Impossible Literature

July 24, 2015 § Leave a comment

Roland Barthes, Writing Degree Zero (1953; 1967 in English)

Modernism begins with the search for a Literature which is no longer possible. [La modernité commence avec la recherche d’une Littérature impossible.]

Unexpressing the Expressible

July 23, 2015 § Leave a comment

Roland Barthes, Critical Essays (1964; 1972 in English)
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We often hear it said that it is the task of art to express the inexpressible; it is the contrary which must be said (with no intention of paradox): the whole task of art is to unexpress the expressible, to kidnap from the world’s language, which is the poor and powerful language of the passions, another speech, an exact speech.

Illegible Writing

July 22, 2015 § Leave a comment

Roland Barthes, “Masson’s Semiography” (1973), The Responsibility of Forms (1982; 1985 in English)
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For writing to be manifest in its truth (and not in its instrumentality) it must be illegible.

Misreadings

June 26, 2015 § Leave a comment

Jamie Fisher, “A Patron Saint for Sadsacks: What Snark Says About Failure — and What Literature Says Back,” Los Angeles Review of Books 10 June 2015

The Biographical Dictionary of Literary Failure 300dpi

… In his introduction to the BDLF, Andrew Gallix suspects “that there is indeed a touch of Schadenfreude about the pleasure derived from reading these anecdotes of writerly woe.” There’s a name for this pleasure, and this narrative tradition: It’s snark. …

… Gallix’s introduction suggests that in writing the BDLF, Rose “may have been exorcising some demons of his own.” …

… Gallix places Rose’s work alongside any number of famous literary silences in the face of imperfection: “Rimbaud’s renunciation of poetry …, the Dada suicides, Wittgenstein’s coda to the Tractatus, the white paintings of Malevich or Rauschenberg, Yves Klein’s vacant exhibitions, as well (of course) as John Cage’s mute music piece.” Gallix describes the appeal of “absolute whiteness,” untrammeled potential.

This is true enough, in its way; any artist has coped with those moments of paralyzing uncertainty, when silence or irony seem better than wreckage. But Gallix’s misreading of Cage is, I think, telling. Cage intended the vacancy of the work to supply a stage for the ambient environment. His point wasn’t that art is incapable of speech, or that the artist has, finally, nothing to say. His intention was to draw a circle around a small section of public life and say, All that is inside this circle is art. It’s a circle of reception, an announcement that he is willing to listen. When Gallix calls Cage’s piece “mute,” he fails to understand that it is a stage for the people, and the experiences, we don’t usually choose to hear. …

You Will Fail

May 30, 2015 § Leave a comment

Nicholas Wroe, “Frank Auerbach: ‘Painting is the Most Marvellous Activity Humans Have Invented,’ The Guardian 16 May 2015

He says the obligation to take account of the art that has gone before carries two demands: “first that you attempt to do something of a comparable scale and standard, which is impossible; second that you try and do something that has never been done before, that is also impossible. So in the face of this you can either just chuck it in, or you can spend all your energy and time and hopes in trying to cope with it. You will fail. But as Beckett very kindly said for all of us, ‘try again, fail better’, and painting just took me over.

That’s Why We Have Art

May 30, 2015 § Leave a comment

Leonora Carrington, The Believer, November/December 2012

There are things that are not sayable. That’s why we have art.

Without Taking the Easy Way Out

May 29, 2015 § Leave a comment

Jean-Philippe Toussaint, Urgency and Patience

With this preparatory phase carried to its extremity, the danger lies in never starting the novel (Barthes’ syndrome, in a way), like the narrator of Television who, due to exaggerated scruples and anxiety from the exigencies of perfectionism, settles for a constant state of readiness to write “without taking the easy way out and actually doing so”.

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