Simmering in the Elastic Gloom

Claire-Louise Bennett, Pond (2015)

English, strictly speaking, is not my first language by the way. I haven’t yet discovered what my first language is so for the time being I use English words in order to say things. I expect I will always have to do it that way; regrettably I don’t think my first language can be written down at all. I’m not sure it can be made external you see. I think it has to stay where it is; simmering in the elastic gloom betwixt my flickering organs.

L’événement qui sort du langage

Roland Barthes, Roland Barthes 1915-1980: Le théâtre du langage, dir. Chantal Thomas and Thierry Thomas, 2015 [TV interview]

La mort est le seul événement. Tout le reste est discours, au fond. Tout le reste est langage. Le réel ne peut jamais se saisir, se posséder. C’est toujours un langage qui renvoit à un autre langage, indéfiniment. L’amour lui-même. Mais la mort, c’est l’événement qui sort du langage.

Abandoning Art

Susan Sontag, “The Aesthetics of Silence,” Styles of Radical Will (1969)

But the choice of permanent silence doesn’t negate their [Rimbaud, Wittgenstein, Duchamp] work. On the contrary, it imparts retroactively an added power and authority to what was broken off; disavowal of the work becoming a new source of its validity, a certificate of unchallengeable seriousness. That seriousness consists in not regarding art (or philosophy practiced as an art form: Wittgenstein) as something whose seriousness lasts forever, an “end,” a permanent vehicle for spiritual ambition. The truly serious attitude is one that regards art as a “means” to something that can perhaps be achieved only by abandoning art; judged more impatiently, art is a false way or (the word of the Dada artist Jacques Vaché) a stupidity.

[See Blanchot.]

Almost a Negative Theology

Walter Benjamin, The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction (1936)

What happened was: when, with the advent of the first truly revolutionary means of reproduction, namely photography (simultaneously with the dawn of Socialism), art felt a crisis approaching that after a further century became unmistakable, it reacted with the theory of ‘l’art pour l’art’, which constitutes a theology of art. From it there proceeded, in the further course of events, almost a negative theology in the form of the idea of a ‘pure’ art that rejected not only any kind of social function but also any prompting by an actual subject. (In poetry, Mallarmé was the first to reach this position.)

The Instinct is to Kill It

Joy Williams, “Joy Williams, The Art of Fiction No. 223” by Paul Winner, The Paris Review 209 (Summer 2014)

I wonder if understanding the dream is really what must be done. Can we incorporate and treasure and be nourished by that which we do not understand? Of course. Understanding something, especially in these tech times, seems to involve ruthless appropriation and dismantlement and diminishment. I think of something I clipped from the paper and can’t lay my hands on. This peculiar aquatic creature who lives deep within the sea — it looked like a very long eel — came up to the surface, where it was immediately killed and displayed by a dozen or so grinning people on a California beach. Didn’t have a chance to evolve, that one. Curiosity by the nonhuman is not honored in this life. For many people, when confronted with the mysterious, the other, the instinct is to kill it. Then it can be examined.

This Obsessional Looking at the Human

Dan Kois, “The Misanthropic Genius of Joy Williams,” The New York Times Magazine 2 September 2015

“Could this obsessional looking at the human bring about the death of literature?” Williams asks.

Joy Williams, “Joy Williams, The Art of Fiction No. 223” by Paul Winner, The Paris Review 209 (Summer 2014)

We live and spawn and want—always there is this ghastly wanting—and we have done irredeemable harm to so much. Perhaps the novel will die and even the short story because we’ll become so damn sick of talking about ourselves.

A Supplementary Work

Roland Barthes, Preface, Critical Essays (1964)

What marks the critic is therefore a secret practice of the indirect: in order to remain secret, the indirect must here take shelter under the very figures of the direct, of transitivity, of discourse about others. Whence a language which cannot be received as ambiguous, reticent, allusive, or disclaiming. The critic is like a logician who “fills” his functions with true argu­ments and yet secretly asks us to appreciate only the validity of his equations, not their truth — even while hoping, by a final silent ruse, that this pure validity will function as the very sign of his existence.

There is, then, a certain misapprehension attached by its very structure to the critical work, but this misapprehension cannot be exposed in the critical language itself, for such ex­posure would constitute a new direct form, in other words an additional mask; in order for the circle to be broken, for the critic to speak of himself with exactitude, he would have to transform himself into a novelist, that is, to substitute for the direct falseness under which he takes shelter, a declared in­directness — declared as the indirectness of all fictions is declared.

This is doubtless why the novel is always the critic’s horizon: the critic is the man who is going to write and who, like the Proustian narrator, satisfies this expectation with a supple­mentary work, who creates himself by seeking himself and whose function is to accomplish his project of writing even while eluding it. The critic is a writer, but a writer postponed; like the writer, he wants to be believed less because of what he writes than because of his decision to write it; but unlike the writer, he cannot sign that desire; he remains condemned to error — to truth.