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The Drag of Erasure

A Snag Drag of Flotsam

“As watery, we experience ourselves less as isolated entities, and more as oceanic eddies: I am a singular, dynamic whorl dissolving in a complex, fluid circulation. The space between our selves and our others is at once as distant as the primeval sea, yet also closer than our own skin—the traces of those same oceanic beginnings still cycling through us, pausing as this bodily thing we call “mine.” Water is between bodies, but of bodies, before us and beyond us, yet also very presently this body, too. Deictics falter. Our comfortable categories of thought begin to erode. Water entangles our bodies in relations of gift, debt, theft, complicity, differentiation, relation.”

-Astrida Neimanis, 96

We are all bodies of water but there is also this tricky flesh that is dragged along. No body of water is after all full water, but is also full of fish, fins, or flesh. Sometimes our flesh, our bone, hits a snag, and we are dragged, or we ourselves drag, intentionally changing the current.

Erasure is a type of snag. A sea change. The drag of the erasurist’s eye against the narrative’s current, pulling the reader’s attention to flotsam, the particles of the text that might be otherwise cut from a reader’s memory if not caught in the net of erasure’s deconstructed ocean.

Virginia Woolf’s aptly named The Waves is an oceanic novel, its character crashing against one another, flowing into each other’s sentences and syntax, the titular waves dragging the narrative into their curled, crashed, and dragged logic.


“Let me imagine, since facts are so hard to come by, what would have happened had Shakespeare had a wonderfully gifted sister, called Judith, let us say. [...] She was as adventurous as imagination, as agog to see the world as he was. But she was not sent to school. [A]t last Nick Greene the actor-manager took pity on her; she found herself with child by that gentleman and so—who shall measure the heat and violence of the poet’s heart when caught and tangled in a woman’s body?—killed herself one winter’s night and lies buried at some cross-roads where the omnibuses now stop outside the Elephant and Castle.”

Virginia Woolf, 36  

A thought experiment: what would happen if Woolf’s earlier, denser, and more overtly narrative and thematically oceanic novel, The Voyage Out, were dragged in the same way? What would remain barnacled to its ship?

VOS, my full-length erasure of The Voyage Out, is partially an answer to this question. Were Woolf’s own sunken and experimental truths tempested by my erasure, or only the reflection of what I saw of myself in them? Woolf the envelope and I the letter?

“a posthumanist notion of permativity—one that incorporates the important material and discursive, social, and scientific, human and nonhuman, and natural and cultural factors”

Karen Barad, 808
I myself swim in the stream of Woolf’s ocean—a posthuman performativity, posthuman drag—a discursive drag that destabilizes a neat boundary between original text and erasure.

VOS is written in sonnets. Shakespeare’s sister is somewhere in the drag of my work, Woolf’s work, Shakespeare’s work, the voices of all those dragged down, all those barnacled to the ship of Shakespeare. I can’t resurrect them or their tongues but I can build some scaffolding for my own voice and the voices that speak through it.


“There’s no lawyer. There’s no money. I.. I never said it because it kind of confused things. I put it in her head. It’s what she always did. She feels she wrote it.”

Eileen Myles, 35
In Eileen Myles’ Afterglow, Myles’ dog, Rosie, tells a puppet talk show host that the letter from her lawyer alleging Myles’ abuse against her (for using her, for speaking for her) is a forgery (In this letter, Rosie’s voice pretends to be another—the human voice giving the letter authority).

A more complex web than even the Wildean mimicry of life mimicking art. Pup(pet)—Myles’ writing as their dog writing as a lawyer but also speaking to a puppet about her spell on Myles—a complex web of mimicry, affective identification, and sleight of hand that elides the concept of human exceptionalism.

There’s a woofing witchiness in Myles’ pen but also Rosie’s wagging tail. Which comes first, the wagging or the writing? What does it mean for a dog to puppet one into feeling?

Is it possible to sink into the fur of a dog and not recognize where the woof comes from? Is Woolf’s Flush a woof in Woolf’s clothing? Flush himself barking through the pages?

Myles’ work begs the questions: is the text alive? Can it make contracts? Perhaps there’s a witchiness to erasure. Erasure as a book of spells.


“Erasure isn’t just a way of making language disappear—it’s a kind of technology of writing, I think, just like collage or any number of different methods.”

Srikanth Reddy, 2

Erasure’s not just about what remains or what was left behind. It’s about the process, the drag of the ocean pulling, the drag of the cigarette smoke entering the lungs, the performative drag of embodying the textual flotsam of another’s text. Is this collaging of metaphors too much? What a drag!

Erasure: Parallel Text/Infected Text

“I love the fact that human genomes can be found in only about 10 percent of all the cells that occupy the mundane space I call my body; the other percent of the cells are filled with the genomes of bacteria, fungi, protists, and such, some of which play in a symphony necessary to my being alive at all, and some of which are hitching a ride and doing the rest of me, of us, no harm. I am vastly outnumbered by my tiny companions; better put, I become an adult human being in company with these tiny messmates. To be one is always to become with many.”

Donna Haraway, 3-4
“I think it’s more about creating a parallel narrative than uncovering some sort of hidden message from the ‘original’ authors. Of course, all that having been said, the simple truth remains: the words we chose were always there… But were they waiting to be found? Now that they have been, it’s hard to tell.”

Travis Macdonald, 9

A parallel narrative is a drag(ged) narrative—a dragging of another self into the self, and visa versa—a barnacle, a remainder, a hitcher on.

An erasure creates a parallel text but also infected text. I infect, but it also infects me. Woolf’s novel drawn into my body like invisible ink until I’m held up to a black light (please don’t try this at home.

Or, in fact, do).

The human body is only slightly human—mostly infection. Speech lifted by mouth bacteria. Swabbing, swapping, with others. I breathe you in, legion—and you reciprocate, I who am the tail of your, sucking out our mouth.

"The host, the guest, breathes twice, speaks twice, speaks with forked tongue, as it were."

Michael Serres, 16
And as the erasurist so to the erasure continues to infect, is infected. Whose tongue, text, or trace is mapped on the erasure’s page? The erasure/I/the page—a woolf, a woof, flotsam, bacteria, junk, and pearl, tossed along the waves, lapping.

Scrubbing and Meat

“Bacon thus pursues a very peculiar project as a portrait painter: to dismantle the face, to rediscover the head or make it emerge from beneath the face”

Gilles Deleuze, 20-21


The Joker and his crew crash Gotham Museum in Tim Burton’s Batman and deface all the paintings. A Degas is splashed with bright red paint, while the Joker finger paints his autograph on another—“Joker was here.” Yet he stops his henchman from disturbing Bacon’s Figure with Meat—“I kind of like this one, Bob, leave it.”

“Meat is the state of the body in which flesh and bone confront each other locally rather than being composed structurally”

Gilles Deleuze, 22
As Bacon dismantles the face to surface the head, the erasurist dismantles the narrative, to get at the meat of this encounter between the eraser who is not just a defacer, though perhaps partially—i.e Mary Ruefle whiting out the author’s name on the author page and signing her own atop, while keeping the author’s name intact on the cover—but also necromancer—à la Jen Bervin scavenging Shakespeare’s sonnets, and leaving intact his former meat clean while surfacing the jet black of her own bolded text, blossoming from the muted ocean from which it was dragged.

“More than any other image, an erased human face remains horribly eloquent. In fact, a face cannot be made to vanish completely: it stays sufficiently human to horrify by its exact lack of humanity.”

Brian Dillon
Bacon’s painting is already effaced and therefore already an erasure of sorts, especially as it is based off of Diego Velázquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X, differing greatly from the original in its rubbed out face. For Bacon, erasure is only a subtraction, but the thing itself. Askewed, renewed, dragged through a new logic.

Even when fully erased the text often reveals itself in its trace. Although Matthea Harvey doesn’t reveal Of Lamb is an erasure until the end, once known, the white space of the picture book suddenly becomes an open secret.


“I decided to close up the spaces between words in my erasure as a way of ‘covering my tracks.’ I wanted to erasure the traces of my own erasure, I suppose. On one level, this was just a kind of Borgesian game—I wanted my reader to slowly discover that he or she was reading an erasure as they made their way through the book”

Srikanth Reddy, 14

What does it mean to discover a text as an erasure? To find the face of the narrative suddenly rubbed as you are reading? Is every book of erasure a type of horror film? Some horror films reveal the killer at the beginning and some at the end. An erasure that “covers its tracks” doesn’t let the secret spill until it is suspected and sniffed out. Perhaps there’s a reason that ventriloquist dummies—mouths that speak the voice and text of another—an erasure of sorts of the original voice, body, and spirit, rehoused in the body of a small boy—are often murderous.

The Potential Violence of Erasure

“Erasure is never merely a matter of making things disappear: there is always some detritus strewn about in the aftermath, some bruising to the surface from which word or image has been removed, some reminder of the violence done to make the world look new again.”

Brian Dillon
“Still, when it comes to erasure, this very form of palimpsest, the ghost is not only death or the degradations of time—the ghost is the state itself.”

Solmaz Sharif

The question of violence in relation to erasure is an important one.

Dragging has its own connotations of violence, on human and nonhuman animal bodies, on the earth. 

Erasure has been used by the state to silence and to literally disappear texts and bodies.

I am a cinder signal, I recall something or someone of whom I will say nothing but this rough sketch obviously in order to say that nothing will have had to annul what is said in its saying, to give it to the fire, to destroy it in the flame, and not otherwise. No cinder without fire”

Jacques Derrida, 18-19
“As a painter, he was striving to paint the force of that weight, and not the offertory or the sack of potatoes.”

Gilles Deleuze, 57

Yet erasure is not only about the erased text itself but about capturing the pressure and inertia of the encounter. The words matter but so do the trails of what they point to or what they leave behind. It matters that these trails are traceable. It matters that the friction of the encounter, its cinder, smoke—if not at the beginning then at some point in the act of erasing or the act of reading.

Erasure as Multiplicity

Cthonic ones are beings of this earth, both ancient and up- to-the-minute.
I imagine the chthonic ones as replete with tentacles, feelers, digits, cords, whiptails, spider legs, and very unruly hair. Chthonic ones romp in multicritter humus but have no truck with sky-gazing Homo. Chthonic ones are monsters in the best sense; they demonstrate and perform the material meaningfulness of earth processes and critters. They also demonstrate and perform consequences. Chthonic ones are not safe; they have no truck with ideologies; they belong to no one; they writhe and luxuriate in manifold forms and manifold names i all the airs, waters, and places of earth. They make and unmake; they are made and unmade. They are who are.

Donna Haraway, 2
“Tell us...in your own words." Do you have your own words? Personally, I'm using the ones everybody else has been using. Next time they tell you to say something in your own words, say, ‘Nigflot blorny quando floon.’”

George Carlin

Erasure interrogates what self-hood and authorship really means. It is a type of drag—perhaps revealing the always already sense of drag of the single author—a drag because it doesn’t recognize the drag of other texts pulling at its currents.

Is everything, in a way, co-written? We always become with many.

Whitman was not the only one who contained multitudes. In erasing, we are plucking the blades of grass from the text itself, but also from ourselves, revealing the text and ourserlves as gardens.
Do I contradict myself?

Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)

Walt Whitman

Sorry, Michelangelo, this is not the finger to finger of Adam to God, but the tentacular slipping into one another—erasure is the art of the cthonic ones—at once subtractive and additive. Scrawling.


And that is the meaning of the prefix para-in the word parasite: it is on the side, next to, shifted; it is not on the thing, but on its relation. It has relations, as they say, and makes a system of them. It is always mediate and never immediate. It has a relation to the relation, a tie to the tie; it branches onto the canal.

Michael Serres, 38-39
These erasures exist alongside the original works. I cannot remove myself or my text—infection, infectious. So I sidle up to all this theory and make some sense of it. Drag it into my system. I who have already been thoroughly dragged myself.


Barad, Karen. “Posthumanist Performativity: Toward and Understanding of How Matter Comes to Matter.” Signs 28, no 3. Gender and Science: New Issues (Spring 2003): 801-831.

Bervin, Jen. Nets. New York: Ugly Duckling Press, 2008.

Deleuze, Gielles and Felix Guattari. A Thousand Plateaus. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987.

Derrida, Jacques. Cinders. (Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press, 2014).

Dillon, Brian. “The Revelation of Erasure.” Tate Museum, 2006.

Myles, Eileen. Afterglow. (New York: Grove Press, 2017).

Haraway, Donna. When Species Meet. (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2008).

Harvey, Matthea. Of Lamb. New York: Mcsweeney’s Publishing, 2011.

Macdonald, Travis. “The Weight of What’s Left [Out]: Six Contemporary Erasurists on Their Craft.”
Kenyon Review, 2012.

Neimanis, Astrida. “Hydrofeminism: Or, On Becoming a Body of Water.”  Undutiful Daughters: Mobilizing Future Concepts, Bodies and Subjectivities in Feminist Thought and Practice, eds. Henriette Gunkel, Chrysanthi Nigianni and Fanny Söderbäck. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012.

Reddy, Srikanth. “The Weight of What’s Left [Out]: Six Contemporary Erasurists on Their Craft.”  Kenyon Review, 2012.

Ruefle, Mary. Melody: The Story of a Child. Gwarlingo, 2016.

Sharif, Solmaz, “The Near Transitive Properties of the Political and Poetical: Erasure,” The Volta, 2012. https://thevolta.org/ewc28-ssharif-p1.html 

Serres, Michael. Parasite. (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2007).

Whitman, Walt, Leaves of Grass (New York: Penguin, 1855).

Woolf, Virginia, A Room of One’s Own (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996).

—————Flush (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2022).

—————The Voyage Out (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2019).

—————The Waves (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011).

Erik Fuhrer is the author of six books of poetry, most recently Eye, Apocalypse (2021). They hold a Ph.D. from the University of Glasgow and an MFA from The University of Notre Dame. They are the founding editor of hushlit and can be found at www.erik-fuhrer.com.