape of Things to Come.” In H. G. Wells: The Com­plete Nov­els, 171699-171701. Book House Pub­lish­ing, ebook, 2017, loca­tion 170545.

  4. Barthes, A Lover’s Dis­course, p. 39.

  5. Kath­leen Stew­art. “Atmos­pher­ic Attune­ments.” Rubric 1 (2010): 1-14; p. 4.

  6. Eugène Ionesco. “Rhi­noc­er­os.” In Rhi­noc­er­os and Oth­er Plays, pp. 1-107. Trans­lat­ed by Derek Prouse. New York: Grove Press, 1960, p. 99.